Bowling Green is Kentucky's third-largest city, after Louisville (about 100 miles to the northeast) and Lexington, with a population of just over 65,000. It's the home of a number of Civil War landmarks, exquisite old homes, and remarkable public buildings that can be visited on foot or by car on a leisurely drive. It's easy to navigate, and has many wonderful restaurants to choose from. It's also full of Southern hospitality. Everyone that I met there treated me like I was an old friend.
We settled into comfortable accommodations at the Hyatt Place Bowling Green, right on the beautiful campus of Western Kentucky University. Marissa Butler, marketing director of the Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, filled us in about who we should meet and where we should visit — and eat.
Since we had been traveling all morning and were famished, we headed out to Home Cafe and Marketplace for lunch. The restaurant's chef and owner, Joshua Poling, produces such everyday foods as sandwiches, pizzas, and salads to the highest standards, with locally sourced ingredients to match the local clientele. I enjoyed my Nashville fried chicken sandwich, served with an excellent potato salad, and a Cobb salad, one of the best I have ever eaten. The service was very friendly, and the food was delicious! Poling is a talented chef, who makes sure to bring the flavor of the South into all his dishes. We got to hear about his next venture: a new restaurant called Hickory and Oak, opening soon, which will be about three times the size of Home Cafe.
After lunch, we were excited for dessert — ice cream! — so we headed over to Chaney's Dairy Barn. The Chaney family has been in the farming business since 1888, turning their property into a dairy farm with the purchase of two Jersey cows in 1940. The prized cows delivered when it came to delicious milk, but the family needed to change things up to remain profitable. In 2003, they started their ice cream business, and it took off from there. Known to have the best ice cream in Kentucky, they serve a delicious assortment of flavors.
My favorites are banana, strawberry, and Cow Tracks — vanilla with pieces of Snickers bars and a caramel swirl. Other popular flavors include Big Red Rumble (white chocolate with red velvet cake, chocolate flakes, and a fudge swirl) and Cookie MOOnster (blue ice cream with chocolate chip cookie and Oreo swirls).
Enjoying an ice cream cone while overlooking Kentucky’s stunning landscape makes for a picture-perfect day — but Chaney's Dairy Barn is a destination for the whole family, not just an ice cream shop. Take a self-guided tour during business hours, so you can see first-hand how they run their farm. They also have a free playground for the kids and a great schedule of events during the year. A popular one is the Ice Cream & a Moovie, held weekends in the summer.
Later that day, we visited the beautiful Kentucky Grand Hotel and Spa for happy hour cocktails. This boutique property overlooks Circus Square Park, and sits next to the SKyPAC performing arts center. We enjoyed our dirty martinis and listened to the relaxing music played by the piano man. After we'd finished our drinks, the hotel's general manager, Zack Strachan, gave us a tour. Each of the eight elegant suites — including the two largest penthouses in the state — has a different name and design, and each features some of the best views of Bowling Green through floor-to-ceiling windows.
We dined that night at the White Squirrel Brewery. We had fried Cheddar cheese curds with lemon honey sriracha aïoli and smoked brisket tacos on blue corn tortillas. I am still dreaming of those tacos and mad at my stomach for being full. I also sampled a range of the beers that White Squirrel brews. My favorite was the White Squirrel Pale Ale.
The next morning, we grabbed a quick bite at the Hyatt Hotel and then ventured out to the Mammoth Cave National Park. We were getting the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and most roads were flooded, but we arrived at the caves in good time. We were excited about seeing the longest cave system in the world.
The main entrance to the park is about 30 miles northeast of Bowling Green, but the cave system covers more than 400 square miles. (Bowling Green is at the edge of a karst region; karst is a special type of landscape that is formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks, including limestone and dolomite.)
After our cave tour, we headed to lunch at The Bistro, located in a restored late-nineteenth-century house just two blocks away from the beautiful Fountain Square in central Bowling Green. It has a warm and intimate atmosphere, a perfect choice for a date enjoyed over a few of its delicious martinis. Chrissy Allen, the manager, greeted us, and recommended the soup and sandwich special from the small but perfectly formed menu.
We next visited the Corsair Artisan Distillery for their tour and tasting, conducted by Steve Whitledge, the distillery ambassador and tour guide. Corsair produces hand-crafted, award-winning, small-batch ultra-premium alcohols, including whiskey, gin, absinthe, and spiced rum.
One of the area's most popular attractions is the National Corvette Museum, across from the General Motors Corvette Assembly Plant, the only factory in the world that manufactures the iconic sports car. As the mecca of the Corvette world, Bowling Green draws dedicated enthusiasts all year round. The plant used to offer tours to visitors, but these have been discontinued until approximately January of 2019. The museum, however, allows you to explore the Corvette’s deep impact on American culture. You can also check out the rarest and most beautiful Corvettes on display, including classic models and one-of-a-kind prototypes that were designed but never manufactured. If you’re lucky, you might witness a Corvette “delivery,” where new Corvette owners come to personally pick up their cars inside the museum and drive out to the cheers and applause of staff and visitors.
New to the museum is the Skydome Sinkhole exhibit, which tells the story of the large sinkhole that opened up beneath the museum in 2014, swallowing eight Corvettes, collectively worth millions. The sinkhole has now been covered up and the floor reinforced, but you can still peek through a window to the cavern below. The recovered Corvettes are a little worse for the wear, but are still on display in the Skydome.
We stopped in the Bowling Green suburb of Alvaton, about half an hour's drive south of the Corvette Museum, for a wonderful home-cooked meal and a delicious mini-pie at Boyce's General Store. Brad and Brie Golliher are the proud owners of this establishment, which dates back to the 1860s. They greeted us with open arms and had dinner with us. I ordered the special, a catfish dinner served with coleslaw and hush puppies, everything made to order and delicious. After dinner, Brie gave us a tour of her famous bakery, where she creates all of her mini-pies and other delectable desserts. She has been dubbed the Pie Queen, and I understand why. Her pies — I tried the coconut cream, chocolate, macaroon, and pecan — are out of this world fabulous! The Pie Queen sent me home with some of her wonderful pies (they're also available at Whole Foods markets in Kentucky).
One other meal was at Double Dogs, named for the owner’s two Labrador retrievers, Bo and Chancey, who rule over the restaurant. There is a great vibe when you walk into Double Dogs, and it's the perfect place to choose from wings, chicken fingers, pizza, salad, burgers, and of course hot dogs! It has an upscale sports bar, with fun canine-inspired flourishes such as its takeout section called “Fetch and Go” and kids' meals served in dog dishes. The restaurant ranked No. 56 on Travel Channel’s 101 More Amazing Places to Chowdown, and no wonder.