On the Road: Kentucky

It’s probably just as well that the camera was still in my suitcase in the back of the rental car. Probably wouldn’t have been a good idea to be taking pictures while driving yesterday afternoon. There had already been a serious accident on I-64, a backup I’d soon be caught in. But I wish I could have captured a snap of those brown highway signs saying “Next Exit: Buffalo Trace Distillery” and Woodford Reserve and Four Roses. Truly a bourbon-lover’s delight, this place is. Though I hear folks come for the horses as well.

I’ve already learned a lot about Kentucky in my first 12 hours (part of which was sleeping in my cozy bed at Gratz Park Inn). The first culinary insight of note is that of “hot browns.” Never heard of this regional indulgence before. I understand the tradition is to toast some white bread and top it with a mound of sliced turkey (always) and ham (sometimes). Add a cheesy sauce, some sliced tomatoes and a couple slices of bacon, crossed in an X on top. Pop the pile under the broiler until it’s all bubbly, then dig in.

Chef Jonathan Lundy, owner of Jonathan’s at Gratz Park, helped introduce me to hot browns, telling me that it originated at the Brown Hotel in nearby Louisville. His version, which started my dinner last night, upscales the dish a bit, adding scallops. Rounds of toasted brioche are topped with sliced turkey and country ham, a sea scallop, a piece of bacon, finally tomato. The cheese sauce is pooled around the toasts. Delicious. In small doses. I can’t imagine making dinner of classic hot browns, as is the tradition around here.

My dinner mate and I split the fried green tomato salad, which was tasty, with its buttermilk dressing and garnish of crispy bacon (a theme!). Dinner was cola barbecued bison brisket for me (tender and really delicious) and peach glazed pork chop with grilled peach and cheesy scalloped potatoes (for her). Everything was luscious, tender, flavorful. For dessert the chef brought out a signature creme brulee that was flaming with a puddle of local bourbon on top. Quite a finale.

I’m off to explore some of the local spirits today, something I’ve been wanting to do for years now. Here was the little preview I found in my room when I checked in yesterday. Bodes well for a great couple of days before I head back to Louisville for the hard-core business part of the trip.

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