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.
Bell's is a Sebree, Kentucky pharmacy with a soda fountain where milk shakes are whirled and sundaes built. Best drink: tart, brilliant, salted lemon ice.
Orangeade, Lemonade, Lemon Ice, Milk Shake
Nord's is a full-service bakery known especially for its great donuts, including bacon-maple long johns and buttercream-filled puffs that are manna from heaven.
Owensboro, Kentucky considers itself the BBQ capital of the world. Among the best restaurants in town is the Moonlite, where mutton is king on a vast buffet.
Peak Bros. is one of the best western-Kentucky sources for BBQ, especially mutton, which comes sliced or chipped, the latter meaning very well-chopped.
Sanders' food is basic KFC, but the place is fascinating culinary history. This is where Harlan Sanders first served what was really delicious chicken.
Hall's is a Kentucky destination for handsome steaks, effulgent hot browns, and mud pie dessert, all in a bucolic country setting. Fine Roadfood dining.
Thomason's of Henderson, Kentucky, barbecues all meats: pork, mutton, beef, etc. Beans are magnificent – rich and smoky, laced with shreds of BBQ.
Marion Pit pork shoulders bask in hickory smoke for 17 hours. The result is unspeakably tender meat, some of the best BBQ in Kentucky.
Outdoor dining by the Ohio River make Mike Linnig's of Louisville a good-weather destination for fried seafood and beer. Indoor dining is fun, too, year around.