Woodford reserve tasting

My Wonderful Weekend Road Trip to Kentucky

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When I think of Kentucky, 3 things come to mind: bourbon, horses and baseball bats, and on a weekend road trip through Kentucky, I covered them all. With a lot of eating and drinking in between of course. 

Friday afternoon: Heading north from Nashville towards our first stop, the view quickly became lush and green. Part of the reason why I chose to visit Maker’s Mark was for the drive through the country I knew it would take us on.

Over an hour of winding through the backroads of Kentucky without cell service, we finally approached the beautiful property of Maker’s Mark.
One of the two shiny copper stills that all Maker’s Mark bourbon is distilled through.
Makers Mark bourbon tour
Makers isn’t a bourbon I ever reach for, but I enjoyed learning about their long history and process strolling through their picturesque grounds.

Friday night: One of my favourite things to do when I travel is to go to a sporting event because it’s a great way to soak in the local atmosphere. The Louisville Bats AAA baseball team plays out Louisville Slugger field and on a sunny summer evening, it was the perfect place to be.

Susy Bando Louisville Bats baseball
Fridays are craft beer promo night, meaning you get your admission ticket and 2 craft beers for $19. Add in that I won a free t-shirt and taco, and it turned into a night of good cheap entertainment.

Friday dinner: Louisville has a plethora of great dining options, but I chose Proof on Main in the 21C Museum Hotel for an easy dinner at their bar because it gave me the chance to wander through the boutique hotel’s art-filled spaces. 

susy bando 21c louisville
Give me any chance to pose with a penguin and I’m in!
My first drink had to be a bourbon sour, (something that I continued to start with throughout the roadie), which was delicious alongside the charred octopus with bagna cauda we ordered.

Saturday morning: If you’re in Louisville, then a visit to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is a must if you’re a (wife of a) baseball fan.

Louisville slugger bat museum
The world’s largest baseball bat at the entrance of, what’s considered by many, as baseball heaven.
Louisville slugger baseball bat susy bando
I couldn’t resist getting my hands on Ken Griffey Jr’s bat for this cheesy photo.

Saturday lunch: The Hot Brown is Louisville’s most famous dish that I first heard about from a “Mind of a Chef” episode. I wasn’t sure if it would really be my thing, but there was something about this Southern Kentucky icon that kept calling to me and if I was going to try it, of course I wanted to go straight to where it originated in 1926 at the Brown Hotel.

Hot brown louisville
This open faced sandwich made with hand-carved turkey, bacon, tomato, mornay sauce and covered in more cheese was a heart show-stopper. Definitely worth trying once, but definitely needed to be shared.

Saturday afternoon: As I planned the trip, I realized the horses were racing at Churchill Downs, home to the Kentucky Derby, I knew it was worth a visit. Of all of my travel adventures, I think my dad, who’s an avid horserace fan was most excited about this.

churchill downs mint julep
Checking out the horses pre-race with a mint julep in hand and feeling very “Kentucky”.

Saturday pre-dinner: I’m always on the lookout for a good cocktail and my Louisville research led me to Lola which sits above Butchertown Grocery restaurant in the East Market district referred to as NuLu.

I asked for a refreshing, summery cocktail which was fruity but not sweet, which is always my go-to on a hot summer’s evening. I welcomed the bar’s dark and comfortable space as a brief hideaway from the evening heat.
susy bando love lousiville
After 2 cocktails, I was twirling with joy and in LOVE with Louisville.

Saturday dinner: With options such as Decca, Rye and Butchertown Grocery, I was tempted to stay in hipster NuLu for dinner, but I was craving Asian flavours and hoped Chef Edward Lee’s Milkwood, described as Southern with global influences, would deliver what I was looking for.

Louisville Milkwood wings
Smoked chicken wings with chili lime sauce topped with Alabama white sauce. These wings along with the gochujang fried chicken and Singapore chili mussels were all so uniquely delicious. This was my favorite meal of the roadie.

Sunday morning: I woke up craving something healthy and searched “juice + smoothie” which led me to Lueberry for a green smoothie packed with fruits and veggies to make my body happy.

Louisville Please thank you coffee
And for my mind, a few doors down I was able to charge up with a big coffee to go.

Sunday afternoon: It was time to hit the road again, this time heading east towards Lexington for the evening. Seeing as this is a major route on the bourbon trail, of course we had to make a few stops.

I hummed and haw-ed over visiting Buffalo Trace or Woodford Reserve but eventually chose Woodford as their tour/tasting seemed to give access to more.

Woodford reserve copper still
The highlight of the Woodford tour was getting a glimpse at these beautiful gleaming copper stills.
Woodford reserve tasting
Oh, and the tasting of course.

We were in the area, so I added in a visit to Castle and Key, a previously abandoned distillery with a castle which has been newly restored.

Castle Key bourbon distillery
Done with official touring, we wandered the grounds instead admiring how old sat alongside the new.

Sunday lunch: Smithtown Seafood is one of Chef Ouita Michel’s many restaurants in Lexington and the one that seemed most approachable for an easy lunch that included fresh vegetables, something my body was still asking for. As an added bonus, Smithtown Seafood shares its space with West Sixth Brewing, so I was able to taste some local Lexington brews with my lunch.

smithtown seafood lexington
On the enthusiastic recommendation of the server, we ordered blackened mutton snapper on top of a Singapore salad with a side of delicately fried cod tacos.
west 6 brewing lexington
I paired lunch with a sampler of summer-y light West Sixth brews.

Sunday early evening: With only a night in Lexington to explore, we decided a walk to check out its vibrant street art scene was a good way to get to be introduced to the city.

Sunday pre-dinner drink: As we zig zagged through downtown Lexington, we walked by a unassuming bar on a narrow side street. Ona, (which I later realized was rated by Esquire magazine as one of the top bars in America in 2018) was a true unexpected discovery, the kind that travelling with your eyes open allows you to find.

Ona Lexington cocktail
I loved the art deco, divey (in the nicest way possible) feel to Ona and the bartenders are making seriously well-crafted cocktails. If Ona was located in my city, it would be my regular.

Sunday dinner: Completely unlike me, I had no advance dinner plans for Lexington. I had a visit to the Distillery district in mind, but realized Middlefork is closed on Sundays. The concierge recommeded Dudley’s on Short, but it felt like it’d be a bigger meal than I was in the mood for. We settled on the Latin-inspired Corto Lima, but its next-door neighbour Pearl’s, with its wood-fire over caught our eye and is eventually what we sat down at.

Pearls pizza pie lexington
Charred broccoli salad to start…
Pearls pizza Lexington
… followed by the Paramount Joe pizza, topped with a sorrel and seed pesto and artichokes. The crust was chewy with a tasty char and made for one of the best pizza’s I’ve had in a long time.
Thanks Kentucky for all the magic – What a Wonderful World!

The places I visited in this post:

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