Living life between the barrel staves in Bourbon Country

Kentucky Tailgate Menus

In and around Lexington, tailgating parties aren’t just limited to the annual Steeplechase race in May. Keeneland Race Course, which is active during the months of April and October, has become over the years a popular spot for pre-race tailgating, particularly with the college crowd. And of course, you can’t forget the annual pilgrimage to Cincinnati for the Jimmy Buffett concert. This event draws the Margaritaville faithful from every neighboring state and beyond. There is always a sizable contingent from Lexington hanging out before the show, and the University of Kentucky Alumni bus has been sited more than once. Whether at the races or on the river waiting to hoist a margarita glass to promote some changes in attitudes, food always plays a dominant part in the fun. Below are some of the stories, and menus, from these gatherings and meetings of the minds.

Jimmy Buffett Tailgate Revelers in Cincinnati, 2006 (author is in the middle)

Jimmy Buffett Tailgate Party: Riverbend Music Center – Cincinnati, Ohio

  • Margarita’s
  • Black Marlin Hurricane’s
  • Margaritaville Landshark Lager
  • Bama Breeze Burgers
  • Red Stripe Shrimp Skewers
  • Mango Chile Salsa and Chips
  • Tropical Fruit Salad with Poppyseed Dressing
  • Key Lime Pie Tarts

Cincinnati is one of the places the gave Jimmy Buffett his start and launched the craze that is Parrothead Madness. Don’t believe me? Why do you think the line in his song “Fins” reads “She came down from Cincinnati?”. Part of the Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays live album was recorded there as well. When Jimmy is in town, it might as well be a national holiday. Tailgating starts early, and spots along Kellogg Avenue are scarce and highly prized. Boats line up on the Ohio River behind the stage at Riverbend Music Center. You can’t see the show from the river, but you can sure hear it, and it’s always a sell-out crowd.

A rain soaked tailgate cook, pre-concert Cincinnati 2007

A rain soaked tailgate cook and friend, pre-concert in Cincinnati, 2007

The concert will run late due to the fact that Jimmy has to, inevitably, play one more song for what is to him a home town crowd. Food is a must, and as you might expect cheeseburgers and margarita’s play a big part in the menu. For anything else such an obvious cop-out would be met with derisive criticism and comments about the chef having suffering from a serious lack of creativity. But here, on this night, it is exactly what everybody wants. We’re all just living out our own little island fantasy, growing older but not up, and trying to have as much fun as we can along the way. So next time Jimmy is in town, look for us about three hours before show time, food will be just starting to come off the grill. Stop in, say hello, and hoist a margarita glass with us.

My son, watching horses cross the finish line at Keeneland, 2007

Call To The Post Tailgate Party: Keeneland Race Course – Lexington, Kentucky

  • Moonglow’s (Colonel Michael Edward Master’s recipe from Hospitality – Kentucky Style)
  • Mint Juleps
  • Bourbon on the Rocks
  • Pico de Gallo and Chips
  • Beer Cheese and Crackers
  • Mesa Grill Potato Salad (from Bobby Flay’s Boy Meets Grill)
  • Smoked Turkey and Swiss Finger Sandwiches with Bourbon Apple Nut Chutney (from The Woodford Reserve Culinary Cocktail Tour)
  • Lemon Bourbon Blosssoms

Forgive me Lord, for I have sinned. It’s been seven furlongs since my last confession. And two Bloody Mary’s. Ah, Sunday afternoon at the track. I must be at Keeneland.

The annual thoroughbred racing meet at Keeneland, held every April and October, is a highly anticipated social outing in Lexington and the surrounding communities. Nearly everyone dresses up for the track regardless of age. During these two months of the year, if you are doing business on Friday, you are more than likely doing it over drinks at the track. The students at the University of Kentucky turn out for the races too, and more than once while in college I would attend classes in the morning and run into my professors trackside in the afternoon. Over the years tailgating prior to post-time, particularly on Friday and Saturday, has become part of the overall Keeneland experience. If you hit the track at 11am in the morning knowing the last race isn’t until 5:45pm, you need a little nourishment to get you through the day. That shouldn’t be interpreted as implying the food at Keeneland isn’t good – it would stack up well against any other track and most restaurants. But for the pre-race festivities outside the grandstand, it never hurts to plan for a bit of a meal before hitting the betting windows. Sunday’s tend to see more families turning out to watch the horses run, with the lawn at the far end of the grandstand given over to kids running about and their parents sitting around on picnic blankets covering the ground. This is the day that I like to bring my son to the track – he enjoys being around horses just as much as I do. On these days we’re content with a couple of sandwiches, some hot chocolate and maybe a quick trip to the ice cream stand. Any other day, however, tailgating on the grounds is not only likely but expected. And while there’s plenty of food inside the gates, there’s no sense in waiting until post-time to start eating.

Seriously, it's only hot chocolate.  And I really am this cool.

My son being, well, himself. Seriously, it's only hot chocolate. And he really thinks he's this cool.


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