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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Twist, and shout, and let it all out

Wait, it would appear I’m mixing up not only my songs, but my musical genres… oops. My bad.

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Last night, a girlfriend and I paid a visit to the new Twist Lounge, an offshoot of the ever-popular Zest! Exciting Food Creations in SoBro. (One of my brunch go tos — crème brulee French toast and bacon. Need I say more?)

This place is swanky with super fun décor. You enter the lounge through a swinging chain curtain that immediately made me think of the Brady Bunch episodes where Greg had his own groovy room in the attic with the beaded curtain over the door. Am I showing my age, here? Anyway, Twist is very dimly lit, which prompts me to preemptively apologize for the quality of my phone pics.

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There’s a whole array of seating to choose from including tall stools along the bar, a private-ish room full of plush couches by the front windows, a couple of booth/tables with padded leather seat backs and funky clear plastic chairs, and even hanging swings. Oh, and a disco ball. !!!! There should be more disco balls in the world, if you ask me. How can anybody hate a disco ball? Fun fact – did you know that 90 percent of the world’s disco balls are made in Louisville. True dat. But I digress…

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I’d heard a rumor that Twist does a mean house Manhattan made with an Indiana-produced rye, so that’s what I ordered without even first looking at the menu. This baby arrived in a large water tumbler-size glass garnished with a skewer of those great gourmet cherries (not those artificially red grocery store numbers). They are not messing around here. Jess, our friendly bartender, really seemed to know what she was doing, and this was a damn fine drink. Once I did scan the menu and saw the list of other craft cocktail offerings, I was almost sorry I hadn’t branched out and tried something called a Blood and Sand or a Spicy Little Tart, but I am a bourbon girl, first and foremost. You stick with what works, ya know? My friend ordered a mojito and seemed quite pleased with her selection; Jess told us she’d personally picked the fresh mint that evening. One of those small details that makes a big difference.

At 7:30 p.m., we were the first patrons to arrive for the night, and although several other drinkers slowly rolled in, the place never did really fill up. I get the feeling this is more of a weekend or late-night hang. We did see a couple here on a date night, but it’s more the kind of hotspot you hit with a group of gals. I can’t imagine many single guys stopping by for a post-work scotch of their own accord.

After sucking down our first round of cocktails probably faster than we should have, we knew we needed food. The full dinner menu is available both in Twist and in the flagship restaurant attached. I’ve eaten dinner at Zest before, and love, love, love their three-napkin burger, but they’ve added some new temptations to the menu since the last time I was here. After strongly considering the chicken and waffles, I instead opted for the chile rellenos, and was quite glad I did.

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These were no ordinary chile rellenos. For starters, I only found one small pepper on the whole plate, but no matter. With rice, penne pasta, black beans, sauce and a showering of crunchy tortilla strips on top, there was plenty going on here to fill me up and keep my mouth entertained.

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My friend ordered some sort of grilled romaine wedge salad that looked beautiful and delicious. We also each got a pint of local beer to go with our dinners; there’s a solid selection here to choose from.

I really liked Twist, and would definitely put it near the top of my destination considerations for a girls’ night out. (As a side note, I don’t know what they put in that chile relleno, but I had the craziest dreams last night…)

For more info:
www.zestexcitingfood.com.

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