Louisville, pronounced "Lou-vull," might be one of our countries most underrated cities. Most people who have been there really enjoy it, but those who have never been are often surprised by my enthusiasm for the city. I think people just assume that Kentucky is all rednecks wearing MAGA hats, the same way some people assume all of California is made up of pot smoking "libtards." After spending three weeks there for work, shooting a movie, I can say that I genuinely love the city, even after having experienced the polar vortex. Also keep in mind, Kentucky is known for drastic weather changes, so I did experience about three seasons whilst there.
I would compare Louisville to the Portland or Seattle of the South. It's trendy, has become a foodie destination, and has the added charm of southern hospitality. It's in many ways like a little big city--although, I was quite surprised by how dead the downtown area was on a Saturday. Not sure what that was about. Since I was there for work this time, I didn't have much time to explore, but I got to see more of Louisville than I have in the past, and I got to know the people. So, if you ever find yourself in Louisville, I have a few recommendations for you, but there's still SO MUCH MORE I wan to try and experience.
The Brown Hotel is interesting. You can dine at a place as seemingly posh as The Brown Hotel, while grubbing on something as greasy and heavy as you expect to get at a place like Waffle House. The "Hot Brown," is a Louisville staple, and also a death bomb for your arteries. I'd say try it once, because "When in [Louisville]," but otherwise, it's not particularly anything outstanding. It's essentially a hot, open-faced sandwich, much like a rarebit, only way heavier, with turkey and bacon, smothered in a heavy gravy and cheese. There were also tomatoes in the dish, and the entire dish is baked or broiled. Apparently, it was originally invented at The Brown Hotel--hence the name--as a 4am pissed drunk comfort dish. I can understand why.
In general, the hotel is a nice throwback spot to grab a drink in and soak up the history. The decor and ambiance totally takes you back to the Prohibition era. As there are always multiple sides to any story, a visit to The Brown Hotel is one side of Louisville's story.
I've mentioned 21C in a previous post, and it's still one of my favorite places to visit whilst there. The art is always interesting and colorful. Not to mention, it's also home to the equally quirky and delicious restaurant, "Proof on Main." The food is great there. I hadn't had fried chicken the entire time I was in Kentucky, and on my last day, I just needed to get some good fried chicken. I was trying to find a grungy place close to where we were shooting, but the closest place to us that had fried chicken was Proof. I wasn't going to complain about having lunch at Proof. You just always think at a restaurant like that, the fried chicken is going to be too fancy to the point it's not great. Well, I'm happy to say that the "Hot Fried Chicken" was everything fried chicken dreams are made of. My one little issue with it is that the fried chicken sits atop a piece of white bread, and the white bread soaks up ALL the yummy oil, so when you bite into that piece of bread, grease just oozes into your mouth, and some people might enjoy that, but I am not one of those people. Otherwise, I was very happy with my fried chicken. It's quite a lot, too.
The prices I found to be reasonable for lunch, too, and the food is always good. Of course, if you go for dinner, the dinner menu becomes $$$$.
You can't go to Kentucky and not do a Bourbon tour and tasting. We were lucky in that someone on our crew had the hook ups at Angel's Envy, so on one of our days off we did a 10am bourbon tasting, and I have to say I've not had a more enjoyable day drinking experience. First of all, it's just neat to understand and see the science and craftsmanship behind the bourbon-making. At the end of the tour we sipped a tasting of their bourbon twice--once neat, and once with an ice cube. Perhaps it's because I just don't drink that much anymore, but those two little tastings put me in a far happier state than I expected two tastings would put me in. At the end of the tour, you are allowed to go to the bar and order a cocktail from their seasonal menu. The winter cocktail menu this year was brilliantly inspired by Game of Thrones, and the drinks were so good. You're only allowed one drink, for obvious reasons. I had the "Wildfire," which consisted of Angel's Envy Port Finished Bourbon, mulled pineapple, Genepi, (something I can no longer remember), rosemary, lime, and fire. They literally lit my drink on fire, and there was a pirate ship made of lime and orange peels in my drink. It was delicious an the prettiest shade of aquamarine.
There are so many you could visit, but I enjoyed this one. It's a smaller distillery, so the intimacy is nice.
As previously mentioned, there's tons of good eats in Louisville, and what's nice is that there are plenty of healthy options. The issue I've had in the past in the South, is that food tends to be a lot heavier, but I have to say that on this trip to Louisville, I had never met so many vegetarians and vegans in one place, and I'm from LA. So, I'm just glad I had plenty of healthy options to balance out all the bacon I was eating on set. Although I do still feel like southerners over-salt their dishes and this was true even of the healthier food places.
Naive is one such healthy option eatery I enjoyed. It's in the historic neighborhood of Butchertown, just steps away from the trendy NuLu neighborhood. It stands on a very unsuspecting corner, and when you arrive you kind of wonder where you are--or at least I did. The food was delicious and very savory. It's not totally vegan, but it is a plant-based menu with meat options. There were so many things I wanted to try on their menu, but of what I did try, I enjoyed it all. We ordered the beet hummus, tikka masala fries (OMG the tikka masala fries!!!), General Tso's Cauliflower (OMG General Tso's Cauliflower!!!), and as my main I had the zucchini and kelp noodle Pad Thai, also a taste of heaven. With places like this, you have to be careful, because even though it's "healthier," that doesn't mean it's less caloric. I'd definitely go back there. The ambiance was very open, clean, and modern vintage--like they got their furniture from Anthropologie.
I was a little skeptical when a friend of mine wanted to get ramen, but at the recommendation of other friends, we found ourselves at MIRIN. It's not a strictly ramen place, as they also serve banh mis and baos. I just hope people realize these are three different types of foods from three different countries. You can't just lump all your Asians together, but if you're like, I love ramen, I love banh mis, and I love baos, so let's start a restaurant that serves all three, then why not? In any case, I tried the ramen and I was thoroughly impressed. It all comes down to the noodles, and the noodles had the perfect squish. I didn't have anything else, but if you're looking for a nice cozy bowl of ramen in Louisville, I'd recommend it.
My favorite meal in Louisville came after bourbon tasting. We made our way to Gralehaus, which is a little restaurant literally inside an old Victorian house. Apparently, it's a "bed & beverage," so on the second and third floors, there are three guest rooms one could stay in. It's definitely got a hipstery vibe, and there were craft beer options, but I could not even think about more alcohol after the bourbon tour. There aren't a lot of seats, and it was pretty busy when we got there. Even if I hadn't just come off that bourbon tour, I'm certain this still would have been the best and most memorable meal I had in Louisville. I ordered the lamb and grits, and those who know me know I love my grits. The lamb came in the form of a patty and tasted like a perfectly seasoned lamb kebab. The grits had just the right amount of cheesiness, and there was also a perfectly cooked sunny side-up egg. This was southern cuisine at its finest, and i'm drooling just reminiscing about it.
Other Places to See/Things to Do
On this last trip, I had the chance to visit the Muhammad Ali Center, and it's like one giant monument to the legend. It's a beautiful center dedicated to the Louisville native. It's interesting when you think about it though, particularly in today's political climate. Here you have this enormous dedication to a man who was not only black, but also Muslim, in Kentucky. Again, Louisville tends to be much more progressive than the rest of the state, but the juxtaposition was still something to take in. It's really special.
Of course, you can't go to Louisville without going to the Louisville Slugger Factory. I had been before, so I didn't go this time; but it's almost a must to get a custom made bat and appreciate America's favorite past time. You can tour the factory and museum, and it's just neat.
The next time I'm in Louisville, I'd like to experience more outdoorsy things. There are also many more good eats to experience, so I'll keep you posted!
If you have any recommendations though, do send them my way!
BIG LOVE & HUGS