As part of our “See All 50 States Tour” we recently spent a week in Kentucky. When we told people we were going to KY, the universal response was “why?” I never realized KY got so little love! Kentucky is a beautiful state with lots of interesting things to do and see. After spending a day at Mammoth Cave, we headed off for 2 days in Louisville. The hour-long drive was dotted with beautiful farms and homesteads.
Along the way, we stopped in to see Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, and a few miles down the road from there his boyhood home. Illinois might be the “Land of Lincoln”, but Honest Abe was born in KY and spent his early years here. The Sinking Spring Farm is where Lincoln was born. Today you can see the Sinking Spring, a reconstructed cabin (once believed to be the cabin in which Lincoln was born, but subsequent research revealed that belief to be incorrect) a Neoclassical memorial where the cabin is housed, and a small museum that shows an informative movie about Lincoln’s early years.
While we were there we encountered a large group of antique car enthusiasts out on tour. It was fun seeing these cars tooling around all over the countryside!
Next we headed a few miles east to the site of Lincoln’s boyhood home. The cabin is no longer there, but the site has been preserved just as it was.
A quick check on Yelp! and Trip Advisor led us to a little restaurant in the nearby town of Hodgenville, Ray’s Hodgenville Grill. They serve simple country fare, and we both got the pork chop plate. One of my favorite souvenirs from a vacation is a recipe, and the gracious cook at Ray’s provided me with the best thing I brought home from KY – his technique for making the most ridiculously tender pork chops. I adore pork, but never make pork chops because there’s just no way to get them tender – they are always tough and dry. Turns out the technique for cooking moist, fork-tender pork chops is to quick fry thin loin chops that have been worked over with a special tenderizing roller that has needles all over it. I will definitely be buying one of those gizmos! They also served the lightest, fluffiest rolls I’ve ever eaten. If you happen to find yourself in Hodgenville, do yourself a favor and stop in for the pork chops and a basket (or two) of rolls.
We arrived in Louisville just in the nick of time to stop in at Muth’s Candies, a local institution that has been making dozens of kinds of candies for 4 generations. They are most famous for their Modjeskas, a caramel covered marshmallow thing, but they make everything from bon bons to caramels to licorice to brittles. We tried the Modjeskas, all the kinds of caramels, mints, peanut butter bon bons, and our favorite – the popcorn-peanut brittle. Yum! Across the street is a great antique store, Joe Ley Antiques, where we spent the rest of the afternoon rooting around inside.
While in Louisville we stayed at the incredibly elegant Central Park B&B. The hosts were great people to talk to – full of tips and info, and the breakfasts were multi-course, over- the-top awesome! They also have a beautiful back yard to sit in while you enjoy your afternoon appetizers and baked goods with a glass of wine. We enjoyed Louisville, and I would definitely stay at this place again – highly recommend it!
Dinner that nite was at Doc Crow’s, which was recommended to us by one of our pastors who went to school in KY. Doc Crow’s is a fun place with a hip after-work crowd vibe and plenty of yummy options. We enjoyed the fried green tomatoes and the mixed grill of ribs, pulled pork and brisket. Downtown Louisville has a great food scene, and I would love to explore more of those options on a subsequent trip!
After a fabulous breakfast of baked peaches with raspberries, herbed eggs in crisp ham cups, homefries and Boudin sourdough toast, we trotted off (get it?) to the KY Derby Museum which is adjacent to Churchill Downs. We are not “horsey” people but usually watch the race each year, so I thought this would be interesting. I was right! In front of the museum is an amazing statue of Barbaro which stands over his remains. If you don’t know the story of this courageous Derby-winning Thoroughbred, check it out here.
The museum is very well done and includes a tour of Churchill Downs where you get to spend a few minutes viewing the current Derby winner in residence, which in our case was Mine That Bird. It was really cool to see sights around the track that I’ve seen on tv for years.
Inside the museum they have displays about Thoroughbred breeding, training and racing, the history of the Derby itself and the stories of many of the winners. A highlight is an excellent film that takes you from birth through Derby day for a Thoroughbred racer. The movie is shown on screens all around a circular room, giving you a real feel for the action of a Thoroughbred race. One of my fave exhibits was a room full of amazing hats that have been worn on Derby Day.
We spent about 2 hours at this museum and thoroughly enjoyed it. Lunch was at Wagner’s Pharmacy – an ancient “dive” across the street from Churchill Downs which is popular with the horse folk who work at the track. They serve your basic lunch counter fare, and I went with the waitress’ recommendation of the tuna melt. Very tasty. Breakfast is more their claim to fame, as is their well-known horse liniment. Another quirk of this place is that the dishwasher is in the middle of the dining room. That was a first for me!
We rested our feet for an hour or so back at the B&B and pressed on to another Louisville institution – the Louisville Slugger factory tour and museum. My John is big into baseball, so this was a must stop for us.
The factory tour is up close and personal – as in I wanted some goggles to ward off the flying sawdust and lacquer fumes – but it was very interesting. Even if you’re not into baseball, c’mon, who doesn’t love finding out how stuff is made? They show you how bats used to be hand carved using hundreds of different templates, according to what the player wanted. Nowadays, bats are made in mere minutes using computer-run lathes. We were lucky enough to be there when they offered a sneak peek into the vault where all the old bat templates are stored, along with all the company’s purchase records and endorsement contracts. Our guide was like a kid in a candy store – he was so excited to show us everything!
I think the highlight for John was the batting cage where you can hit balls with game-used major leaugers’ bats. John is a big Johnny Bench fan, so we were hoping they had his bat, but his name wasn’t on the “menu” at the batting cage. When I mentioned it was too bad they didn’t have a Johnny Bench bat, the dude working the counter said “did someone say Johnny Bench?” as he whipped out one of his bats from a secret stash. So, if you don’t see your fave player on the rotating menu, ask!
Louisville was fun, but we have a date with Frankfort next!
E, your travelogue is bringing back so many good memories. I attended a Police Administrator’s School at the University of Louisville in 1976. I was fortunate enough to go to the Kentucky Derby while I was there and met John Wayne, who was the Grand Marshall for the KD parade that year.
Too cool! Thanks for reading!