The South is really not that bad. Seriously. It’s the home of bourbon, horses, grits, and strange expressions. I planned a weekend getaway for my husband’s birthday to the Kentucky bourbon trail. While brown alcohol is not exactly my thing, I knew he’d enjoy it and I’d enjoy the escape from Chicago’s dreary and never ending winter.
We began our adventure in Louisville, a surprisingly beautiful and sophisticated city. The 21c Museum Hotel doubles as a contemporary art museum, and its playful, eclectic design carries through the hotel and restaurant. Red penguins are the main motif of the space, and interactive art dots hallways and corners.
Housed inside the hotel, the restaurant Proof on Main has been featured in Bon Appetit, Food and Wine Magazine, and was named as one of “Best New Restaurants 2006” by Esquire. Proof on Main was developed by Louisville philanthropists and art collectors, and focuses on Italian cuisine laced with Southern influences. A nightly special of rabbit stew served over Parmesan polenta was not as fabulous as our server promised and raved; the entire dish tasted like bitter parsley and the shredded rabbit was simply not seasoned correctly. An appetizer of Ndjua toast with melted lardo, fleur de sel and fried oregano was sinfully fattening and wonderful. Proof’s wine list, named by Food and Wine Magazine in 2006 “as one of America’s 50 most amazing wine experiences” and most recently given the Wine Spectator 2007 and 2008 “Award of Excellence,” was both accessible and eclectic.
One of the best things about our dinner at Proof on Main was the delicious bread served both table side and incorporated into our appetizers. Once we were told the bread came from Blue Dog Bakery, we added a visit to the next day’s agenda. Louisville restaurant critic Robin Garr writes that “one of the best culinary happenings in Louisville in the last decade was the arrival of Blue Dog bread and its expert baker, Bob Hancock.”
Blue Dog focuses on its bakery, but also runs a small cafe that’s open for breakfast and lunch. The cafe’s simple decor, open spaces and large windows creates an inviting yet noisy space. The breakfast menu was a bit limited but our choices were delicious. We drank our lattes and watched the Southern kids flop around the restaurant, and dreamed about simpler lives outside of the city.