We had a chance to eat at four Louisville restaurants (excluding the pick-up meals at the Derby). Two of these were on Restaurant Row (Bardstown Road) and two were downtown. We can’t say that we were especially impressed by any of the four. However the food here was waybbetter than the food we had in Frankfort Kentucky where our hotel was. That goes to tell you what we thought about the food in Frankfort.
Milkwood (Downtown). We were especially interested in trying this restaurant that specializes in Asian-influenced Southern cuisine. Unfortunately, the highly-recommended restaurant only offered a $100, prix-fixe four-course Derby dinner (each course with a choice of three or four dishes) on the night we were able to go. Our first courses consisted of Shumai “Deviled Eggs” made from artisanal fromage blanc and bacon, celery and chili flakes, plus local soy-cured lox with asparagus, cream cheese and puff pastry. Second courses were grilled eel with puffed rice, smoked coconut and green apple zest and the very good Kentucky bison tataki with tempura crisps, ponzu and country gravy. Our main courses consisted of roasted fish (mild, flaky white fish, but we don’t remember which) with grilled asparagus, melted leeks and bourbon brown butter hollandaise, and a flavorful pork shoulder with black BBQ sauce, coconut rice and curry oil. Desserts were an interesting Togarashi cheesecake with peanut sea salt, miso caramel and blackened pineapple, and mint julep ice cream with bourbon cake, chocolate chip mint, salted lime anglaise and sea salt. Although a fee dishes were good, most were merely okay. Nothing especially memorable and not worth the cost. We walked away very disappointed.
Mussel and Burger (Downtown). We went here for a light dinner where we got to try a couple local IPAs (Rhinequist Troth and Flying Dragon and an Amber 6th). Our food consisted of a number of small plates: seared foie gras, lamb meatballs and beef sliders, all of which were pretty good.
Lilly’s Bistrot (Restaurant Row). This restaurant was highly recommended to us by a local that we know. Although the restaurant is very well appointed and the service generally good (other than an unconscionably long wait for our main courses), the food was less than stellar. The beer cheese soup with bacon sounded good, but was so salty as to be unedible, even by the salt-lovers among us. This being said, the chicken-liver pate was fine. Although we were tempted by an open-faced Ahi melt, we reconsidered after requesting that the Ahi be cooked medium rare, we found out that the tuna was pre-chopped into a salad. So, all three of us (Joyce’s brother David was with us) ended up with fried oysters and grits with grains and chipotle cream. Although these were fine, they were certainly not noteworthy. And we couldn’t figure out why it took so long to get the dishes either (approx 45 minutefd). The only good point of eating here was that we were there for lunch versus a $100 Derby prix fix dinner which we almost did.
Mark’s Feed Store BBQ (also on Restaurant Row). This place was recommended to us for a casual meal. The cornbread was pretty good (albeit somewhat oily) and the fried corn on the cob decent (although dry). Tom’s BBQ ribs were pretty good, especially with Mark’s red BBQ sauce. This being said, the pulled pork and pulled chicken were both dry.
OK, so Louisville is not a gourmet’s town. Don’t come with high expectations and you will be alright.
OK, We lied. We didn’t really stay in Louisville. During the Kentucky Derby, hotels dramatically raise their rates to a level we didn’t feel like paying. So we stayed in Frankfort Kentucky, which is about 50 miles away. Since the road is all expressway and is mostly 70 mph, it was a fairly easy drive to and from Louisville. Although truth be told, we would have rather stayed in Louisville because there is little to do there, and, as mentioned, very unmemorable restaurants.
Our hotel was the Fairfield Inn, a relatively newly built property with the normal Fairfield Inn bells and whistles. The room was comfortable and clean. The breakfast has a wide selection of budget hotel food—although the food seemed a little more upscale than other hotels in a similar class. Basically, it did what it needed to do. It had a wide selection of cereal and even had skim milk. The egg accompaniment changed from sausage gravy to sausage every other day. Yogurt, waffles etc. The only issue is that they were having some kind of major ceiling water leak in the lobby the entire 6 days we were there and blowers were running 24×7. Fortunately, it was just in the lobby area and one got used to going around hoses.