In Search of the Perfect Derby Meal

A Highly Personal View of Restaurants

By Paul Moffett

So you cashed a winning ticket large enough that there'll be money in your pocket after you've left the track.

What are you going to do with it?

Start that IRA you've been planning? Send money home to Mom? Donate a percentage to your favorite charity?

How about finding someplace to eat while you think about it? Now that's the proper Derby week idea. Derby means shaking off those Winter yucks and experiencing the pleasures of Spring. Good food is high on the list of those pleasures.

Well, you've got a lot of choices in Louisville's many restaurants and most of them are not particularly expensive. (You do know that Louisville is a much less expensive place to live than most of the rest of the country, don't you?) If you're in town for several days, you'll get the chance to try a number of them. The only problem finding them if you're not familiar with the city.

So pick up a city map (the AAA has the most complete Louisville maps), hitch up the old mini van and sally forth to sample the local cuisine.

First of all, try some of the local specialties. Don't dare leave town without chowing down on a Hot Brown, first developed and named at the Brown Hotel at Fourth and Broadway. This turkey, bacon and tomato sandwich is served with a cheese sauce that most definitely does not come from a grocery store shelf. The whole thing is assembled, then broiled. Most full menu restaurants, including some of the chain restaurants, have a variation of the Hot Brown.

If you're really into adventuresome eating, try some burgoo. This meat-heavy concoction clearly traces it's ancestry to early pioneer days when the family hunter came back with several game animals and it was necessary to cook them all – in this case, all together. Most local restaurants cook up some burgoo just for Derby.

Then there is Derby Pie(R). This scrumptious dessert combines the smooth filling of Southern-style pecan pie with chocolate chips and walnuts and is best served warm with whipped cream or ice cream. Derby Pie (R) is a trademark of Kern's Kitchen, Inc., but variations on this dish are available under a number of not-very-different monikers.

A few of the other local specialites include Bibb lettuce (developed in Kentucky in 1850 by Jack Bibb), country ham, beaten biscuits, jack salmon, Owensboro-style barbeque and Cincinnati-style chili. This curious dish is a chili dish in name only (The author is from Texas) and consists of a meat soup served over spaghetti noodles. You can order it three-way, four-way and five-way, each "way" adding an extra ingredient. For real chili, look up any of the several Tex-Mex restaurants in town.

You want other ethnic foods? You have your choice of most of the Western European cuisines, including French, Spanish, Greek, British, German, and Italian (Northern and Southern). There are innumberable Chinese restaurants in town, several of which are four-star. The specialites are Hunan, Szechuan, Mandarin and Cantonese.

The Orient is further well-represented with Korean, Japanese and Siamese restaurants. A couple of excellent Indian restaurants have opened lately.

Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants are in abundance, as are a number of upscale trendy bistros where you can eat interesting new dishes in the company of Boston ferns.

Oh, yes, of course there are lots of American restaurants around, from the Golden Arches to most of the chain full-menu places to any number of good local restaurants. They're your refuge if you get overloaded on mint Juleps and burgoo.

A spirit of adventure will serve you well while you're in town, as it will most anytime you're traveling, so don't be afraid to stop in at that little place that looks so interesting – you might just be able to rave to your friends about the quaint little place you stopped at while you were at the Derby . . .