Kentucky’s Exploding Culinary Scene

Kentucky’s Exploding Culinary Scene

For years, Kentucky’s best known restaurant was a charming little place called The Beaumont Inn. Located in historic Harrodsburg, The Beaumont lays claim to being the state’s oldest family-operated bed & breakfast. The quaint main dining room has been serving timeless Bluegrass classics liked fried chicken and country ham since 1845. But just as the number of bourbon distilleries has boomed in recent years, so has the number of innovative, ground breaking Kentucky restaurants. Today, new highly touted dining spots are drawing crowds to Louisville, Midway, Lexington and beyond. Each one fronted by ambitious, young executive chefs who are redefining both the culinary landscape and the menu. And the accolades from national publications are starting to pile up. Travel + Leisure magazine recently added Louisville to their list of “America’s Best Cities for foodies”, while Thrillist named Derby City their “Best Up-and-Coming Food City.” Simply put: Kentucky is becoming a destination for foodies. But to find the very best that the state has to offer, visitors often need a sense of adventure. And a pretty good sense of direction.

Chef Ed Lee“You sure this is right?” The guide let out a light laugh as he pulled the bus around another corner in Old Louisville. He had heard similar expressions of concern from guests on this drive many times before. “Yeah, I’m sure.” On a block filled with Victorian homes, one neighbor gave the bus what could only be described as the stink eye. The guide stopped right in front of a non-descript square building: Chef Edward Lee’s 610 Magnolia Restaurant, what very well may be the most unassuming fine-dining location on earth. Critically acclaimed 610 Magnolia is well known for their six-course pre-fixe meal served Wednesday through Saturday evenings. With intimate seating for only 50, the food served in this smart casual hideaway may be best described as Southern by way of Brooklyn by way of Korea. In fact, you could describe Chef Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia’s proprietor and Louisville’s own Food Network Iron Chef, in a very similar way. Lee has joked that he came to Kentucky to attend the Derby and then stayed to open a restaurant. These days, Lee has two dining spots. Milkwood, directly underneath Actor’s Theater on Main Street in Louisville, offers a more casual environment and the perfect subterranean escape from the bustle of downtown.


Wagner'sIf you want to eschew dinner for a hearty breakfast, then your itinerary should call for a pilgrimage to Wagner’s. The location, known as Wagner’s Pharmacy until they stopped issuing prescriptions in 2014, sits in the shadow of Churchill Downs and the building is every bit as modest as 610 Magnolia. While dining, you’ll share tables with thoroughbred jockeys, spot locals seeking out daily racing forms, and chat with horse trainers dropping in to pick up a mane comb or ointment. But don’t let all the activity distract you from the food. Esquire magazine honored Wagner’s in 2009 as “One Of The Best Places to Eat Breakfast in America.” Wagner’s, which opened way back in 1922, gained a bit of national attention when Chef Bobby Flay famously threw down (and lost) in a televised competition centered around omelets. Most of the staff just shrugs off the adulation, but Flay quickly learned what locals had known for decades – no one in the country makes better omelets than Wagner’s.

Woodford ReserveWith a growing number of amazing restaurants, it’s unlikely that you’ll go hungry in Louisville. Food options at bourbon distilleries throughout Kentucky, however, have always been a bit more limited. In fact, among the state’s major distilleries, less than half of them have lunch spots that allow guests to dine on premise. And, of those, only Woodford Reserve can boast a “Chef-In-Residence.” Glenn’s Creek Café, located inside the distillery’s visitors center, is the brain child of a chef who is leaving her mark all over the state: Ouita Michel.

Wallace StationChef Michel started turning heads when she opened the Holly Hill Inn in tiny Midway over 15 years ago. Today, she currently operates five restaurants and a bakery in locations that span three Kentucky counties. Each restaurant is tucked away behind a horse farm or down a narrow country road. Visitors at Wallace Station often enjoy lunch outside over a game of horseshoes usually unaware they are dining less than half a mile from the 1825 birthplace of Zerelda James, notorious matriarch to the James Gang. Windy Corner Market literally sits at a cross roads wedged on a small piece of land between large horse farms. In the spring, you’re likely to see young foals lounging beside the fence between bites of your Shady Lane Chicken Salad. All of Chef Michel’s restaurants are distinctly different from one another. And each one comes complete with a staff that could not be more warm and welcoming. And if that wasn’t enough, Ouita Michel was just named a 2016 James Beard Award Semi-finalist for Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year!

Sometimes the best meals in Kentucky are waiting for you just down a road that you might otherwise look past. To sample the very best dishes, visitors must to explore beyond the ubiquitous Hot Brown, the somewhat mysterious Burgoo, and Derby Pie. Plan a visit to see Kentucky’s legendary distilleries, horse farms and more. But make sure you schedule some time to slow down and eat. You’ll quickly discover for yourself why Zagat named Louisville one of America’s Next Hot Food Cities. And it has absolutely nothing to do with a certain famous Colonel.

Mint Julep Tours regularly visits a number of local, independently owned restaurants throughout the state as part of several of our tours. Mint Julep Tours can also create a custom itinerary for a Private Custom tour that includes a stop for lunch or dinner at nearly any Kentucky restaurant of your choosing. Hours and availability may vary depending on day or time of year. Call 502-583-1433 or visit us online for more information and to book a tour today!

Hot tips on Bourbon, Mint Julep’s, and the Kentucky Derby!

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There are only 9 days left till the 140th running of The Kentucky Derby.  We thought we would cover a few tips to get you off an running.

Plan out your Derby week with some hot tips below:

I’m in town for the Kentucky Derby, and I want to see the beautiful countryside and take a bourbon tour.  

What are my options? 

Funny you ask, as we are the #1 Activity in Louisville providing Bourbon Tours, Horse Farm Tours, and other exciting custom experiences.  We have a special line up for Derby week.  Check out our list of tours here.  We do have a few spots left, so call today 502-583-1433 Ext. 101 and speak with Chasta or you can book online here.

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 What’s a unique derby week activity? 

Dawn at the Downs  7:00 a.m – 9:00 a.m.

Dawn at the Downs is a popular Louisville tradition giving visitors an opportunity to enjoy breakfast inMillionaires Row while watching the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks contenders conduct morning workouts.  From Millionaires Row 4, a host will announce the horses on the track, discuss the contenders’ past performances and provide insight to the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby races.  Morning workouts will show on the television monitors and the announcements will be heard throughout the track. The Dawn at the Downs buffet will be served from 7:00 AM through 8:30 AM.

For reservations & information for seating in Millionaires Row 4, please call 502-636-4893 or 502-636-4892 for availability, or purchase tickets here.

Dawn at the Downs will take place on Tuesday, April 29th; Wednesday, April 30th and Thursday, May 1st.

Click Here to View the Dawn at the Downs Buffet Menu

 What horses are racing?

Meet the list of contenders for the 140th Kentucky Derby here.

What to wear?

Not only should you be getting your Derby attire lined up with suits, bow ties, colorful socks, and of course for all the ladies, a spectacular hat.  Ladies, check out what to wear here!  Gents here!

 What can I take into the track?

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, Churchill Downs officials are battening down the hatches. See their What To Know page for the latest, but worth noting:

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Where do I park?

Parking is at premium around the track.  If you want to park close, regulars park in and around the yards of homes around the track.

If you want to park away from the track, and ride in on a public TARC bus, there are also options to do that as well.  Check out the parking tips here.



Chocolate is nice, but Bourbon is better!

We have great ideas for your Man or Woman who loves bourbon! Chocolate is nice, but is better!

Top 10 list of Bourbon related goodies you can buy your bourbon man or woman.


10.  Mini oak bourbon barrel:  Age your own whiskey!  Check them out here.


9.  The Classic Glencairn Whisk(e)y Glass:  Perfect for the bourbon lover to enjoy their favorite liquid neat.  Find them on amazon.


8.  Bourbon Aged/Flavored Cooking Sauces from Bourbon Barrel Foods:  Bourbon Barrel Foods is a maker of gourmet food products that reflect the rich heritage of Kentucky’s Bourbon Country, “The Napa Valley of the Bluegrass.”


7.  Bluegrass Bourbon Barrels:  Bluegrass Bourbon Barrel Displays is a company that takes whiskey barrels and customizes them into home decor. They have barrel stave coat racks, clocks made from barrel heads, and full bourbon barrels turned into tables and displays. You also get to choose the brand on your barrel. You can pick from Old Rip Van Winkle, Jack Daniels, Wild Turkey, Willett, and a few more.


6.  Roly Poly Whiskey Glasses:  These hand blown whiskey glasses roll on their own without spilling a drop.


5.  A whiskey decanter with personalization.


4. Bourbon Marshmallows:  If you happen to be dating a bourbon drinker with a sweet tooth, you’re about to be very popular. Subtly infused with Maker’s Mark, these marshmallows from Wondermade are light, fluffy and highly addictive.


3.  Bourbon Swag:  Check out this tasty hat that we carry in our Mint Julep Tours Store, located on the 3rd floor of the Rivue Tower, The Galt House Hotel.


2.  Public Bourbon Tour from Mint Julep Tours:  Get ready for a full day of bourbon. This tour includes 2 guided tours & tastings at the finest Kentucky distilleries. $99/person, plus lunch & admissions.


1.  Jim Beam Super Premium Tour:  This exclusive Super Premium Tour option for whiskey lovers has never before been offered to the public.  Dive into an insider’s experience showcasing “all things whiskey, Beam style”.

Tour the American Still House, bourbon barrel dumping station and one of the largest barrel warehouses in the industry.  For you mixologists and culinary fans, we will host a private sampling of the Beam Brands with a Beam bourbon expert and then you’re off to experience a bourbon themed meal on the porch of the Knob Creek house on the scenic grounds surrounding the distillery. Other behind the scenes spots will be offered.Top off your experience with a commemorative etched bottle making it a collectable. Click here for more info.

Upcoming Bourbon Events…Stay Thirsty my friends!

Stay Thirsty my friends.  There are a slew of bourbon events coming your way.  Here are a few to pencil in your calendar, so you can spread out the fun.  Always remember, be safe and designate a driver while you’re enjoying bourbon in the New Year!


Buffalo Trace – Legendary Craftsmen Dinner Series – Blanton’s Dinner 1/24/14

A one-of-a-kind dinner event featuring hard-to-find tastings of our Legendary Craftsmen’s namesake bourbons, a Distillery tour, and glimpse into the history and heritage of the fine gentlemen that helped build the World’s Most Award-Winning Distillery.  6:00 p.m. – Optional Tour. 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. – Dinner/Event. $50 per person.  For reservations, email or call 502.696.5930.


The Bourbon Affair

The Derby City will host an exclusive four-day Bourbon showcase to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Congress declaring Bourbon “America’s only native spirit.”

From May 14-18, Kentucky Bourbon Affair attendees will savor extraordinary experiences at the most iconic Bourbon distilleries in the world, capped by evening events featuring the cosmopolitan allure of Louisville, the heartbeat of Bourbon cuisine and culture.  To find out more info, check out


Jim Beam Super Premium Tours – Returning in 2014

Returning in 2014, the popular Jim Beam Super Premium Tours with Fred Noe are being announced.  February 14th, 2014 will be the first opportunity of several dates in 2014.

The highlight of this exclusive tour, a is private experience with the Master Distiller Fred Noe, 7th generation Beam family member.

The quick-witted, sociable, and knowledgeable Fred Noe introduces people around the world to his family’s bourbons.  Fred’s stories of growing up on the distillery grounds are legendary, and people come in droves to see this real Kentucky bourbon legend talk about his family’s heritage.

Tour includes:

Tour the American Still House, bourbon barrel dumping station and one of the largest barrel warehouses in the industry.  For you mixologists and culinary fans, we will host a private sampling of the Beam Brands with a Beam bourbon expert and then you’re off to experience a bourbon themed meal on the porch of the Knob Creek house on the scenic grounds surrounding the distillery. Other behind the scenes spots will be offered.Top off your experience with a commemorative etched bottle making it a collectable.

To find out more info, head over to our website.

The Bourbon Classic

After the successful inaugural Bourbon Classic in 2013, the Bourbon filled event returns for 2014.  The Friday night kickoff is the Bourbon Classic Cocktail Challenge from 7 until 10 p.m. Teams of bartenders and chefs join forces with sponsoring distilleries to create luscious drinks and small-plate dishes

On Saturday afternoon for an hour-and-a-half beginning at 2:30, a panel of master distillers will discuss and field questions about “The Bourbon Boom: Examining the Rising Price of Popularity.”  Afterwards at “Bourbon University, Taught by Experts,” you get to expand your knowledge at classes that include “The Bottle and the Board: How Bourbon Pairs with Cheese,” “How to Entertain Your Guests with Bourbon Tastings,” “Know Your Bourbon Flavor Profiles,” “Five Essential Ingredients for Your Home’s Bourbon Bar,” and “Bourbon and Beer – A Beautiful Marriage.”

For a full list of the Bourbon Classic Events, head over to

Repeal of Prohibition, 80 years later!


The growth of bourbon is a huge success story today, considering that 80 years ago, everything came to a standstill.  Prohibition wiped out 85% of U.S. distilleries and 100 percent of breweries.  Legal liquor retailers went down in number by 90 percent.  The few breweries and distilleries that stayed open switched to making non-alcoholic beer, industrial alcohol, or medicinal whiskey!

Well into the 1930’s, two-thirds of Americans still thought Prohibition was a good idea.

Thats where the imitators came in.  Soon good straight whiskey was hard to come by, thus the introduction of blended whiskies.  By one estimate, just one-fourth of this blended whiskey, was actual whiskey!

This is essentially how the cocktail was born, as the booze available was disgusting, which spurred the popularity of cocktails to mask its taste.

Still today, there are many absurd restrictions still in place.  To this day, the sale of alcohol is still banned in 10 percent of the country under local dry laws.  It only took 13 years to realize this experiment was a disastrous mistake.

So sit back and relax, enjoy your favorite bourbon, and thank God for Repeal Day!