What To Eat in Kentucky
Genuine Kentucky fried chicken is a crunchy/juicy/spicy swirl like nowhere else, at its best west of Louisville. Also in this area you will find one of the nation’s most colorful styles of barbecue, where king of the pit is not pork or beef but rather, mutton. Once you’ve tasted it, you understand the locals’ love for it. Louisville is home to the baroque American sandwich known as a hot brown, as well as to pie-and-cake-eater’s-heaven in the form of the Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen.
Following the barbecue trail west of Louisville along the Ohio River and south towards the Land Between the Lakes you will find an open-pit culture unlike anywhere else, where the main meat is mutton. Mature lamb makes for some big-flavored barbecue, and while its sharp sheep tang is undeniable, hours of smoke make its wallop as soft as a prize-fighter's glove.
Almost every place that serves barbecue in western Kentucky also offers the fork-thick vegetable soup/stew known as burgoo. Supposedly named when a Civil War cook with a speech impediment tried to say bird stew, burgoo traditionally contained meat from whatever small game the cook could get, usually including squirrel. Modern burgoo, a staple on Derby Day along with the mint julep, is made with barbecued mutton and also possibly chicken, pork or beef. Its thick and hearty character is similar to Brunswick stew, but it tends to be significantly spicier, verging into Creole gumbo territory.
The original Hot Brown, named for the Brown Hotel whose chef created it in the 1920s, was sliced turkey on white toast topped with Mornay sauce and parmesan cheese, broiled until bubbly. When removed from the broiler, the top was criss-crossed with bacon strips and lengths of pimiento pepper. The hotel's name became affixed to the dish, which has since become a Kentucky trademark, available in many alternate configurations: with ham in addition to the turkey, with tomatoes instead of pimientos, with crab meat instead of turkey; there even are hamburger hot browns and vegetarian hot browns.
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Monroe County-style barbecue means pork shoulder, sliced and dipped in hot sauce, at Bowling Green's Smokey Pig -- a memorable stop on Kentucky's BBQ trail.
Exemplary western Kentucky BBQ at Owensboro's Old Hickory includes off-the-pit mutton, pork, ribs & chicken. Plus burgoo, beans & banana pudding.
The Ice Cream & Pie Kitchen is sweet tooth's heaven in Louisville, Kentucky: a huge variety of chess pie, seasonal fruit pie, Shaker sugar pie.
Peak Bros. is is a longstanding western-Kentucky source for BBQ, especially mutton. But don't ignore ham: it may be the best meat in the house.
Out in the Louisville suburbs, Cottage Cafe is home of hot browns, Benedictine sandwiches, and world class cakes for dessert.
BBQ, smoked each day and served on butcher-papered trays, includes pulled pork, smoked sausage, beef brisket, ribs, and chicken.
Herb & Thelma's is a vintage Covington Tavern known for cold beer, hand-fashioned burgers, locally-sources wursts and welcoming good cheer.
Shirley Mae's Cafe is a Louisville institution serving fine fried chicken and side dishes in a true downhome setting.
Nord's is a full-service bakery known especially for its great donuts, including bacon-maple long johns and buttercream-filled puffs.