In Hillbilly heaven; a taste of the thriving Louisville Cuisine

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

Pizza dough made with Spring water at Mellow Mushroom
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The loot to share Kentucky flavors back home: Buffalo Trace bourbon and bourbon ball chocolates, old-fashioned ham steak and bacon
The best bread pudding of my life (lots of chocolate & whipped cream on the side) & a mean espresso at PLEASE & THANK YOU
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Pop decor at Mellow Mashroom
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Photo op at Mellow Mashroom
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Mellow mashroom Beer tasting. Pumpkin flavor in the middle was to die for.
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Brewery menu at Mellow Mashroom
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Culinary anarchy & organic deliciousness for an incredibly affordable price at Earth Friends Cafe
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Please & Thank you coffee shop
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Vinyl wall of fame at Please & Thank you
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My first and incredible Mole at GUACA MOLE (right), extraordinary Mexican
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Amazing homemade lavender lemonade at Earth Friends Cafe
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Soup & salad lunch Red curry lentil soup & avocado salad A perfectly balanced and delicious lunch for about $10 EARTH FRIENDS CAFE
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Inside Earth Friends Cafe
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Crispy nachos with three amazing sauces at GUACA MOLE. Not to be missed.
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Finding a nice Washington wine at local gem Hillbilly Tea
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Can´t even explain what this was but each of the three items was so unique and delicious I told the server I wanted to do an internship in their kitchen. I remember there was an egg covered in matcha (green tea) powder, some delicious creaminess and a jewel of a sandwich
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Enjoying Hillbilly tea with amazing University of Louisville faculty members & friends Christine Ehrick and Manuel Medina
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Hillbilly Tea
Middle Eastern appetizers at The Grape Leaf
Middle Eastern appetizers at The Grape Leaf
Spice shop extraordinaire
Spice shop extraordinaire

 

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Mayan cafe with professors and students from the University of Louisville; a vibrant academic community. The dessert sampler was exquisite, compliments of the lovely Mexican restaurateur. The spaghetti squash with beet sauce was the star of the night. My dish also featured grilled cactus; an unexpected delight. I am trying the beet sauce at home this weekend. Louisville cuisine was totally inspiring.
My Seattle-made mole with cilantro lime chicken
My Seattle-made mole with cilantro lime chicken and leek garnish

 

Bringing Kentucky home: honey bourbon glazed Kentucky old-fashioned ham with baked red onions and red apples
Bringing Kentucky home: honey bourbon glazed Kentucky old-fashioned ham with baked red onions and red apples
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