Louisville lingo for foodies

I got schooled (in a good way) about Louisville’s eclectic food scene during a delightful City Taste Tour this afternoon that included samples all along the way. Interestingly, Louisville is home to some very distinctive, and awesomely delicious, food items that you can only get here. Oh sure, you can pay your respects to Colonel Sanders at beautiful historic Cave Hill Cemetery, but you should also know there’s a whole lot more worth sampling besides extra-crispy drumsticks. You’ll find just about any food your heart and tummy desires in Louisville, but these are some of the traditional tastes everyone should try:

Modjeskas from Schimpff’s Confectionery

One word: Modjeska. Learn it. Know it. Love it. In the 1880s, local Louisville confectioner Anton Busath happened to catch a performance by Polish actress Madam Helena Modjeska at the old Macauley Theater and was inspired to create a special candy in her honor. Hence, the Modjeska was born — a gooey marshmallow covered in soft caramel. These divine goodies are available at candy stores throughout the area, including Muth’s Candy in the NuLu district and the adorable Schmipff’s Confectionery across the river in Jeffersonville, Ind.

Benedictine. As Leslie, our knowledgeable tour guide, informed us, Benedictine is to Louisville what peanut butter and jelly is to the rest of the country. The original recipe is credited to one Jenny Benedict, a Louisville caterer who invented the green-tinted sandwich spread in the 1800s. It’s pretty basic, really — cream cheese, cucumber and green onions. Perfect for ladies who lunch, I imagine this stuff has been making its way onto tea sandwiches around these parts for ages.

The Hot Brown. A creation of Louisville’s historic Brown Hotel, the hot brown is a real gut-buster of a yummy lunch. You start with a slice of toast, then layer on turkey, bacon, tomato and cheese, then drench the whole thing with creamy Mornay sauce. Slide it under the broiler for a few minutes to take it to new heights of sinfully caloric deliciousness. You’re welcome.

mint julep at Churchill Downs

Mint juleps. The traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby, mint juleps are kind of a touristy thing to order. Locals and regulars seem to gravitate more toward bourbon neat, or mixed into a more respectable cocktail. I drank my first ever mint julep (quickly followed by my second) on Sunday night during a party at Churchill Downs. To say it was sweet is an understatement. I liked it, but this probably isn’t a libation you’d want to drink a bunch of in one sitting. Think sweet tea with extra sugar, bourbon and a sprig of fresh mint. I’d like to try to recreate a slightly less sweet version of this at home when the mint springs up again in my herb garden.

bourbon balls

Bourbon balls. Speaking of bourbon, don’t even think about missing out on a bourbon ball during a visit to Kentucky. Invented by Ruth Booe of the Rebecca Ruth Candy Company in nearby Frankfort way back when, these babies take a bourbony, brown sugary, creamy center and dunk it in chocolate. Lynn’s Paradise Café in Louisville has reinvented the recipe in a French toast dish that sounds ridiculously, insanely decadent and delicious.

rolled oysters

Rolled oysters. A brainchild of the Mazzoni family in the late 1800s/early 1900s, this is the mother of all fried oysters. Take three fresh oysters, dip them in an egg batter, roll them together in breadcrumbs and deep fry. Voila. A rolled oyster. These things are the size of a baseball, and can be eaten with cocktail sauce or a simple squeeze of lemon. Who knew a Midwestern/southern town along the Ohio River could turn out such an authoritative seafood dish?

Weisenberger grits. The best restaurants in town advertise Weisenberger grits on their menus, so I asked why. Weisenberger grits are apparently the Rolls-Royce of cornmeal, produced at the Weisenberger mill in central Kentucky by six generations of Weisenbergers. If you see them on a menu, order them. Immediately. And for those of you drinking along at home — Weisenberger.

Derby Pie®. Trademarked by Kern’s Kitchen, this dessert makes plain old pecan pie look downright pathetic by subbing chopped black walnuts and chocolate chips into a top-secret classified recipe. Uh, yum.

Wait, there’s more… Louisville’s been named a top foodie town by several magazines, and a drive around quickly uncovers the reasons why. Have I sufficiently whetted your appetite?

For info about a mouthwatering way to see and learn about Louisville, call Leslie Burke’s City Taste Tours at (502) 457-8686 or visit www.citytastetours.com. I guarantee you won’t go home hungry or thirsty.

A culinary coup in Louisville

Tonight had to be one of the coolest overall culinary experiences I’ve taken part in. As part of the fun-filled Travel South Showcase I’m currently in the middle of attending this week, we media delegates got to attend a live taping of a locally produced show called “Secrets of Louisville Chefs.” This isn’t some crazy reality TV cooking show. This is actual demo cooking in front of a live audience taped at Sullivan University, home to a top-notch culinary arts program and the student-operated Winston’s gourmet restaurant.

starters and a Seelbach

As soon as we came through the door, we were immediately wined and dined with appetizers and Seelbach Cocktails, a heavenly concoction of bourbon, triple sec, bitters and champagne. The nosh was a fab little trio plate of a tiny biscuit laden with tender roast lamb and jalapeno mint jelly, a mini Benedictine BLT on toast, and a little hoe cake topped with roasted veggie pimento cheese. There’s a story behind the name, but I don’t know it, so please feel free to insert joke here. (I also recently had lunch in a place that advertised the unfortunate choice of “ho-made chocolate chip cookies” on the dessert menu. Swear to God. I can’t make this stuff up.)

But I digress… these starters were delish. I’m quickly developing a particular fondness for pimento cheese on this trip (note to self, seek out recipes upon return to Indy). This made the hoe cake my favorite of the three. I can hear you snickering again. Stop it. Stop it right now.

While we sipped and nibbled in our seats, the producers set up the show, featuring three renowned local chefs who each came out and prepared a dish amid banter with the host. These chefs are all quite obviously masters of their craft. Possibly the universe.

Chef Llamas plates up chorizo and grits

Chef Anthony Lamas owns a place in town called Seviche, showcasing farm-to-table sensibilities with a Latino spin. For his demo, he whipped up a plate of housemade chorizo atop chipotle cheddar grits with an orange bourbon sauce and adobo chili puree.

First course: chorizo and grits

I’m also loving the grits on this trip as well – last night at the opening party, there was a mashed potato/grits bar. Let me say that again. Mashed potato. Grits. Bar. With toppings like caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, bacon and cheese to gussy things up. Oh yeah, baby, and then some.

Chef Castro assembling the “Not Brown”

The second man up was Chef John Castro, executive chef instructor of Winston’s at Sullivan University and partner at Yang Kee Noodle Restaurant.

Second course: the “Not Brown”

Also a renowned chef, John’s brother is known for the “Hot Brown” sandwich, an ungodly good open-faced stack of bread, cheese, bacon, turkey, tomato and Mornay sauce, broiled until gooey and served open faced. Not to be outdone, Chef John created the “Not Brown,” his own spin on the classic using fried green tomatoes as the “bread” with rock shrimp, crab, bacon, spinach and the Mornay sauce. If you’re a fan of seafood and cream sauce, this dish will send you straight over the moon.

Chef Moore gives us some sugar

Finally, Chef Josh Moore, executive chef and partner at Volare, treated us to a show of sweet finesse with a recipe that didn’t actually seem very difficult to make, but looked mouthwateringly scrumptious. This guy is known for creating some of the most spectacular sugar work this side of Willy Wonka. Case in point, a glass-like sample he’d brought to display of blue horse heads with roses woven through their flowing manes. All made of sugar. Seriously unbelievable.

Third course: jam cake with caramel frosting

For dessert, Chef Moore made a Kentucky jam cake with black walnuts and raspberry preserves in the batter, and a boiled caramel frosting that had us all swooning in our seats with thoughts of licking the spoon.

For a foodie like me, just watching the show taping and the demonstrations was bliss (I even picked up a few new tips to use at home), but then we got to make our way into Winston’s and eat the whole three-course meal. Everything looked and tasted absolutely gorgeous.

the mega Manhattan

To wash it down, I did the best I could to finish a super-sized Manhattan. No joke, this glass must have held about 16 ounces, and these bartenders were not shy with the Woodford Reserve. Thank goodness I ordered it on the rocks.

Secrets of Louisville Chefs is hosted by an energetic gentleman named Tim Laird and runs on WBKI-TV, Louisville’s CW affiliate. For more information, go to www.NewLocal.TV.

By the way, our particular episode is scheduled to air in Louisville on Sunday, April 1, and will be available for viewing online April 2 at www.NewLocal.TV.