By Steve Coomes
In a two-week period this month, a client had me drive nearly 1,500 miles around our beautiful Commonwealth to find interesting food and drink stories. To say I was amazed with what I found, ate, drank and learned about the people behind these places is an understatement. And to say that the state’s greatest restaurants are only in Louisville … well that myth was busted.
Since those stories aren’t yet written, you’ll have to wait for the delicious details about those many meals. But what I can do is provide a woefully incomplete list of several I think would make worthy summer road trips.
One caveat: Before you leave to visit any of these, check their operating hours on the web. Lots of them are closed on Sundays and Mondays. Here’s just a short list laid out in no particular order, but grouped by town.
Paducah: Freight House. The chef-owner here is Sara Bradley, a local and also a veteran of two, 1-star Michelin restaurants in Chicago and New York. Her farm to table food is brilliant. No elaboration needed. She’s destined to become one of the state’s top chefs.
Paducah: Dry Ground Brewing. Fantastic brewery and watering hole created inside an old Coca-Cola plant. Just a beautiful space in which all its brewing equipment is part of the décor.
Paducah: Paducah Beer Werks. Created out of an abandoned Greyhound Bus station, this place is a looker. Not only is the beer great, the food menu is as well. Solid pizza here.
Bardstown: Harrison-Smith House. There’s no excuse not to drive the 35 minutes from Louisville to this outstanding restaurant. Chef and co-owner Newman Miller is from the area, but has spent much of his career in big cities at top flight restaurants. He’s also destined to become one of the state’s best-noted chefs. Don’t believe me? Ask Louisville chefs about him and chef de cuisine Josh Smouse. They’ll tell you their peers are that good.
Corbin: The Wrigley Taproom. Every city and town needs a public house like this, especially one with such a diverse menu. Cattle rancher cum chef and co-owner Kristin Smith pulls on Appalachian food tradition while tapping modern cuisine trends to create her eclectic menu.
Harrodsburg: Olde Bus Station Restaurant. This is a true small-town diner, one with bar stools overlooking hustling cooks working a greasy grill—and oh, the burgers that come off that searing metal! My fave griddled burger this year.
Pikeville: The Blue Raven Restaurant & Pub. Pikeville? Yes, Pikeville, whose downtown is Disney World tidy and beautiful. Oh, and the restaurant? Modern and fun, great food and cocktails, a real surprise in far eastern Kentucky. The website does it no justice.
Pikeville: Bob’s Southern Smokehouse. This is no smokehouse, it’s a restaurant set up in the offices of former law firm. Even the “litigation room” remains as it was when the lawyers left: with a gorgeous super-long conference table, button-tucked chairs and thousands of law books. And the smoked goodies are great, too.
Elizabethtown: 701 Fish House & Oyster Bar. How Louisville let a talent like chef David Scales (formerly of Lilly’s Bistro) slip from its clutches, I don’t know, but his seafood-cooking and sourcing skills are on full display at this spot. Located just two blocks off I-65, too, so it’s super easy to get there. About 45 minutes from Louisville.
Florence: The Colonel’s Creamery. Located in a large pole barn complex behind a Kroger shopping complex, this ice cream stop is easily one of the state’s best. Easily. The scoops I had met their “super-premium” billing.
Covington: Frida. This Latin restaurant has the largest mezcal selection in the greater Cincy area, and the food is equally fab. The beef empanada I had was one of my favorite bites during this crazy rush through the state. It’s like a mini-art gallery inside, plus the restaurant is located on the fantastic Mainstrasse strip in the city. Just park there and start walking. So many good places.
* Trust me, there’s so much more to list here, especially in Lexington, Bowling Green, Red River Gorge and more!