Things to do / Travel Guide
Central Kentucky and Tennessee's dining scene has good taste, in more ways than one. While Southern comfort food and home-cooking restaurants abound, the general trend toward globalization is growing in the region just like anywhere else. In the larger cities, you can just as easily find gourmet, haute cuisine as you can a mouthwatering mom-and-pop place; you can get pork ribs or grits as easily as you can chicken tikka or pad-thai. So tie that bib 'round your neck and come hungry.
Central Kentucky Dining
Clearly Kentucky Fried Chicken comes to mind when you think of central Kentucky cuisine. And, in fact, Colonel Sanders founded his famous franchise in Corbin, Kentucky. But to limit Kentucky's cuisine to this fried fowl phenomenon would be foolish - Louisville has over 2,500 restaurants (far more than most other U.S. cities of comparable size) serving gourmet and fast food of every variety, including Indian, Asian, Japanese (Sushi too!), Latin, Middle Eastern, and Tex-Mex. In Louisville you can find everything from burgoo (a Kentucky stew) to bulgur, crab cakes to corn bread, pancakes to pizza, and frog legs to foccacia. If its Southern food for which you've traveled many miles, you can still fancy-up your frogs legs or sizzling catfish with a solid side order of turtle soup, fried green tomatoes, meaty baked beans, or salty green beans at some of Louisville's more rustic Southern food joints scattered throughout the city. More likely you'll find an upscale bistro offering Southern food with a twist: fried chicken arugula salad, pan-fried pecan chicken garnished with pesto sauce, or fried green tomatoes with smoky chipotle salsa.
Many good Louisville restaurants are clustered around Frankfort Avenue, Bardstown Road, and Shelbyville Road. For a good tangy taste of barbecue, Bardstown Road and Hurstbourne Parkway will give you the rustic-shack-restaurants you're in the mood for.
When it comes to restaurants, the Lexington scene is far from shabby. You can find Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Mexican, and Soul Food eateries, many of which are clustered around Limestone, Richmond Road, and Nicholasville Road. For a rare railroad dining ride, go to My Old Kentucky Dinner Train in Bardstown - where you'll enjoy a four-course gourmet food in a 1940s-vintage dining car.
Central Tennessee Dining
If you want a finger lickin' taste of Tennessee, you can either succumb to or set aside your Southern stereotypes - either way you'll get good eats. In Nashville you'll find the country's best barbecue joints roasting their racks of ribs and serving sizzling smoked swine. You've got your home-cookin', Southern comfort food spots with predictably popular fried chicken and biscuits, corn bread, pork and turkey sandwiches, meat loaf, grits, fried okra, and shepherd's pie. Typical meat-and-three lunch spots (choice of one meat and three side dishes) offer down-home cooking at down-to-earth prices. But Nashville has gone international with its dining scene, which now boasts diverse delicacies including Cuban, Japanese, Tex-Mex, and even a Jewish deli. Don't leave town without going to the trendy bistros and cafés of The District, and certainly stop by Provence Breads and Café in Hillsboro Village, arguably the best (and most famous) French-style artisan bread in Tennessee.
Chattanooga's BBQ shacks are scattered throughout the city, but a couple of good options are located on Brainerd Road. Usually considered a steak-and-potato place, Chattanooga's also widened its tracks to include Greek, Caribbean, and New Orleans-style eateries, and Bluff View Art District has a large selection of small and trendy restaurants. Murfreesboro breaks the mold with Thai, Greek, and Cajun cuisine, and in Lebanon and Tullahoma you can feast on frog legs, and farm-raised catfish.
Central Kentucky Specialties
During Kentucky Derby horse races, locals delight in three things: burgoo, Derby Pie, and mint juleps. Burgoo is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink stew and consists of meat, vegetables, legumes, and a thickening agent of cornmeal or ground beans. If the burgoo is made properly, your spoon will stand up in it all by itself. Mint juleps are made from a mixture of mint, bourbon, sugar, and water, and Derby Pies are chocolate and pecan tarts with pastry dough crusts.
Bourbon balls can either be crushed pecan, corn-syrupy cookies or chocolate truffles with a bourbon crème center - both tasty central Kentucky treats. For a (minor) religious experience taste Benedictine. While the cucumber and cream cheese concotion has nothing to do with the Order of Sant Benedictine, the popular Kentucky condiment is prevalent throughout the region and is used to make cucumber sandwiches. Wash all this down with the ginger-flavored carbonated and caffeinated soft drink, Ale-8-One bottled in Winchester, near Lexington.
Central Tennessee Specialties
Nashville goes ga-ga over their gooey Goo Goo Clusters - chocolate, marshmallow, caramel, and peanut mixtures first made in 1896, and Chattanooga has been making marshmallow Moon pies since 1919. Moon pies are three cookies separated by marshmallow and fruit-flavored icing fillings, usually completely dipped in chocolate. The Chattanooga Bakery churns out 300,000 a day, so if you haven't tried one, you'd best initiate yourself there.
Nashville, Louisville and Lexington in Central Kentucky and Tennessee