Thursday, September 20, 2007

Blue Moon of Kentucky

Just returned from a week touring Kentucky, Virginia (not much of it) and Tennessee. I love New York, I really do...but anyone who lives here gets tired of the pretensions and rudeness from time to time. Especially if they've recently spent a week among lovely people and scenery as we did down south there. Here's the rundown:

Wednesday, September 12 we arrived in Louisville. We stayed at the utterly fabulous 21C MuseumHotel. If you go to Louisville, frankly, there's no where else to stay.

If you checked out that website, then you may think that it contradicts the lack of pretension I'm claiming to have seen on our trip. However, it really wasn't pretentious. I swear! Full of contemporary art and with one of the best restaurants in town (Proof on Main), but really, the staff was so nice but not weird nice, just genuine. And the owners are sharing their own personal collection with the public, and whats pretentious about that? The galleries are open to the public anytime. There is art on guest room floors that they can't get to without paying for a room, but the public can come in for tons of free art whenever they'd like - including Judy Fox's amazing (and perfectly sited) sculptures.

Proof specializes in bison and bourbon, so the man was very happy. The trip was, for all intents and purposes, a business trip. But I can't help it if the man loves bourbon and has long wanted to travel the bourbon trail. And, the bison was really delicious - nothing like those cheesy bison burgers you see advertised in diners. We had lunch and drinks at Proof but had dinner at Lily's, which was wonderful.

Then it was on to Lexington! Horse country! I've never been that into horses, especially after being thrown from one (with no injuries, thankfully) at church camp as a kid, but I got a grand tour of Keeneland which was lovely, as you can see here:

Since they were having their September Yearling sale (see, don't I sound like I know what I'm talking about?), I got a glimpse of the whole bizarre world of thoroughbreds. Bizarre, but fascinating and I definitely want to see a race - ideally in Kentucky, but I always have Belmont here in NY.

Once in Lexington, I visited Ashland, the home of Henry Clay and had a bite at their cafe. This place served sandwiches literally straight out of my grandmother's cookbooks - I tried pimento cheese for the first time. I had heard of it, but I asked what it was, and when the nice lady (it really seemed like everyone in Kentucky was SO NICE) said that if I didn't know what pimento cheese was, I must not be from the south. Well, then, I HAD to try it. Didn't love it there, but tried a different version later and enjoyed that. Had we arrived at the cafe earlier, I could have tried other old-fashioned delights like olive and cheese, cream cheese and nuts, and something else odd that I don't recall.

The next day, as a gift for the man, I gave him a bourbon day - driving him around to the distilleries and to the Boubon Festival. As it turned out, you don't need a designated driver for bourbon sampling, because:
1. the distilleries are far apart and have limited hours, making it practically impossible to get to them all in one day.
2. you HAVE TO take an hour long (at least) tour to get to the tasting part, making it extra impossible to get to them all.
3. they only give you half an ounce of bourbon.
So even though I gave the man my samples, he was pretty far from buzzed and could certainly have driven himself if he had to.
But allow me to back up for a moment, because this day started with the best breakfast of our lives! We enjoyed it at the Silver Spoon Restaurant in Versailles, Kentucky - on Business 60, right where 60 splits off to the right (if you're coming from Lexington). Determined to not eat at a chain, we were glad to see this place and pulled in around 10:30 am. The man ordered the Farmer's Breakfast: two eggs, toast, potatoes, a country ham steak, biscuit and gravy and fried apples. I ordered a regular breakfast: two eggs, toast, potatoes, and whole hog sausage. I really don't know where to begin describing the meal, it was absolutely sublime. The eggs were hands down, the best I've ever had in this country. They were so delicately flavored, I could swear they had been laid that morning. And naturally, they were perfectly cooked. The meats were naturally flavored and delicious. The biscuit and gravy, delightful and full of homemade taste. And the fried apples were a true flourish, with the man enjoying them in bites with the ham. So, if you do the bourbon trail, have your breakfast at the Silver Spoon - its a gem!
Due to annoying tour schedules, we had to drive by Woodford Reserve and go up to Frankfort to Buffalo Trace. Frankfort is a cute town and I saw a house I absolutely loved - a three gabled gothic revival. But I digress. Buffalo Trace distills one of the man's old favorites, Blanton's, and his new favorite (after sampling it later that evening at De Sha's near our hotel - great bourbon selection!), Pappy Van Winkle. You don't get to see the distilling or mashing or fermenting at Buffalo Trace, but you do get to see the storage houses (which smell wonderful, and I don't like bourbon) and the hand bottling room (pretty neat) and the grounds are lovely. The tour ends with a tasting of Buffalo Trace and Rain, an American vodka they make there (corn vodka - delicious, and convenient for those of us who buy American as much as possible!). I let them touch my lips but gave them to the man, as I'm not much of a liquor drinker.
Then it was on to Woodford. A visit there came highly recommended from many people, but we were disappointed and I'm telling you now, put it low on your list - the man recommends the Heaven Hill Whisky center thing in Bardstown first - but I was working and didn't go with him there). Anyways, Woodford.
First, you have to pay $5! Maybe this is because they drive you 800 feet in a bus. I don't know. But you have to pay and essentially, you're paying to listen to an hour long advertisement for Woodford. Our tour guide was really cheesy and awful, maybe that put the bad taste in our mouth. The nicest part of the Woodford tour is definitely seeing the fermenting. Look how cool it is:

and seeing their beautiful copper stills:

But the tour (and the requisite movie) is just, Woodford this and Woodford that. It got kind of tiring. Anyways, the tour ends with the tiny sample (happily surrendered mine to the man) and the craptacular plastic sample cup that "you get to keep".
After that, slightly disheartened (and $10 poorer!) we headed to Bardstown for the festival. There, we ate at this makeshift type tent with two women dishing out pulled pork, sloppy joes and I think chicken salad sandwiches. I had a sloppy joe, which I hadn't had in many years and it was quite good. The man ate the pork sandwich and loved it, but was soon angry that he passed on the 2" thick pork chop sandwich at another food booth. He consoled himself with a corndog:

And as for that cigar - a real estate company was giving them away for free. It smelled so bad when it wasn't even being burned that he left it in a hotel room.
For a bourbon festival, it was awfully tough to find a drink. But we found the drinking area:

The man sampled 1792 (he hated it!) and refreshed his taste for some other bourbon he hadn't tried in a while. The pours were generous and fortified him enough to brave the craft vendors. I thought they were pretty good, actually, and we bought some lovely things for our good friends who are watching the rabbit. Here is the guy who made the tasting spoon we bought:

He's a second generation spoon maker (carver? I don't know) and was very nice. He just does it as a hobby and doesn't have a website but he makes some handsome spoons.
We ate that evening at the aforementioned DeSha's which was more or less unremarkable except for its bourbon selection. Here is a picture of their uninspiring salad:

But it was walking distance to the hotel and you can't argue with that.
The next day was the big day - we were traveling to Hiltons, Virginia - formerly Maces Spring, Virginia - for a pilgrimmage to the Carter Fold. A long awaited day, indeed!
We made the trip down there leisurely, taking back roads instead of I-75. We visited the delightful and unexpected Rock Castle River Trading Company where I fell madly in love with a bunch of pieced but unjoined Victorian silk "grandmother's flower garden" quilt blocks. They were foundation pieced on old letters and I'm still dreaming of them - but at $10 a block, I couldn't afford them all and it would be a shame to separate them.
The excellent people there told us to go to Weaver's Hot Dogs in downtown London if it was open. Even though we were planning to stop at the (somewhat) fabeled Burger Boy Restaurant nearby, when we saw Weaver's was open, we stopped in:

They asked if we wanted onions, and the man said, "however they're best". We didn't know onions meant a strange chili type sauce with raw onions in it. They were quite tasty dogs, no doubt, and the photos on the wall were a great touch.
Burger Boy with its storied fried chicken loomed just up the road, so calling the Weaver's dogs an appetizer, we soldiered on. And then it appeared, in all its iconic sign-y glory:

The man had the chicken, I had a burger once I saw that they made them small and thin, the way I like them. The chicken was indeed VERY good, but it had tough competition. For us, its hard to beat the outstanding, delicious, superlative fried chicken at Fiorella's in New Orleans.
Thus, we continued up the road to ol' Virginny. But our experience there deserves its own post, and its nearly time to punch out for the day. But I can promise that what is going to be described in the Virginia post is the closest thing I've ever had to a spiritual experience - and was a highlight not just of the trip but probably - no joke - of my life. Stay tuned!

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