Roadfood Adventures: Covington to Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

7 STOPS | 344 MILES | 5 hr 50 min

Covington to Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Roadfood Adventures are not just quests for great food wherever the road leads, but an invitation for travelers to connect that memorable food to the land, to its history and culture, and to the people who grow it, cook it, and eat it. A road trip through Kentucky is an opportunity to savor the American South at its most gracious. A land of fast, thoroughbred horses, world-famous racetracks, and bluegrass farms that stretch for miles. It’s a place to eat crazy-good barbecue, legendary fried chicken, and award-winning pie.

  • Herb & Thelma’s Tavern, a Covington institution since 1939, is all about camaraderie, cold beer, and burgers. Kickin rock music competes with the boinging of a pinball machine. Service is friendly, neighborhood-tavern casual. While burgers are universal, some items on the menu are a reminder that Cincinnati (just over the river) once was nicknamed Porkopolis. Bratwurst and Mettwurst – both Queen city favorites – are secured from a Covington butcher. The fried bologna sandwich, which consists of two thick rounds, is Southern Ohio all the way.
  • Although western Kentucky is famous for its deep-rooted barbecue culture, the center of the state around Lexington never has had an exalted reputation for smoke-cooked meat. Since 2014, the folks at the Blue Door Smokehouse have been doing something to change that. If you are hankering for Texas-style (melt-in-your-mouth) brisket, pulled pork, smoky chicken, muscular smokehouse sausages, or baby back ribs, this is the place to go!
  • One of America’s most distinctive sandwiches, the Kentucky hot brown was invented in the ’20s by the Brown Hotel, which serves a fork-and-knife job for certain: Toast topped with white turkey meat under a sizzling spill of cheesy cream sauce, slices of tomato, and strips of bacon.
  • If you have a sweet tooth in Louisville, you need to know about this place. The Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen is cake-eater’s heaven boasting a huge variety of chess pie, seasonal fruit pies, Shaker sugar pie, and much more!
  • Thomason’s Barbecue of Henderson, Kentucky, barbecues any meat that walks. Pork, mutton, beef, spare ribs, baby back ribs, chicken, ham, turkey…we did say EVERYTHING! The beans are magnificent – rich and smoky, laced with shreds of BBQ. As significant as the BBQ and beans are in this place, it is also quite possible to come here only for the heavenly pies.
  • What some consider to be the world’s best fried chicken is found at Brown Bag Diner a humble Henderson, Kentucky, diner. Like aged country ham, it might seem almost too intense: Spicy, salty, crunchy all at once. But as tongue-shock settles, taste buds crave more; and after a few bites, one’s whole world very quickly shrinks to nothing other than this amazing fried chicken and the rapturous necessity of devouring every edible morsel of it. There’s a whole huge diner menu of burgers, sandwiches, BBQ, breakfast, and more, but really, what does any of the other stuff matter when you’re in the presence of chicken like this?
  • In the same family for generations, Old Hickory Bar-B-Que has a well-worn feeling with vintage wood booths and tables that have advertisements for local businesses laminated to their top. It’s a locals’ favorite and if you are traveling through and want a true taste of the area’s unique way with barbecue, this is the place to go.


Herb & Thelma’s Tavern

Herb & Thelma's is a vintage Covington Tavern known for cold beer, hand-fashioned burgers, locally-sources wursts and welcoming good cheer.


Blue Door Smokehouse

BBQ, smoked each day and served on butcher-papered trays, includes pulled pork, smoked sausage, beef brisket, ribs, and chicken.


Brown Hotel

The Kentucky hot brown was invented in the '20s by the Brown Hotel, which serves a classic: toast topped with turkey under sizzling cheese sauce and bacon.


Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen

Cake and pie-eater's heaven in Louisville, Kentucky: a huge variety of chess pie, seasonal fruit pie, Shaker sugar pie.


Thomason’s Barbecue

Thomason's of Henderson, Kentucky, barbecues all meats: pork, mutton, beef, etc. Beans are magnificent – rich and smoky, laced with shreds of BBQ.


Brown Bag Burgers

What some consider to be the world's best fried chicken is found in a humble Henderson, Kentucky, diner where locals gather for coffee & chat starting at 6am.


Old Hickory Bar-B-Que

Exemplary western Kentucky BBQ at Owensboro's Old Hickory includes off-the-pit mutton, pork, ribs & chicken. Plus burgoo, beans & banana pudding.