Hidden Gems to Check Out When You’re In Louisville
When I travel, whether for business or personal reasons, I like to find local places to eat. My rule of thumb is, “eat at restaurants you can’t eat at at home”.
Many of the people I’ve told about my rule say they’re interested, but not sure how to find hidden gems or don’t want to take the time. I don’t have much time either, so I rely on a couple of key resources, such as Roadfood.com or Eater.com. Another great resource are friends like me!
Since I’ll be in Louisville later this month for the Mid-America Trucking Show, I thought I’d share some of the places I’ve visited and really enjoyed. A stop at any one of them will make your stay in Louisville a little more interesting.
If you want something…
Classic: Brown Hotel
The Brown Hotel is old-school style and class. One of the oldest hotels in Louisville, the Brown Hotel’s character has helped it stay relevant and worthwhile. An easy way to soak in the decades of history is a stop in the lobby bar, named one of The 150 Best Bars in America for 2019 according to All Things Food and Drink.
The Brown Hotel is also the home of the “Hot Brown”. The story goes that the hot brown was invented late one night in the 1920s at the Brown Hotel when a crowd of partiers asked the hotel chef to make them something special to eat. He whipped up an open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon and tomato then covered it with Mornay sauce; it was so popular they added to the menu and it’s still there today. The hot brown is one of those foods common in one town but rarely seen otherwise, like Chicago deep dish pizza or Cincinnati chili, so try one while you’ve got the chance.
Cool Dive: Hammerheads
Hammerheads is a small restaurant in the lower level of what seems like a normal house in quiet neighborhood. The first time I pulled up to the restaurant, I thought I was lost or had put in the wrong address. The crowd of people waiting outside was my first indication that I was in fact in the right place. The life-size hammerhead shark above the doorway was another clue I found a quirky gem.
Hammerheads does not take reservations. You get in by showing up and putting your name on the wait list. Then you wait. They have a bar, so I recommend you get a drink and unwind with friends at one of the patio tables outside.
When your name is called, you go down a few steps into what reminded me of my Uncle’s basement. If the dining space is small, the kitchen area is microscopic, just big enough for one or two people, and yet the cooks consistently turn out incredible meals. I recommend you try one of their sandwiches; the brisket or catfish are my favorites. The elk or venison burgers also get high marks from my friends.
Dessert: Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen
Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen regularly has over a dozen different pies, even more flavors of ice cream, and signature sundaes at each of the eight or more locations around Louisville. The last time I visited, they had Dutch Caramel Apple, Double Crust Apple, Cherry, Blueberry, Strawberry Rhubarb, Pecan, Pecan Chocolate Chip, French Silk, and Chess pies. (Chess was my grandma’s favorite; it’s kind of like a pecan pie without the pecans. Trust my grandma, it’s a real treat.)
I’m a pie guy, but they also have cakes, cookies, ice cream.
The chain is family owned and operated. A stop at any one of the locations is a great way to reset after a day on the show floor. The address below is for the original location.
Address: Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen, 2525 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY 40205
Hours: Mon – Thu 10am – 9pm; Fri -Sat 7am – 10:30pm; Sun 12pm – 9pm
Breakfast (bakery and donuts): Nord’s
Nord’s is an old-fashioned bakery. Everything is made in-house. Like the Pie Kitchen, they also have a great selection of cookies and cakes, but I recommend you try one of their donuts or pastries for breakfast. My short list includes the pretzel croissant, apple fritter, the maple long john with a strip of bacon, or the french twist.
Pizza: Garage Bar on Market
I live in Chicago, so I have a lot of choices for great pizza. There are great pies outside of Chicago and Garage Bar is a great choice for pizza and conversation in Louisville. The restaurant itself is a former service station in Louisville’s “NuLu” neighborhood. They have a great selection of beers, bourbons, and other drinks. If the weather is nice, you can sit outside and enjoy your drink while you play bags or ping pong and wait for your food.
The focus though is the pizza, primarily because of the wood-fired brick oven and the local ingredients they use. Each pizza can easily serve a couple people. I recommend ordering a couple varieties and sharing among the entire table.
Address: Garage Bar on Market, 700 E Market St Louisville, KY 40202
Hours: Mon – Thu 5pm – 10pm; Fri – Sat 4pm – 11pm; Sun 4pm – 10pm
Beer: Goodwood Tap Room
After pizza at Garage on Market, walk a couple blocks north to the Goodwood Taproom. Goodwood is a local brewery. Their claim to fame is aging their beers in wood barrels (most brewers use stainless steel tanks) and the same pure limestone water used to make the world famous Kentucky Bourbon.
You will see Goodwood beers at almost every establishment in Louisville. The taproom gives you a chance to try the beers right at the brewery and talk with some of the cool people who work in the company.
Address: Goodwood Tap Room, 636 E Main Street, Louisville, KY 40202
Hours: Mon – Tue 4pm – 9pm; Wed – Thu 4pm – 10pm; Fri – Sat 12pm – 11pm; Sun 12pm – 6pm
Phone: 502-584-BREW (2739)
A Challenge: Urban Bourbon Trail
Okay, this one is a little different. As you may know, Kentucky is famous for their Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Made for over 250 years, bourbon is a uniquely American drink and in fact was only made in Kentucky until very recently. There are a dozen or more distilleries in central Kentucky and the state has done a great job promoting and developing a tourist industry around them.
We’re in town for business, so while the idea of driving the beautiful winding roads of the bluegrass state sounds very appealing, the reality is there won’t be much time to go anywhere outside the city limits.
The Urban Bourbon Trail is one way to get a small sampling of the Bourbon Trail without leaving town. The UBT is a group of over 40 bars and restaurants that excel is bourbon, bourbon flights, bourbon cocktails, bourbon-infused food, and bourbon history and lore. You can pick up a “passport” at almost any one of the locations. When you stop and make a purchase at any of the participating bars or restaurants, they stamp your passport. If you get 6 or more stamps, you can stop by the Louisville Visitors Center (4th & Jefferson Streets Downtown)) and get a free t-shirt.
Address: Louisville Visitors Center, 301 S 4th St, Louisville, KY 40202
Hours: Mon – Sat 10am – 5pm; Sun 12pm – 5pm
A Hide Out: Troll Pub
After a few days of trade show halls with thousands of attendees, you may want a place to get away or hide out for a few hours. The Troll Pub is a perfect dugout.
First, the place is literally underground! You walk down a set of steps to enter. Then they offer a number of rooms off to the side where you can quietly escape the commotion. Once you’ve relaxed a bit, you can join the party crowd for great food or to watch a game. It’s a historic building, used for business and distilling for decades, so the brick walls and large timber supports are authentic and add to the sense of an underground hideout.
Address: Troll Bar, 150 W. Washington St. Louisville, KY 40202
Hours: Daily 11am – 2am
Let me know if you make it to any of these places and if you enjoyed them as much as I did.