Southern Comforts

The South rises again, y’all! Then again, did it ever really fall? Certainly not in any culinary sense, that’s for sure.

I’m just home from the first conference of the Midwest Travel Journalists Association, held in Frankfort Kentucky, with a full heart and a full stomach. In the past week, I’ve managed to consume plenty of bourbon and eat my weight in pimento cheese.

Liberty Hall served as the site of our opening night reception, the genteel historic home of John Brown, one of Kentucky founding fathers and the commonwealth’s first senator from 1792 to 1805. The handsome red brick home he completed building in 1801 still proudly stands (as does son Orlando’s residence on the same property) and holds original family furnishings and heirlooms. (A few quick fun facts — Margaret Wise Brown, who wrote the beloved children’s book “Goodnight Moon,” is a direct descendant, and the property is supposedly haunted by a friendly ghost known as the Gray Lady.)

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The patio behind the Orlando house overlooking the gorgeous gardens made a fine backdrop for mixing and mingling over small bites catered by Three Peas in a Pod washed down with Kentucky Distilled cocktails — Buffalo Trace bourbon, Ale8One ginger ale, orange bitters and fresh mint. Hors d’oeuvres included cravable pimento cheese/country ham sammies on garlic cheddar biscuits, bacon-wrapped chicken skewers and mini banana puddings.

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Speaking of pimento cheese, I enjoyed a soulful pimento cheeseburger with crispy fries and a well-made Maker’s Mark Manhattan the night before at Serafini.

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Bourbon, of course, is the flavor of the day (every day) here. You’ll find it infused into coffee, as I did at Kentucky Knows, where artisan owner Tony Davis ages Arabica beans from Antigua Guatemala in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels with spectacular results. I sampled the caramel barrel-aged variation in the store, but opted to take home half-pound bags of the straight-up bourbon and bourbon ball flavors instead.

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Quirky little Rebecca Ruth Candy Factory is credited with the original Bourbon Ball recipe around these parts — a bourbon-laced nougaty confection covered in chocolate and topped with a pecan. You can’t get in and out of Bourbon Country without tasting at least one, and good luck stopping there. Two childhood friends founded the business back in 1919, and locals loved their products so much, they gathered and donated their sugar rations during World War II to help keep the company going. The factory remains in Ruth’s family to this day; you can get a quick behind-the-scenes tour of the factory, but don’t expect to come away with any insider info. The secret recipe is fiercely guarded.

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If you want to cut right to the bourbon chase, beeline straight to Buffalo Trace, the oldest continuously operating distillery in the country since the late 1700s. The campus is absolutely beautiful with the distinctive smell of cooking mash floating through the air, populated with soaring red-brick warehouses housing barrels of bourbon in various stages of aging. Take your pick of five different tours, all are free and include a chance to sample some of the wares at the end. (Personally, I’m partial to the flagship Buffalo Trace brand for cocktails, but have been known to upgrade to Eagle Rare when I’m feeling fancy.)

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I was a little surprised — and pleasantly so — to discover authentic Vietnamese food in Frankfort’s quaintly walkable downtown. Mai Saigon satisfies cravings for ethnic cuisine with super fresh spring rolls filled with tofu, shrimp, rice noodles and cilantro served with peanut dipping sauce; huge fragrant bowls of pho with all the garnishes; and richly flavored noodle dishes studded with veggies and chicken.

Of course, I’m only scratching the surface here, but hopefully have whetted your appetite for a trip to Frankfort all your own! For more info on Kentucky’s enchanting capitol city, go to visitfrankfort.com

 

 

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A very bueno breakfast

From what I can tell, Biscuits flies somewhat under the local dining radar, tucked away as it is at the end of the Broad Ripple Station strip mall behind the much larger, much flashier Thr3e Wise Men. After an inaugural breakfast visit with the hubby, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve been overlooking this little gem for way too long.

Biscuits in Broad Ripple

The name is something of a misnomer; you wouldn’t expect an authentic Mexican eatery to disguise itself under a name like “Biscuits.” At least, I wouldn’t. Don’t be fooled. This is some yummy, rustic south-of-the-border food.

The décor isn’t anything fancy, just blue booths and tables and a couple televisions. Wasn’t very busy mid-morning on a Wednesday, but the customers we did see were a pleasantly diverse group — business folks, Broad Ripple youngsters, an older couple. The gang’s all here.

I was a little intimidated when I got a peek at the size of the plates. Normally, I’m not a big breakfast eater. A bowl of cereal or a muffin and some coffee usually does me just fine for the a.m. These breakfasts are not messing around. This is a seriously gut-busting amount of food for a morning meal.

Choices include a range of standard short-order fare along the lines of eggs, bacon, toast, B&G (natch) and the like, but I figure you can get that stuff anywhere. Instead, we set our sights on the Mexican offerings – huevos rancheros, quesadillas, chilaquiles, and such. Hubby ordered a breakfast burrito and I opted for the chorizo scramble.

Biscuits massive breakfast burrito

The food was cooked fresh at the grill, and arrived on piping-hot plates. Hubby’s burrito was stuffed with sausage, eggs, cheese and potatoes, served with refried beans (not sure how smart this is first thing in the morning), rice and some shredded lettuce. Not an onion in sight, thank God. He also got a small dish of what I thought was salsa, but was actually more like a spicy blended sauce accompaniment served hot.

Biscuits chorizo scramble

Likewise, my chorizo scramble was darn tasty — a skillet of eggs scrambled with copious amounts of chorizo sausage, potatoes and tons of cheese. I also got a couple of warm very fresh tortillas, a welcome alternative to boring old buttered toast. For garnish, I received a little plastic cup of some sort of chili sauce, but it had obviously come straight from the fridge and concealed into a strange Jell-o consistency. I skipped it and went for a few splashes of Cholula instead.

Our server wasn’t terribly chipper, and the coffee was your basic drip variety served with those terrifying little non-dairy creamers that don’t require refrigeration (my biggest pet peeve when dining out for breakfast), but all in all, Biscuits is a great discovery I was happy to make. Our total bill was $19 for two pre-tip. Not exactly cheap, but certainly a fair price for this amount of food.

Adios for now, amigos. We’ll be back.

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