There are certain foods that taste like home, and with Benedictine, Derby Pie and Hot Brown sandwiches, all originating here, there is no shortage of homegrown Louisville flavors. If you are hosting a party (especially if it is a Kentucky Derby party), gathering the family together for a Kentucky meal or are visitor interested in tasting the food of the region, this list will get you started on the delicious tastes of Louisville. With these favorites and a growing list of acclaimed chefs mastering regional culinary creations, Louisville is truly a food hub on the Ohio River.
Burgoo (It is a stew)
A Kentucky favorite, burgoo is often made to celebrate Derby Day. The stew is made for parties around the year, but feeding a crowd burgoo during the Kentucky Derby is a way for hosts and revelers to enjoy a great meal while showing their Kentucky pride. There are a million recipes out there and many cooks throw in whatever meat and vegetables are on hand. Generally, a burgoo has three types of meat along with corn, okra and lima beans. There are plenty of recipes to follow, if you are interested in cooking up a pot. The stew’s popularity has held strong since before the Civil War and shows no sign of letting up.
A chocolate walnut pie, developed by the Kern family a half a century ago, the name “Derby Pie” is a registered trademark of Kern’s Kitchen. People say only members of the Kern family and a few select employees of Kern’s Kitchen are privy to the top secret recipe. But, if you like Derby Pie, there are plenty of versions gracing pie plates around town. Often called Not Derby Pie, Pegasus Pie or May Day Pie, each pie is a rich chocolatey nut creation and each name, in its own way, is giving a nod to Derby (which takes place the first Saturday in May and is celebrated beforehand with the Pegasus Parade). Or, if you are a good baker, you could always whip one up at home.
Henry Bain Sauce
This sweet and spicy sauce was created by Henry Bain, the maitre d' at the Pendennis Club in downtown Louisville. Bain worked at the private club for forty years, and in the early 20th century he developed the sauce to accompany steaks and game animals served at Pendennis. The sauce was an immediate success. The recipe was held as a Pendennis Club secret for years. Now the sauce is bottled and available in gourmet shops. Although the original recipe is still served at Pendennis, the ingredients are now public knowledge. Home cooks and chefs alike whip up versions of the sauce, many adding their own personal spin. The sauce is a mixture of chutney, walnuts, ketchup, Worcestershire, and spice. The Pendennis Club was established as a gentleman's club in 1881. Not only the birthplace of this savory sauce, the club is also thought to be where the Old Fashioned cocktail originated.
Hot Brown (it's a sandwich)
It is a hot open-faced sandwich, piled high with turkey and bacon. Sounds tempting, right? Well it doesn’t stop there, the Hot Brown is then covered with a cheese sauce and placed in the oven. The result is a rich treat with crisp edges and a browned sauce. The dish was created at the Brown Hotel (it’s namesake) by Chef Fred Schmidt in the 1920s. At that time, people would dance into the wee hours and if anyone got hungry they would enjoy a late-night snack of ham and eggs. The Hot Brown debuted as an alternative late-night meal and quickly became a success, at one point being the menu choice for 95% of the customers at the Brown Hotel’s restaurant. The dish is still a favorite and is available at restaurants throughout Louisville.
Although this cocktail did not originate in Kentucky, it is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. A mixed drink containing alcohol, a mint julep is made with bourbon, simple syrup and mint. It is served over crushed ice. If you order one at Churchill Downs during Derby season, it is served in a commemorative glass.
A regional favorite, Modjeskas are handmade marshmallows either dipped or wrapped in sweet caramel. The confections are named after Helena Modjeska, a Polish actress who performed in an Ibsen play in Louisville. That was 1883, and a star-struck candy maker created Modjeskas in her honor. The candy has been enjoyed throughout Louisville for over a hundred years.
In the 1890s, Ms. Jennie Benedict, a caterer in Louisville, created this green spread for entertaining hungry crowds. Benedictine is traditionally served on sandwiches. Made with thin white bread, the sandwiches are finished by trimming off the crusts and slicing the squares into delicate triangle treats. Today, benedictine is served on all types of bread and is often thinned (by adding extra mayo, sour cream or a little of both) and presented as a dip. Recipes vary, but essentially Benedictine is a package of softened cream cheese blended with a seeded and grated cucumber, a grated onion, a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise and a dash of green food coloring.