Top Shelf: Louisville Dining
Celeb chef Ed Lee has a new burgers-and-bourbon spot. Let’s go eat in Louisville.
Chef Edward Lee’s eagerly anticipated new Louisville restaurant and bar, Whiskey Dry (412 S. 4th St.) is set to open in July in downtown’s Fourth Street Live area. The season-nine Top Chef contestant will feature locally raised beef and seasonal ingredients. “Louisville is an ideal place to run a farm-to-table restaurant, where agriculture is right in your backyard,” Lee says. Along with more than 250 whiskeys from craft distilleries across the country, the restaurant has an “Ed Mac,” a play on the McDonald’s classic that subs the center bun with a fried green tomato.
Even if you can’t yet get a table there, his other restaurants—and the city’s oft-toasted dining scene at large—offer reasons aplenty to cross the Ohio. Opened in 1978, 610 Magnolia is one of Louisville’s oldest restaurants and arguably its best known. Brooklyn native Lee took over the cozy Old Louisville spot in 2004 after visiting the city for the Kentucky Derby and deciding to stick around. The availability of seasonal ingredients often dictates what you’ll find on the Southern- and Asian-influenced, multi-course tasting menu (and chanterelle mushrooms are always a favorite of executive chef Kevin Ashworth). An after-dinner stroll through nearby Belgravia Court gives you the opportunity to admire one of the largest collections of Victorian homes in the country. Lee’s other downtown joint, MilkWood, is a mood-lit haunt tucked underneath a theater. Colonel Sanders’s secret recipe has nothing on Lee’s—and good luck finding fried chicken at another restaurant that also serves grilled kabayaki eel with puffed rice, smoked coconut, and green-apple ginger zest.
Louisville gems outside the celebrity-chef spotlight are no less worthy, particularly in the East Market Street or “NuLu” district. For lunch, Galaxie makes messy—and delectable—tacos on handmade flatbread; try the spicy chorizo or curry sweet potato. Retail in the NuLu area is, as the saying goes, keeping Louisville weird. Revelry (revelrygallery.com), a boutique/art gallery owned by Louisville eccentric Mo McKnight Howe, sells furniture, home decor, and jewelry, as well as works by a different featured artist every month; a live DJ lures in foot traffic during gallery hops and other events.
The nearby Germantown neighborhood might be the new NuLu, with restaurants opening what feels like every week. The Post stands out for New York–style pizza, and the weekly changing “market burger” at gastropub Monnik Beer Co. has included one with braised beef cheek with guajillo chili sauce and cheddar; another with peach-pepper jam, goat cheese, and bacon; and yet another served between doughnuts instead of buns (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it).
Any Louisville eat-cation has to include Bardstown Road. Jack Fry’s and Lilly’s Bistro are the OGs of the historic Highlands neighborhood’s restaurant landscape, and each has a unique approach to upscale-casual Southern. Jack Fry’s shrimp and grits rivals what you might find in New Orleans, and Lilly’s chef Kathy Cary has been using bourbon in dishes since before it was cool. Down the street at Seviche, California native Anthony Lamas seamlessly blends his Mexican heritage with Southern principles and ingredients in dishes like Kentucky bison empanadas with avocado jalapeño puree.
Part of Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail, the Silver Dollar—a honky-tonk in a former firehouse located in the historic Clifton neighborhood just outside downtown—serves Texas-style chili and cornbread, and barbecue chicken thighs that separate pro hot-sauce handlers from the amateurs. Brunch on the covered patio means chilaquiles, coffee-rubbed steak and eggs, crispy fries with housemade smoked ketchup, and enormous fluffy pancakes with jam. After indulgences like those, a walk to Indiana—literally—might do you good: The Big Four pedestrian and bicycle bridge to Jeffersonville has unbeatable views of Louisville, the Ohio, and Southern Indiana’s riverfront (which has a pretty decent dining scene of its own).
WHILE YOU’RE THERE:
Breakfast and lunch spot Gralehaus, in a circa-1905 building in the Highlands, serves Kentucky honey-ginger cookie crepes and country ham, egg, and cheese biscuits, plus a ginormous selection of beer, coffee, and tea—all under three self–check-in “bed and beer” units that feature art and decor from local artists and shops. The owners operate an adjacent beer garden and neighboring former church—complete with pews and stained glass—that now houses Holy Grale and its highly curated selection of beers on tap and European-style pub grub such as fritjes (double-fried potatoes) and beer cheese. Boutique spot Chateau Bourbon in the Norton Commons neighborhood carries the whiskey theme down to the Maker’s Mark barrels on the porch. Guests are greeted with a bourbon cocktail–and-dessert happy hour.
Thanks in part to the Derby, Louisvillians in the Highlands, Crescent Hill, and Old Louisville ‘hoods are vacation-rental pros—offering homes with artsy, Southern, and urban touches close to dining hot zones.
The I Am Ali festival (June 3 to July 15) at the Muhammad Ali Center marks the one-year anniversary of the champ/humanitarian’s passing. Performances, demonstrations, and special exhibits from arts and cultural groups interpret Ali’s six core principles: spirituality, giving, respect, conviction, dedication, and confidence.