About a decade ago, Louisville changed. With immigrants, came new flavors, new Asian and South American aisles appeared in supermarkets. Gourmet Mexican and Middle-Eastern food havens popped up all over town, offering a welcome variety which, rather than competing with Southern cuisine restaurants, greatly enriched the scene, making the city more attractive than ever for culinary art enthusiasts.
The change was dramatic, and it may not have been easy for Louisville´s white population to adjust. A friend of mine, a Latin American History scholar, recalls that about seven years ago, she purchased some limes and spices from the brand new “Mexican aisle” of a popular market. The cashier, on seeing the limes, blatantly asked, “are y´all married to one of them?” In her provincial mind, it was impossible to grasp the concept that a white American woman might be cooking something with limes.
Fortunately for everyone, including the cashier, if she´s still living around town, Louisville (pronounced LOO-A-VILLE) has come a long way since those days. Not only has it seen numerous international cuisine restaurants succeed all over the city, but it has become a fertile arena for the development of unique and original culinary projects.
I spent a week in Louisville, going to a different highly recommended restaurant for virtually every meal. I was surprised by the high quality, uniqueness, and affordability of it all. Coming from Seattle, I had the feeling that one could get much more interesting food in Louisville for a fraction of the price it costs to dine at a great restaurant in the Emerald City.
It´s very hard to pick a place for the food, because each one was incredible in its own way. For originality, I would pick the Mayan Cafe, which combines Mayan tradition with the owner´s personal inspiration. For tradition and ambiance, Hillbilly Tea takes the gold. I loved all the sauces at Guaca Mole, especially the mole itself. The beer sampler at Mellow Mashroom was quite unique, and so was their pizza ( I thought I was the only one using spring water for cooking). The Grape Leaf made me feel like home, and their mezes were just perfect, as well as their Turkish coffee, which I would call Armenian coffee, but that´s another story. Earth Friends Cafe really surprised me with the quality and freshness of the soup & salad combination. Please & Thank You is an example of the perfect coffee shop for a healthy breakfast or espresso and dessert.
On my return home, I made my first mole and my first bourbon and honey-glazed Kentucky ham. I also shopped extensively for spices at Penzey´s. which, as it turns out, also has a store in downtown Seattle. I used some of the spices in my mole and their Turkish oregano (heavenly) to toast Greek pita with some olive oil (the Greek way is the only way!). We are still enjoying the last bourbon balls & the delicious Buffalo Trace bourbon. Ironically enough, after carrying the bottle on the plane, buried under several layers of bubble wrap, I discovered that one can also get that at Seattle´s Trader Joe´s. I do regret not bringing home a jar of Sorghum, but that is also available online. Luckily, it seems those amazing Kentucky flavors are going to stay with me.
PHOTO GALLERY OF TOP RESTAURANTS & DISHES