Living life between the barrel staves in Bourbon Country

It’s All About The Food

A Rolex clock keeps watch over the Paddock at Keeneland Racecourse, reminding everyone in Lexington it's always time to eat.

With the start of the World Equestrian Games imminent, the attention of the world’s equestrian press has understandably been focused on the host city of Lexington, Kentucky, my hometown. Not as expected – though no less appreciated – is the increased focus on Lexington’s culinary scene. Then again, after a day spent in spirited equestrian competition, or equally spirited (albeit in a different way) observation of aforementioned competition from the air-conditioned comfort of a luxury suite or hospitality tent (sponsored by one of Kentucky’s Bourbon distilleries of course), what does a person want more other than a good meal? And in this town, my town, the choices for such a meal are both plentiful and ever-expanding.

Garden & Gun – What all the Cool Kids are Reading This Year

When you ask someone if they’ve read the latest issue of Garden & Gun you’ll likely get a strange look, as if saying “Is that a real publication?” or “When did the NRA take up gardening?”. Around here however, and among native sons and daughters of the South, it has become a quintessential publication. Kind of like Southern Living for the fox hunting sect. The August 2010 issue features a nice overview of Lexington and its history, including many of its more well-known restaurants. Read the full article here at Garden & Gun – The Layers of Lexington. Restaurants and watering holes mentioned include:

  • Stella’s Deli
  • Al’s Bar
  • Cheapside Bar and Grill
  • Dudley’s on Short
  • The Grey Goose
  • Holly Hill Inn
  • Metropol
  • Natasha’s Bistro and Bar
  • The Track Kitchen at Keeneland Racecourse
  • Wallace Station
  • Buster’s Billard’s and Backroom
  • The Horse and Barrel
  • Skybar

There is also a good overview of the different disciplines that make up the Equestrian Games, along with shopping and profiles of some well-known locals, including Debbie Long of Dudley’s.

The Second City Takes a Look at the Bluegrass

The Chicago Tribune, evidently having caught wind of the goings on in the Bluegrass State, sent an intrepid reporter to check out the city and its dining scene. The resulting article appear in late August. Restaurants visited are:

  • Holly Hill Inn
  • Jonathan’s at Gratz Park
  • The Dish
  • Heirloom (in Midway, KY)
  • Dudley’s on Short

Check out the whole article here Chicago Tribune – Grazing in Horse Country.

Our Pride and Joy, in a Bottle

September is Bourbon Heritage Month in Kentucky, and that’s when the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival takes place in Bardstown, KY, just a short pleasant drive west of Lexington. The Bourbon Festival is no small town “fair”. Oh no. People travel from as far away as Japan and the Far East to join in the week-long activities, which include an auction of rare and autographed bourbon bottles (some are even still full), a Bourbon, Cigars and Jazz dinner/dance, ghost walk tours of historic Bardstown, KY, bourbon barrel rolling contests and bourbon cooking lessons. There is even a bourbon train ride, complete with staged cowboy robbery. The whole thing culminates in the Master Distiller’s Ball, a black tie event where every bourbon distillery in Kentucky is represented by its best and brightest. Though they are competitors in the marketplace, when caught out and around in Kentucky, the representatives from the various distilleries act like the best of friends. All the great spirit publications will be in town, Whiskey Magazine, Imbibe, and our own homegrown The Bourbon Review. This year the festival runs from September 14th to 19th, and event schedules and ticket information can be found here at The Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

If you’ve never checked out The Bourbon Review, I can highly recommend this bourbon-centric publication. Click here for subscription information.

Food and Wine Magazine Recognizes Lexington’s Own

The June 2010 issue of Food & Wine Magazine recognized Lexington’s own Wine + Market as one of the top 5 Natural Wine Stores in the United States, putting the store in the company of others from New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. It is amusing that Lexington is the only city listed which the editors felt needed the additional identifier of its state (KY) as well. Wine + Market has become the place to visit on Friday nights for their weekly wine tasting. During the summer the store, which features a small food & cheese shop as well, offered a rotation of international barbecue dinners to accompany their wines. Currently a cheese and charcuterie platter on the menu. Wine + Market’s owners will soon be opening a full service restaurant a few blocks away in downtown Lexington to be called Table 310. Click here for the Food & Wine article, or check out Wine + Market on Facebook.

Twin Spires and a Little Bam

Tommorrow, unaffiliated with the Equestrian Games though no doubt fully intended by its promoters to take advantage of the timing, is the Fork, Cork and Style Festival at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY just an hours drive to the northwest of Lexington. Churchill Downs is of course the home of the Kentucky Derby, the occasional host of the Breeder’s Cup (including this year’s and next’s), and more recently an increasing number of non equine events. The Rolling Stones have played Churchill. So have the Police. On September 12th the fabled home of the most famous two minutes in sports will play host to a food and wine festival featuring the most famous food TV personality in the world. Emeril Lagasse will be joined by alumni from Top Chef for a day long food and wine tasting with cooking demonstrations and all the trappings. Details can be found here at Fork, Cork and Style!

Food Show Returns to the Bluegrass

Not to be outdone, Lexington will host the second annual Incredible Food Show shortly after the Games conclude. Featuring a market of local producers, last year’s event brought celebrity chef Bobby Flay to town for cooking demonstrations and autograph signings. Flay is no stranger to Lexington or Kentucky. He has a well-known fondness for Bourbon, an interest in thoroughbred race horses (being a regular at the Keeneland sales, the most famous of which is the September yearling sale slated to begin tomorrow), and his Throwdown! show for the Food Network has brought him twice to Louisville – both challenges resulting in defeat for Flay. Don’t worry Bobby, that’s what bourbon is for.

This year’s Incredible Food Show features Flay’s fellow Food Network host Giada DeLaurentis. The show runs October 23rd and 24th. More info can be found here at The Incredible Food Show.

The James Beard Foundation Takes Up Residence in Lexington

Perhaps the greatest feather in Lexington’s culinary cap is the series of 16 – sixteen! – James Beard Foundation dinners during the Equestrian games. The best chefs of the Bluegrass will be paired with some of the best chefs in America. The dinners cost $300 / person, so the whole series can be had for the low, low price of $4800. And yes, I’ll gladly accept donations or sponsorships so you can live vicariously through me. Click the link below for more information.

Cookin’ In The Bluegrass: Celebrity Chef Dinner Series

Date Hosting Kentucky Chef James Beard Guest Chef

Jonathan Lundy
Jonathan’s at Gratz Park
Lexington, KY
Michael Schwartz
Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink
Miami, FL
Traci Des Jardins
San Francisco

Jeffrey Newman
Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant
Berea, KY
Sanford D’Amato
Sanford Restaurant
Milwaukee, WI
Anne Quatrano
Atlanta, GA

Brandon Ginter
The Julep Cup
Lexington, KY
Joseph Lenn
Blackberry Farm
Walland, TN
Nancy Oakes
Boulevard Restaurant
San Francisco

Paul Weckman
Covington, KY
Roberto Donna
Galileo III
Washington, D.C.
Francis Schmitz
Bristol Bar & Grille
Louisville, KY
Andrea Reusing
Lantern Restaurant
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Nat Tate
Lexington, KY
Jonathan Eismann
Pacific Time
Miami, FL
John Besh
Restaurant August
New Orleans, LA

Andrew Myers
Lexington, KY
James Boyce
Cotton Row Restaurant
Huntsville, AL
Joachim Splichal
Patina Restaurant Group

Erik Fowler
Lexington, KY
Marc Vetri
Philadelphia, PA
Tim Byres
Dallas, Texas

John Varanese
Louisville, KY
Wally Joe
The Brushmark Restaurant & ACRE
Memphis, TN
John Sundstrom
Lark Restaurant

James Gerhardt
Limestone Restaurant
Louisville, KY
Todd Gray
Washington D.C.
Suzanne Tracht
The Jar Restaurant
Los Angeles, CA

Kathy Cary
Lilly’s Bistro
Louisville, KY
Emily Luchetti
Mark Franz
Farallon and Waterbar
San Francisco, CA

Justin Thompson
Jean Farris Winery & Bistro
Lexington, KY
Paul Kahan
Blackbird Restaurant
Chicago, IL
Celina Tio
Kansas City, MO

Jeremy Ashby
Azur Restaurant & Patio
Lexington, KY
Bernard Guillas
The Marine Room
La Jolla, CA
Jose Garces
Garces Restaurant Group
Philadelphia, PA

Michael Paley
Proof on Main
Louisville, KY
Mark Kiffin
The Compound Restaurant
Santa Fe, NM
October 7th
Frank Brigtsen
Brigtsen’s Restaurant
New Orleans, LA

Anthony Lamas
Louisville, KY
Philippe Boulot
Chef of MAC & Heathman Restaurant
Portland, OR
Vitaly Paley
Paley’s Place Bistro & Bar
Portland, OR

Dean Corbett
Equus Restaurant
Louisville, KY
Christopher Lee
New York, NY
Ouita Michel
Holly Hill Inn
Michael Cimarusti
Providence Restaurant
Los Angeles, CA

Edward Lee
610 Magnolia
Louisville, KY
John Currence
City Grocery
Oxford, MS
Mike Lata
Charleston, South Carolina

The actual event website has links to the planned menu for each night. If you love food, the Bluegrass region and Bourbon, it makes for great reading.

A Book For Every Cook

While in town for his Celebrity dinner with Lexington’s own Nat Tate, New Orleans Chef John Besh will be at Williams-Sonoma Fayette Mall on September 28th autographing his latest cookbook My New Orleans. Food Network fans will remember Besh as the runner-up to Cleveland’s Michael Symon on the original season of “The Next Iron Chef”. The book signing will begin at 5pm, and more information can be found at John Besh Book Signing.

And speaking of Williams-Sonoma, look for gourmet items from Louisville’s Bourbon Barrel Foods to begin appearing in stores nationwide and in Canada. Find about more about their products at Bourbon Barrel Foods.

While Chef Besh was runner-up on season one, the second season winner of “NIC” Jose Garces will be co-hosting the October 6th Celebrity Dinner with Chef Jeremy Ashby of Azur in Lexington. And if that wasn’t enough Iron Chef overload, host Alton Brown will be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington on October 15th signing his new book Good Eats 2: The Middle Years. The signing will begin at 7pm and line numbers are required in advance. More information can be found in the Events section of

Horses of Course

As the Equestrian Games wrap up the second weekend of October, Keeneland will be kicking off its Fall Meet on Friday October 9th. Keeneland is well-known for its food and I know more than a few people who plan trips to the track that have more to do with its Bread Pudding with Maker’s Mark Bourbon Sauce than with the horses. Keeneland has several dining options for those interested, details can be found on their website below.

Keeneland Tickets and Dining Reservations

The Football Tailgate Comes To Town

Not only do the final days of the Games overlap with Keeneland’s opening, but the University of Kentucky hosts the Auburn Tigers at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday October 10th. Kentucky Football has never been great, but that hasn’t stopped them from having one of the great tailgate parties in the SEC. Food will be plentiful, and in less successful years I have seen many people choose to stay in the parking lots and continue the tailgate party rather than the enter the stadium and watch the game.

All in all, the next 60 days will be a remarkable time in the Bluegrass. The fall months will also present an incredible opportunity to enjoy the best of what this region has to offer the culinary world. So as the horses start the arrive and the final plans come together, remember when you are in Lexington it’s not always about Bourbon, Basketball and Horses. Sometimes, many times really, it’s about the food.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s