Yes, you are looking at a shot of Churchill Downs, site of the famed Kentucky Derby. I checked off a major bucket-list wish this past weekend when I met my mother-in-law in Louisville, Kentucky to experience everything Derby Weekend had to offer. It was all hats, horses, and deliciously gluten-free!
We stayed at the charming Admiral Bicknell Inn just outside the mayhem in New Albany, Indiana. New Albany sits on the north side of the Ohio River and is 15 minutes from everything you’d want to experience in Louisville. Like many small towns, it has definitely struggled during the recession. But, its downtown corridor is still bustling and filled with local coffee shops and several locally owned restaurants. None of which I tried this time (well I did try the coffee and you’ll read about that in a later post), as my focus was on Louisville. However, the lovely Valla Ann, who runs Admiral Bicknell was such a delightful host, and was so great about making me delicious gluten-free breakfasts, I’ll definitely be spending more time in New Albany in the future!
Our first evening in Louisville was spent on Bardstown Road, a bustling, eclectic area of the city known for its art galleries, specialty clothing shops, and multitude of locally owned restaurants. We visited Avalon, a boisterous restaurant that is a strange cross between sports bar and posh dining. However, I’d read they make a mean gluten-free lobster mac ‘n cheese, and that’s what I was there to try. It was pretty fabulous- a generous portion with a super-creamy sauce and tons of lobster. However, I did find myself wishing for some acid to cut through the richness- either in the form of lemon, zest, or even some salad greens with vinaigrette.
My mother-in-law ordered one of the best pieces of salmon I’ve ever tasted. I don’t think I’ve ever had a piece of salmon that was downright juicy- but this one was. It was prepared with a beurre-blanc sauce and served with whipped lima beans, pea shoots, and fresh asparagus. The flavor combinations made experiencing this dish a true pleasure.
The next morning it was all about the horses and the hats. We enjoyed an early morning backstretch tour before returning later in the day dressed for Kentucky Oaks. Oaks day is all about the ladies and the fillies. The grandstands were a sea of pink, and the main race of the day, The Kentucky Oaks, is a race entirely comprised of fillies. The signature drink is nothing less than a pink cocktail named the Oaks Lily. They tasted a bit like vodka and fruit punch, although I learned later that they’re more like cosmos with a twist. I didn’t have the presence of mind to photograph these refreshing beauties, but I will tell you how to make my version at home.
Kentucky Oaks Lily
Place 1 oz vodka in a rocks glass filled with ice. Add 1 tbs simple syrup, 1 tbs cherry syrup (I use the juice from my Morelo Cherries) fill to the top with cranberry juice, add a splash of Grand Marnier, and garnish with a healthy sprig of mint. Best enjoyed while watching a horse race!
My favorite meal of the weekend was at the L & N Wine Bar and Bistro, a lively and friendly restaurant just south of the river and east of downtown Louisville. L & N has a cosy neighborhood atmosphere, super-friendly service, and an incredible kitchen. This meal was the highlight of our weekend. They were very gluten-free aware, and nearly everything on the pre-fixe Derby menu that night was naturally gluten-free.
I also appreciated the very reasonably priced aperitifs, and tasting sized options on the wine list. I love pairing wine with food, and to have the option of a tasting portion of wine with each course was delightful! Our server really knew his wines and suggested the perfect pairings with each of my courses. Below are pictures from two of my courses: A beautifully prepared pair of pan seared scallops accompanied by a wild mushroom ragout and tomato confit, and Gulf Shrimp paired with smoked tomato chutney and served atop locally sourced cheddar cheese grits. Both dishes were outstanding and paired beautifully with an Italian varietal called Falanghina and a phenomenal Sangiovese, respectively.
L&N Wine Bar & Bistro is the kind of place I’d visit regularly if I lived in Louisville. They are committed to sourcing locally grown, seasonal food wherever possible, and the staff seems to be the kind of people that would remember your name after a few visits. I certainly felt welcomed into their fold for the few hours I was at the restaurant and hope to return again.
I’ll leave you with a montage of just some of the lovely hats I saw, and the promise of a Derby wrap-up post that includes another great restaurant I enjoyed on Bardstown Road, as well as a recipe for the ultimate mint julep!