Everyone knows that the world-famous Kentucky Fried Chicken originated in Kentucky. The fast-food restaurant was founded in 1930 by Colonel Harland Sanders in Corbin, Kentucky. But what else do you know about Kentucky food?
Since the pressure-fried chicken seasoned with 11 herbs and seasonings was first introduced to the world, the franchise has had wild success and there were 19,952 stores across the globe as of 2015.
However, KFC isn’t the only famous food to come out of Kentucky. That’s why this article will let you in on everything you need to know regarding Kentucky’s food and restaurants scene, for you to visit when you plan your trip there!
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Why Kentucky Is A World-Class Destination For Food Tourism
Kentucky is geographically diverse, which suggests a broad supply of food that leads to a wide range of choices. Like most of the U.S., Kentucky was settled by foreigners from England, Ireland, Wales, Germany, and France. All brought their local traditions, which ended up in Kentucky’s food.
If you’re uncertain, ask a local. All Louisvillians are familiar with bratwurst and German potato salad, Benedictine spread and the Hot Brown, an open sandwich created at the Brown Hotel.
Head east to Lexington and further into the Appalachian Mountains and you’ll discover lots of different vegetables, apples, pork, spoonbread, chow chow, beer cheese and poke sallet. Finally, travel west to Owensboro and Henderson and you’ll find sorghum, burgoo, mutton barbecue and a vinegar marinade beloved by Western Kentuckians.
Kentucky uses bourbon in their food, including steaks, honey, syrup, candy, like bourbon balls, bread pudding, and egg nog. So if there’s a way to use bourbon, Kentucky chefs will find it. And it will be delicious.
Besides small-town festivals, church picnics are a big hit in Kentucky, especially the Catholic picnics in Owensboro and Louisville. The two cities were settled by Catholic immigrants, though they were from different places.
In the past 20 years, cities in Kentucky have seen a big boom in local restaurants and food culture. Louisville is consistently ranked highly as a foodie city, but Lexington, Covington, Bowling Green, Richmond, and Paducah have plenty to offer.
Riverside restaurants in Covington and Newport have a little bit of everything, especially German fare and beer. Restaurants between Lexington and Frankfort will make you think you’re still in the big city.
You can taste many delicious and unique foods made by Kentuckians of every heritage in every corner of Kentucky. Generations of Kentuckians striving to feed their families have created a rich culinary tradition.
Best Restaurants To Visit In Kentucky
Whether you’re interested in the Kentucky classics hot browns, fried chicken, Derby pie and Benedictine, or you desire something different and unforgettable, Kentucky’s restaurants got you covered.
Here are the six of my favorite Kentucky restaurants that deserve a visit during a trip to this State.
11507 Park Rd., Anchorage // 502-708-1850
Village Anchor, located in Anchorage, Kentucky, is one of the state’s premier upscale restaurants, featuring an authentic and delicious southern-inspired menu.
One of my favorites is the sweet potato fries with marshmallow cream dipping sauce. On the healthier side is the Brussels sprout salad with egg and macadamia nuts.
- Special Diets: Vegetarian-Friendly, Vegan Options, and Gluten-Free Options
- Cuisines: American, Bar
Zeggz Amazing Eggs is one of Kentucky’s best breakfast and brunch restaurants, featuring delicious recipes like picoso omelets and sweet dishes like buttermilk pancakes.
- Special Diets: Gluten-Free Options and Vegetarian Friendly
- Cuisines: American, Healthy
4816 Brownsboro Ctr., Louisville // 502-205-2888
Noosh Nosh is a hip, casual place. It has a fun atmosphere with amazingly delicious food, including salmon bruschetta, skillet Brussels sprouts, and delectable creamy mushroom soup, among many more outstanding entrees and sides.
- Special Diets: Vegetarian-Friendly, Vegan, and Gluten-Free Options
- Cuisines: American, Bar, Pizza
9308 Cane Run Rd., Louisville // 502-937-9888
Mike Linnig’s Restaurant says they’ve been serving “The best seafood since 1925,” and many will agree. Their fish sandwich with tartar sauce is a staple at this historic Kentucky diner.
- Special Diets: Vegetarian and Gluten-Free Options
- Cuisines: American, Bar, Seafood
2231 Holiday Manor Ctr., Louisville // 502-425-0949
Mojito is one of Louisville’s premier and most popular restaurants because of the wide variety of delicious tapas, similar to tapas you’d find in Barcelona. Some of the more well-known examples are the stuffed date and fish tacos. While the Heirloom salad and the egg sandwich aren’t tapas, they’re just as delicious.
- Special Diets: Vegetarian-Friendly, Vegan, and Gluten-Free Options
- Cuisines: Latin, Spanish, Cuban
1132 Lee St., Covington // 859-815-8027
Covington, Kentucky, is a charming town in Northern Kentucky, just over the river from Cincinnati. MainStrasse Village is a collection of streets lined with German restaurants, pubs, and stores that will make you feel like you’re living in the late 1800s.
A trip to MainStrasse Village is incomplete if you don’t make it to Wunderbar, a great pub offering craft beer and traditional German meals like sausage, beer cheese, and corned beef hash. If you’re hungry, try the giant pretzel – the name says it all.
Best Foods To Try When Visiting Kentucky
The state is home to some of the nation’s most popular foods, along with a very famous horse race. So when you visit Kentucky for the Derby, these are the ten most essential foods to taste throughout your trip.
Kentucky Derby Chocolate Walnut Pie
This famous Kentucky Derby pie is creamy and deliciously decadent. The pie is now exclusively cooked at Kern’s Kitchen, which has even trademarked the pie.
Their recipe is a secret, but this popular dessert of Kentucky consists of chocolate, chocolate chips, pecans, and walnuts. A splash of bourbon adds a local kick to this dessert. The first Derby pie was created in the 1950s in Walter and Leaudra’s Melrose Inn in Prospect, Kentucky.
Kentucky Benedictine Spread or Dip
Benedictine is another famous and delicious dish from Louisville, Kentucky. The spread was created by Jennie Benedict, a caterer and household editor for the Louisville Courier-Journal.
The dip is typically prepared with cucumber juice and cream cheese, onion juice, and a few drops of green food coloring. Some versions include a small amount of mayonnaise. It’s an excellent appetizer for a party, but you can also cool it and spread it on sandwiches.
The most delicate and delicious American ham comes from Kentucky. Covered in sugar and salt and left to age, country ham is unique to the State. It is best enjoyed as you would consume prosciutto, sliced thin and not fussed with.
Kentucky Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce
This fantastic bread pudding was shared by the Beaumont Inn of Harrodsburg, Kentucky. According to Nick Sundberg, the inn’s cook at that time, the bread pudding was a favorite dish at Sunday brunch. Of course, you can top the dessert with a whiskey sauce or non-alcoholic sauce, but the bourbon makes it a true Kentucky goodness.
This unique Louisville bar snack is made of oysters tossed in breading until they’re the size of a ball and then deep-fried.
This yummy treat was created in the late 19th century by Italian immigrant Phillip Mazzoni and his brothers and was served at Mazzoni’s Cafe until the restaurant closed in 2008 after being in the industry for 125 years. However, you can still find rolled oysters in many Louisville restaurants.
Whiskey is produced worldwide, but 95 percent of the world’s bourbon comes from Kentucky. These rich, slightly boozy bourbon balls are always a hit, and they are a delicious treat to prepare for holiday parties and gifts.
They’re similar to rum balls but with that unmistakable Kentucky spirit.
There doesn’t appear to be a definite answer to how this stew came to be named “burgoo.” Some say it came from the French, as in bourguignon, while others claim it is named after an oatmeal porridge consumed by British sailors as early as 1700.
While burgoo was mentioned in print as early as 1830, it wasn’t associated with Kentucky until 1941. Since then, burgoo has been a tradition found statewide at political rallies, potlucks, and barbecues.
While early burgoos were made with various meats or whatever was available, these days, the typical pot of burgoo includes beef and poultry and a wide variety of vegetables.
Many places serve what they call beer cheese, but there’s nothing like authentic Kentucky beer cheese. It’s thick, cheesy, and spicy and will amuse your taste buds like nothing you’ve ever tasted.
It’s most commonly made with cheddar cheese, beer, garlic, and spices. It’s traditionally served as a spread with celery sticks, carrots, or saltine crackers, but it’s delicious with any crunchy treat, such as pretzels or chips.
Hot Brown Sandwich
Created in 1926, the hot brown sandwich has long been a Kentucky tradition. This meal was invented by Fred K. Schmidt, a chef at Louisville’s Brown Hotel.
The typical Hot Brown is made with a few layers of turkey, sliced tomatoes, a cheese sauce, and bacon on top of toasted bread. Then, it’s baked under in the oven for the perfect balance of gooey and crispy.
Kentucky Butter Cake
The Kentucky butter cake is so delicious, moist, and rich that it requires no other embellishments. This creamy buttermilk cake is baked in a Bundt or a cake pan.
After baking, the cake is poked all over with a skewer, and a syrupy butter sauce is later drizzled over the cake, adding additional moisture and even more butter flavor.
Conclusion On Kentucky Food
Kentucky’s food industry is growing rapidly, but some classics just can’t be competed with.
These are the places that you absolutely cannot miss during your next trip to Kentucky. And, be sure to try the foods and recipes I mentioned earlier; those are culinary wonders of Kentucky, for sure.
What’s your favorite Kentucky specialty on this list? Let me know In the comments below!
Which of these classic Kentucky foods do you most want to try? Let us know in the comments section below!
Igor Jovanovski is an aspiring digital nomad, travel blogger and graphic designer who really loves food. He also has a creative side, and he works as a freelance graphic designer in his spare time. He has traveled across Europe quite a few times since he was young and recently started his mission to visit every country in the world! Igor’s favorite thing about traveling is the way he gets to know new people, food, places and cultures.
This exciting experience helps him create his own stories and make memories that will last forever