Kentucky

Commonwealth Bistro explores rich edges of Kentucky

Commonwealth Bistro explores rich edges of Kentucky

Chef Chris Burns of Commonwealth Bistro (621 Main St., Covington, KY; 859-916-6719; commonwealthbistro.com) refers to the Mainstrasse neighborhood of Covington, Kentucky, as “the Brooklyn of Cincinnati.” And though he worked for a number of years in Jean-Robert Cavel's Cincinnati restaurants (see previous post), he and his wife Tess self-identify as Kentuckians. “I came out of a classical French kitchen and wanted to get away from all that,” he explains. “We're in an agriculturally rich region. I wanted to explore what Kentucky cuisine meant without resorting to stereotypical Southern dishes.” Open three years this month, Commonwealth Bistro is the realization of that vision. Burns jokes that it only took seven years to open, three of them devoted to construction after shifts and on his days off....Read More
Fine distractions at Louisville’s Red Herring

Fine distractions at Louisville’s Red Herring

Located next door to the Silver Dollar (see our biscuit post), Red Herring (1757 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, 502-907-3800, redherringlou.com) opened in April 2017 in the 112-year-old Hilltop Theater. It might be the perfect complement to its next door neighbor. Red Herring is far from retro, despite including PBR on an otherwise stellar list of regional craft beers. If we lived in the neighborhood, they might have to put our names on two of the barstools. For starters, Red Herring is open from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. every day. You can segue seamlessly from breakfast to lunch to happy hour to dinner to evening entertainment without changing seats. The room is huge, as you might expect from a former theater, with seating downstairs and on...Read More
Le Moo nails the essentials of steak and bourbon

Le Moo nails the essentials of steak and bourbon

Every city needs an unrestrained steakhouse. From the fiberglass steer in the parking lot to the real taxidermied longhorn on the wall inside, it's pretty clear that Le Moo (2300 Lexington Rd, Louisville, 502-458-8888, lemoorestaurant.com) does steak without restraint. Le Moo is a major special-occasion restaurant, and like any good over-the-top place, it has one booth of truly over-the-top seating. The upholstery comes from 17 pieces of vintage Louis Vuitton luggage. There's a $500 minimum to reserve it, but it does seat four to five people. And Wagyu steaks with top wines will meet the minimum handily. (Actually, the domestic prime Angus is maybe even beefier and friendlier to the wallet.) We were visiting with Mint Julep Tours (see the Harvest post), and since it...Read More
Harvest spreads local flavor across the menu

Harvest spreads local flavor across the menu

There's no question where your food comes from at Harvest (624 East Market St., Louisville, 502-384-9090, harvestlouisville.com). This farm-to-table pioneer in the NuLu neighborhood (that's New Louisville to us outsiders) covers the walls with joyous portraits of the restaurant's purveyors. There's also a map showing a 100-mile radius around the restaurant. Says partner Patrick Kuhl, “it's our goal to get 80 percent of our food from inside that circle.” The state's “Kentucky Proud” program helps, Kuhl says. It's been a boost to former tobacco farmers “because it provides incentive for farmers to grow food and for restaurants to buy it.” Animal proteins are pretty easy, he notes. But to have local produce year-round requires planning and preserving. The kitchen relies heavily on a vacuum sealer...Read More
Swank cocktails on two sides of the Ohio

Swank cocktails on two sides of the Ohio

When we walked up to the plain, brick-fronted building on a residential stretch of Goss Avenue in Louisville's Germantown, we were dubious that we'd come to the right spot. But sure enough, a tiny brass plaque announced the structure as “Mr. Lee's.” We opened the door and stepped through the portal of a time machine. As our vision slowly returned in the all-enveloping darkness, we found ourselves in a film-noir world. We half expected to see Nick and Nora of The Thin Man trading snappy bon mots between sips in the corner booth. The brightest spot in the place was the center of the horseshoe-shaped bar. The brass and glass and steel gleamed. The bartender's white shirt seemed to glow. Welcome to Mr. Lee's Lounge...Read More
Copper & Kings bucks bourbon trend

Copper & Kings bucks bourbon trend

Joe Heron may be the most colorful distiller in all of Kentucky—which is saying a lot in a region that prides itself on colorful characters. In 2014, Heron and his wife Lesley launched Copper & Kings (1121 East Washington St., Louisville, 502-561-0267, copperandkings.com) in the Butchertown neighborhood of Louisville, one of the oldest parts of town. It's now one of the hottest, and Copper & Kings is part of the happening vibe. Although bourbon is basking in a renaissance, Heron hasn't jumped on the artisanal bourbon bandwagon. “We would never do bourbon. There are too many good bourbon producers,” he told us as he led us through the distillery, which is surrounded by a huge butterfly garden. Instead, Heron said, “we want to make definitive...Read More
Biscuits unite Louisville and Southern Indiana

Biscuits unite Louisville and Southern Indiana

Humble plates spring from big ideas. Between meals in Louisville, we toured the Old Louisville historic district, visited the grave of Muhammed Ali, and checked out the Speed Art Museum (2035 South 3rd St., Louisville, 502-634-2700 speedmuseum.org). It's probably the top art collection in the state and had mounted a great temporary exhibit called Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art. It made us think about identity and cultural cohesion. Part of the opening wall text struck a particular chord. “The South is not so much a geographical place as an emotional idea,” it proposed. The South is “more a shared sensibility than a consistent culture.” Powerful stuff. What makes a place Southern? It has to be more than a love of gardens,...Read More
Breaking bread over bourbon with Michael Veach

Breaking bread over bourbon with Michael Veach

While we were in Louisville, we met historian Michael R. Veach for dinner one night at Decca (812 E. Market St., 502-749-8128, deccarestaurant.com). It was a felicitous convergence of Kentucky food and spirits. Veach, pictured above, is the author of Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage (University Press of Kentucky, $24.95). And under chef Annie Pettry, the farm-to-table restaurant is one of the city's best. Veach absorbed bourbon history as archivist for United Distillers and later for the Filson Historical Society. He has also worked closely with the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown, Kentucky. While at United Distillers, he sharpened his palate by joining the quality control sampling of barrels in the warehouse. “We did ten a day,” he recalled, describing what...Read More
Evan Williams stakes claim to bourbon history

Evan Williams stakes claim to bourbon history

When Heaven Hill Distillery opened the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience (528 West Main St., Louisville, 502-272-2611, evanwilliams.com/visit.php) in 2013, it marked the first new bourbon distillery in downtown Louisville since the late 19th century. The brand is named for the man said to be Kentucky's first licensed commercial distiller, Evan Williams. Some folks dispute that, pointing to Elijah Craig. What is known is that Williams erected a still on a spot across Main Street in 1783 and began making corn whiskey that he shipped downriver in oak barrels. Other distillers soon followed suit and by 1800 the street was known as Whiskey Row. Everyone on the street was making, selling, or shipping bourbon. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is a delightful blend of low-tech history...Read More
Bon appétit, y’all! (At the English Grill)

Bon appétit, y’all! (At the English Grill)

Louisville certainly has some nice new hotels, but for old-city ambience and sheer Southern comfort it's hard to beat the Brown Hotel (335 West Broadway, Louisville, 502-583-1234, brownhotel.com). A bastion of hospitality since 1923, it's a pillar of the New Old South. Its English Renaissance-inspired architecture has a polite reserve that reflects Louisville's role as the epicenter of bourbon and thoroughbred racing. If we were true barflies, it would be hard to pry us out of the Brown's elegant sepia-toned lobby bar. The room opens at 3 p.m. and by late afternoon it begins to fill with Louisville's business elite. As befits one of the city's finest and most storied bars, it even has a bourbon steward. On our last stay, it was Troy Ritchie,...Read More