Over the past year, we’ve been lucky enough to spend more time in the great city of Louisville. We’ve always liked this place for its fun outdoor art, its waiters with man buns and beards, its comfortable size, and its flat, runnable roads. But it’s our new credit card that is primarily responsible for these little jaunts, since we manage to rack up enough points on a pretty regular basis to get a free night’s stay at the downtown Hyatt. A short, cheap drive and a free hotel room will drag even the staunchest ruralite out of the holler.
Since there are a few foodies that read my blog and since it’s the perfect time of year for a mini-break, I thought I might recommend a few places we’ve found along the way.
This is a new rooftop bar in downtown Louisville at the peak of the Hilton Garden Inn. Hilton Garden Inn?, you might be skeptically asking. Am I going to be served a wine spritzer and a wooden bowl full of Chex mix? The answer is a resounding no. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever been anywhere in Louisville with more beautiful, hip people. My husband and I could hardly talk to each other for all the Ralph Lauren models in our midst.
I am normally a little wary of floofy cocktails since they tend to be overly mixy and sweet, but I can say I had a wicked little Bellini there. Peachy but not too peachy, considerably stiff and served so cold it was icy.
Oh no, another bar suggestion? Nope. This is a pizza place, an excellent one on East Market in the area known as NULU. You will recognize it immediately because, a), it’s housed in a former service station and, b), there are two cars parked out front that face one another in a head-on collision. The cars are actually a sculpture that mechanically advances the cars into one another over a long period of time, letting you witness the destruction in slow-mo.
Cool, sure, but it’s the pizza that steals the show. We usually go on a Saturday or Sunday, which has a brunch menu. The wood-fired pizzas are thin crusted, Italy-Italian, cheesy but not overwhelmingly so, most with tomato sauce that I’m pretty sure is just pureed tomatoes. If you order the margherita, add the country ham and arugula. Also order a side of milled tomato to drunk the leftover crust.
THE MAYAN CAFÉ
This little gem is also in NULU, open for lunch during the week and dinner every night except Sunday. I like it for lunch though because NULU is a fun neighborhood, with neat antique stores and gift shops along the strip, so it’s fun to walk around after your meal.
The food here is so original, so thoughtful and so well priced. Expect succulent grilled chicken, lima beans you actually want to eat, empanadas stuffed with black beans, chorizo and mozzarella. My favorites are the yucatec salbutes, which are kind of like tostadas. I love the grilled cactus; shredded rabbit with pumpkin sauce; and chorizo, potato and black bean options the best.
GUACA-MOLE AND MOJITOS
These are two different restaurants in very different parts of the city. But they both exemplify why my love for Latin cuisine has become so intense. Mojitos is Cuban and lovely. It’s here I discovered my passion for chimichurri and skirt steak. Here I had the best pork tacos of my life. Here where you can get flat bread with duck confit, goat cheese and fig marmalade. Happily, all of the portions are tapas style so you can try a bunch of options and have a mean margarita to match.
Guaca-Mole is Mexican and all you need to know is they have a guacamole trio sampler. And by guacamole I mean fresh avocado mashed in a bowl, singing with citrus, garlic and cilantro. This past weekend, we had one topped with pico de gallo, a second with queso fresco, radish and pepitas, and one with pickled onions and grilled corn. Simply delicious.
My friend Jessica introduced me to this place when she posted a picture on Facebook showing a Lucky’s shopping buggy fitted with a cup holder designed for a pint of beer. There was her IPA all frothy and beading while she made her way down the grocery store aisles.
Aside from the beer, Lucky’s is known for its meat. The deli counter alone was enough for me to want to go back, with its in-house sausages, slab bacon, and its deli meat smoked and roasted on the premises. I picked up four bone-in pork chops, each the size of a plate, and then moseyed to their produce section where I found golden beets, rapini, bright green artichokes, watercress, and crinkly black kale.
The list wouldn’t be complete without Proof on Main (hip but very solid), 610 Magnolia (upscale tasting menu), Decca (awesome basement bar with absinthe), Vietnam Kitchen (charming and good) and Lilly’s (Bardstown Road staple), but these are our latest finds — and the newest reasons why I can’t wait to go back.