In Lexington, bourbon isn't solely for sipping. Regional cooking also infuses local liquid love into a variety of dishes, including bread pudding with bourbon sauce, bourbon ale-battered onion rings, a variety of bourbon-based sauces for meats and treats like Old Kentucky Chocolates bourbon truffles and Rebecca Ruth candy bourbon balls.
But bourbon is hardly the only thing tempting taste buds here. The Bluegrass Region is known for its beaten biscuits, cheese grits, fried banana peppers, beer cheese and Ale-8-One, a ginger-flavored soda distributed statewide and in parts of Indiana and Ohio.
Winchell's Restaurant is a hotbed of the region's signature Southern comfort cooking. Started 15 years ago by Nell Winchell, the restaurant was purchased five years ago by her grandson, Eric Lansdale, and his friend, Graham Waller, two Lexington natives who grew up in the area, left to attend the Culinary Institute of America, and eventually came back o feed the hometown crowd.
“It's just honest cooking, really,” Waller says. “And we cover just about everything from breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week.”
Waller says the fried chicken and almond trout on their dinner menu get rave reviews, but Winchell's bourbon-marinated pork chops have a faithful following as well.
For authentic regional dishes in a refined atmosphere, Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg is a choice destination. Built in 1845 as a ladies' finishing school, the Inn has been a family-owned-and-operated bed and breakfast and public restaurant for more than 90 years. The landmark is located about 30 miles from Lexington.
“Back when my great-grandmother opened it up, they served two meats: a two-year-old country-cured Kentucky ham and yellow-legged fried chicken. We still serve both of them today,” says fourth-generation innkeeper Chuck Dedman. “My great-grandmother raised her own chickens and thought the ones with yellow legs tasted better. We get them fresh, rub them with salt and deep fat fry them in lard so they're good and crispy on the outside and moist and tender inside.”
What Dedman calls the Classic Beaumont calls the classic Beaumont Dinner is a combination of the chicken and the country ham with a salad, vegetable and a starch.
“We represent a real slice of Kentucky history,” Dedman says.
Those in search of down-home delicacies also flock to Berea, about 35 miles south of Lexington, where Boone Tavern serves time-tested recipes in a registered Historic Hotel of America.
“Boone Tavern came about because of all the guests who'd come visit and give donations to Berea College,” says executive chef Jeffrey Newman. “Berea College is a no-charge institute, and part of the program is that every student works on campus. Boon Tavern is one of the work locations.”
According to Newman, one of the most notable dishes guests return for time and again is the spoonbread, which many compare to a cornmeal custard or souffle. Another favorite is the curiously named Chicken Flakes in a Bird's Nest, which consists of chicken in a cream sauce, served in a nest of crisp potatoes, along with mashed potatoes, green beans and cranberry-orange relish.