Louisville Food Highlights Southern Cuisine

Louisville Food Highlights Southern Cuisine

By: Eric Mees

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January 21, 2021

We know there are many ways to pronounce Louisville. So for this Louisville food post, we’re going to create our own: Foodville.

And when you’re in Foodville, there are a number of local Louisville food dishes, as well as inspired remakes of popular southern cuisine, that are guaranteed to please your palate. So, let’s get started.


What food is Louisville known for?

There are several foods that are purely Louisville, including:

  • Hot Brown
  • Benedictine
  • Derby-Pie®
  • Modjeska
  • Henry Bain Sauce
  • Burgoo

Hot Brown

A plate of Hot Brown served at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, as photographed by miles2gobeforeisleep, used with permission. Follow the blog of Michael Harding for more of his travels.

No excursion through Louisville food would be complete without getting a plate of Hot Brown. Invented in 1926, the traditional ingredients of this open-face hot sandwich are turkey, bacon, Mornay sauce (a creamy bechamel with Gruyere cheese), which is then broiled until bubbly. Variations include finishing touches like tomatoes, pimientos, ham and many more.

Why is it called a Hot Brown?

Fred K. Schmidt was a chef at the Brown Hotel, which was where he first conceived of and created the dish that’s become synonymous with Louisville. Therefore, he dubbed it the Hot Brown.

Where can I find it?

In the case of Hot Brown, it would probably be easier for us to list places in Louisville that don’t serve a version of the dish, but for the sake of argument, start with the original at the Brown Hotel. The Brown still serves its eponymous dish at all three of its on-site restaurants: The Lobby Bar, J. Graham’s Café and The English Grill.

When you realize you’re hooked, you can either seek treatment or head over to Louisville Tourism for their Hot Brown Hop. There, you’ll find mention of nearly 40 restaurants around town serving their own takes on the original Hot Brown.

Some of the most notable variations we found are served on biscuits (Biscuit Belly), pizza (Sicilian Pizza & Pasta or Sal’s Pizza) or even baguettes (Napa River Grill). Many places serve it with different cheeses, spices or styles of bacon to put their own stamp on it.


Benedictine: Spread the Word

Photo used with permission from The Irish Rover.

Jennie Carter Benedict must’ve been as cool as a cucumber. Working as a caterer and restaurateur, she created her namesake cucumber and cream cheese spread around the turn of the 19th Century. She even found time to write The Blue Ribbon Cook Book.

Benedictine quickly caught on and can still be found in local grocery stores, on tables around town as a dip or as a spread inside some tasty sandwiches. Check out Eat Your Bourbon Marketplace or The Irish Rover, for example.


Henry Bain Sauce: Gettin’ Saucy

Photo used with permission from Y’all Company. (They ship this tasty sauce, so if you’re not in the Louisville area but you want to try it, Y’all Co. can ship it to your door.)

In 1881, a waiter at the Pendennis Club named Henry Bain created his namesake condiment to add flavor to steaks and local game brought to the club by members. He combined such varied ingredients as  chutney, walnuts, and a special combination of other sauces such as steak sauce, hot sauce, Worchestershire and chili sauce.

As love for the sauce grew, so did imitators, all looking to get in on the hype. Seeing the success and longevity of the condiment, the Pendennis Club started manufacturing its own branded Henry Bain’s Famous Sauce in 2009. It can be found in local groceries, on the table of many restaurants, as well as slathered on the steak sandwich at Bristol Bar and Grille, or on “Louavull’s” Favorite roast beef at The Cheddar Box Café, among others around town.


Derby-Pie®: A Pie Worthy of a Triple Crown

A slice of Derby-Pie® chocolate nut pie. Photo provided by Kern’s Kitchen, used with permission.

Developed in 1954 by the Kern family, Derby-Pie® chocolate nut pie is one of those must-have desserts that will leave you wanting more. The exact recipe is a closely guarded secret, to the point that we’re somewhat afraid to even mention what’s in it. Just kidding: It’s a scrumptious blend of chocolate and walnuts baked in a flaky crust.

While you may encounter a few knock-offs around town, stick with the original Derby-Pie® from Kern’s Kitchen. It’s relatively easy to find, since it’s served at a number of restaurants in the Louisville metro (including the Brown Hotel), and is available at multiple groceries or online.


Burgoo

While not exclusive to Louisville, Burgoo is a stew with its origins in the region. Traditionally, it consisted of any meat and vegetables that were readily available (leading to the less-than-appetizing nickname “roadkill soup”). These days, burgoo will often be made for large gatherings, but it can also be found in restaurants like the Derby Café Express and Mark’s Feed Store, which serves theirs by the cup, along with barbecue pork, chicken, turkey or brisket.


Modjeska

Step one: dip a marshmallow in caramel. Step two: eat. Step three: repeat. 

Inspired by a local performance of Polish stage actor Helena Modjeska in 1889, confectioner Anton Busath created the Modjeska in her honor. The world-renown actress approved, and even sent Busath an autographed picture. While Busath’s shop was destroyed in a fire in 1947, the candy is still manufactured at confectionaries around the region, including Muth’s Candies on East Market, Art Eatables on Linn Station Road and Schimpff’s Confectionary in nearby Jeffersonville, IN.


Fast Louisville Food

Any mention of Louisville food wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a couple of the high-profile chains that call Louisville home.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

KFC was founded in North Corbin, KY, in 1930, but relocated to Louisville where it’s now headquartered with its Yum! Brands stablemates, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Wing Street. KFC is one of the top employers in Louisville and is the second-largest restaurant chain in the world (based on sales) and as of 2019 had 22,621 locations in 150 countries.

Papa John’s Pizza

Papa John’s headquarters is located in nearby Jeffersontown. The chain is known for inventing dipping sauce specifically for pizza. It was founded in 1984 and as of 2016 had grown to the fourth-largest pizza delivery chain in the U.S. It is also one of the area’s top employers.


What is the best restaurant in Louisville, KY?

When most people think of Louisville, their thoughts turn to adult beverages and horse racing, but in recent years, the area has become a hotspot of New Southern Cuisine. Enough so that Louisville food has earned mention in top-10 lists in publications like Zagat, Southern Living, and Food & Wine Magazine.

According to Zagat, some of the top New Southern Cuisine to have taken root in Louisville is best experienced at 610 Magnolia. Chef Edward Lee’s modern take on regional cuisine varies by season and includes locally sourced produce and responsibly farmed animals.

Another highlight is Seviche, featuring Latin influences combined with traditionally Southern ingredients, from Chef Anthony Lamas. Fresh seafood is one of the main highlights of this restaurant, which was also named in Zagat’s article.


Chef Bruce Ucán opened The Mayan Cafe in 2007. It serves Yucatan-inspired dishes from its location in NuLu. Photo used with permission.

Where do the locals eat in Louisville, KY?

While New Southern Louisville food might be all the rage in the upscale restaurants, some of the highest-rated restaurants on Yelp go a little bit further south of the border. Yummy Pollo features Peruvian-style chicken, Con Huevos has Mexican breakfast and brunch covered, The Mayan Café serves sustainably sourced Yucatan-peninsula-inspired dishes, and Taco Choza was picked as one of the best Mexican restaurants in the U.S., according to a BuzzFeed article.

One of the top destinations for foodies is the NuLu neighborhood (as in “New Lou”), which is home to more than a dozen restaurants, roughly between Jackson Street to the west, Main Street to the north, Baxter Avenue to the east and Liberty Street to the south. Biscuits to macarons, coffee to Cuban, BBQ to vegetarian, NuLu is the go-to for anything and everything.

Where can I take out-of-town guests for lunch in Louisville?

Whether you’re just passing through or you live in the greater Louisville metro, it’s inevitable that you’ll visit the Kentucky Derby Museum for a tour of Churchill Downs. What’s that got to do with food, you might well ask? Well, the Derby Café Express features a from-scratch kitchen serving up Kentucky burgoo, beef burgers on homemade brioche buns, bourbon bread pudding and much more. Try the Hot Brown Panini for a unique take on the Louisville original.

Try the Hot Brown Panini at the Derby Café Express at the Kentucky Derby Museum. Photo used with permission.


Now that You’ve Eaten Some Very Fine Louisville Food

After sampling a little of what Louisville food has to offer, we’re excited to put down our own roots in Derby City. If you’re thinking of relocating here, or need some additional space for your home or office, keep us in mind.

Check out our storage units in Louisville or find your nearest location and we’ll help you find the affordable storage solution you’re looking for.

Writer who also enjoys cars, guitars and Mars bars.

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