Famous Foods of Louisville

A list of culinary creations

Certain dishes evoke the sense of being in a warm Southern kitchen, and in Louisville, Kentucky, the favorites are Derby Pie, Hot Brown sandwiches, and benedictine spread (or dip). These homegrown local eats pair well with a mint julep cocktail when hosting a Kentucky Derby party. So, if you're gathering your family together for a Kentucky-centric meal, make sure these delicious dishes, alongside others listed below, are on your table. Or, if you are visiting the southwest during horse racing season, check out Louisville's food scene, its authentic culinary creations, and its growing list of acclaimed chefs who are mastering them.

01 of 07

Kentucky Burgoo

Burgoo stew

 imagepointphoto / Getty Images

A Kentucky favorite, burgoo is a stew specifically made to celebrate Derby Day (as well as other fetes throughout the year). If you're feeding a crowd for the Kentucky Derby, burgoo offers a hearty, one-pot meal that exemplifies Kentucky pride. Plenty of recipes exist, each with its own twist, and, in true Southern style, many cooks throw in whatever meat and vegetables they have on hand. Generally, a burgoo contains three types of meat, alongside corn, okra, and lima beans, making it a protein-packed meal. The stew’s popularity originated long before the Civil War and shows no sign of letting up.

02 of 07

Derby Pie

Derby Pie

 DebbiSmirnoff / Getty Images

This chocolate walnut pie was developed by the Kern family (a deep-rooted Kentucky family) in 1954. In fact, “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. Still, there are plenty of versions gracing the plates around Louisville. Often called "Not Derby Pie," "Pegasus Pie," or "May Day Pie," each rendition offers a rich, chocolatey, nutty creation. And each name, in its own way, gives a nod to the Kentucky Derby, which takes place the first Saturday in May and is celebrated beforehand with the Pegasus Parade. If you are a seasoned baker, find a favorite recipe and whip one up at home.

03 of 07

Henry Bain's Sauce

Henry Bain's sauce

Pendennis Club

This sweet and spicy sauce was created by Henry Bain, the maître d' at the Pendennis Club in downtown Louisville. The club, an established gentleman's club in 1881, was also the birthplace of the old fashioned cocktail. Bain worked at the private club for forty years and developed the sauce to accompany steaks and game meat served at Pendennis. The sauce was an immediate success and the recipe was held as a Pendennis Club secret for years.

Today, the Henry Bain sauce is bottled and available in gourmet shops. Home cooks and chefs also like to whip up versions of their own, which consist of a mixture of chutney, walnuts, ketchup, Worcestershire, and spices.

04 of 07

Hot Brown Sandwich

Kentucky Hot Brown Open Face Sandwich

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The Hot Brown sandwich is a hot open-faced sandwich piled high with turkey and bacon. Sounds tempting, right? Well, it doesn’t stop there. The dish is then covered with a cheese sauce and placed in the oven to broil. The result is a rich treat with crisp edges and a browned sauce.

This dish was created at the ​Brown Hotel (its namesake) by chef Fred Schmidt in the 1920s. At that time, the hotel hosted dancing well into the wee hours of the night. If any of the dancers got hungry, they would enjoy a late-night snack of ham and eggs. The Hot Brown sandwich debuted as an alternative to this late-night meal and quickly became a success. The dish is still a favorite and is available at restaurants throughout Louisville.

Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07

Mint Julep

Mint julep in Kentucky Derby style cup

Jon Lovette / Getty Images 

This famous, springy cocktail did not originate in Kentucky. However, it's the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. It's believed that the word julep itself comes from the Arab word julab or the Persian version gulab, both meaning "rosewater," referring to the drink's sweet base. Bourbon was historically used as the cocktail's spirit, as the poor American farmers could not afford imported rum and chose the domestic alternative, instead. A traditional mint julep is made with bourbon, a simple syrup, and fresh mint, muddled and served over crushed ice. If you order one at Churchill Downs during Derby season, it comes in a commemorative glass.

06 of 07


See's candy caramels

 Janine / Flickr

A regional favorite, Modjeskas are handmade marshmallows dipped or wrapped in sweet caramel. The confections are named after Helena Modjeska, a Polish Shakespearean actress who performed in an Ibsen play in Louisville. A star-struck candy maker created Modjeskas in the 1880s to honor her. Other Louisville shops began making their own versions of this candy that has been enjoyed throughout the region for over a hundred years. Today, Bauer's and See's Candies both manufacture their own take, which is more like a true caramel or Scotch Kiss.

07 of 07

Benedictine Spread

Benedictine dip

Westend61 / getty images

In the 1890s, Ms. Jennie Benedict, a caterer in Louisville, created this green spread, or dip, to entertain hungry crowds. Benedictine spread is traditionally served on sandwiches made with thin, white bread. The sandwiches are then finished by trimming off the crusts and slicing them into squares or triangles. Today, benedictine spread is served on all types of bread and is often presented as a dip. Recipes vary, but the spread or dip usually consists of a package of softened cream cheese blended with a seeded and grated cucumber, a grated onion, and a little dab of mayonnaise.