By Charlene & Richard Mixa
From Luscious Eats to One-of-a-kind Attractions
Boarding a white van decorated with plastic flowers and a plastic horse’s head on the hood, it’s a hearty “Welcome to Louisville’s City Taste Tour!” With one hand on the wheel and the other on the microphone, Leslie, our guide-owner, begins our excursion of the tastes and sights of Louisville, Kentucky.
Over the Ohio River to quaint Jeffersonville, Indiana – it’s sweet treats at the Schimpff’s Confectionary, one of the oldest and continuously operated family-owned candy businesses in the United States. A few miles away a former prison has a “spooky” history and a massive Colgate Clock. Bigger than Big Ben! Scenic views of Louisville, the Ohio River and McAlpine Dam are found at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. Originally, the “Falls” were the only navigational hazard on this 981 mile river. With a tangy sangria, we “toast” the Falls of the Ohio, which are no more.
In downtown Louisville, it’s a “short-stop” at the famous Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. Here the World’s Biggest Bat weighs in at 68,000 pounds of steel and stands 120-feet tall. In the van, we savor a slice of the original Kern’s DERBY-PIE, a chocolate nut pie. YUMMY! Winding through Louisville, we delight in the luscious treats and sights of this vibrant city while Leslie enchants us with its unique and bizarre history. In the serene Cave Cemetery we view row after row of white tombstones of Union Soldiers and a separate area for Confederate Soldiers, as well as Colonel Sanders’ gravesight. At Kizito’s it’s a huge cookie from “The Cookie Lady,” a native Ugandan, who makes mouthwatering African baked goods.
Louisville and the Kentucky Derby are synonymous! We snap photos in front of the magnificent bronze statue of the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, with Churchill Downs as the backdrop. Sad! Barbaro shattered his leg in the 2006 Preakness Stakes eventually leading to his death. Sipping a Mint Julep we’re off to our final stop – Old Louisville, boasting the nation’s greatest collection of preserved Victorian architecture. The City Taste Tour is fun, informative, entertaining, and “taste-full.” From Bourbon Truffles at Art Eatables to the latest version of Louisville’s famous “Hot Brown” – a “Hot Brown” pizza, it’s a gastronomical delight. Featuring Kentucky’s most treasured spirit, we also sip bourbon concoctions from a succulent “honey-infused” bourbon to a traditional Kentucky Derby Mint Julep. Louisville’s City Taste Tour is a tantalizing “taste” of the city.
After a busy afternoon, we are gladly return to our suite at the Galt House Hotel. With over a 1,000 rooms in two towers, the Galt House has a great downtown location on the waterfront convenient to shops, museums, and restaurants. Our well-appointed oversized Executive Suite features a luxurious bathroom and separate bedroom. Lots of room to spread out and relax. On the top floor is the Club 360 Fitness Center with state-of-the-art fitness equipment and the most impressive panoramic views of the waterfront and city.
Louisville’s Fine Dining restaurant scene has become one of the most rich and vital dining destinations in the country. At Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, recently recognized as Louisville’s Best Upscale Steakhouse by Louisville Magazine, we find a glittery restaurant with a high-energy atmosphere. Our ‘Jeff Ruby Experience’ is fresh oysters from the raw bar and superb dinners of a perfectly prepared award-winning U.S.D.A. 9-ounce filet and succulent scallops. The menu is a la carte and servings are oversized, so sharing is paramount.
Rise and shine! Experience thoroughbred racehorses in their own environment on the 7:00 AM Kentucky Derby Museum Barns and Backside Tour. As the sun slowly rises we are at the bustling ‘backside.’ Over 1400 stalls dot the back of the track and it is teaming with activity of these high spirited thoroughbreds. Thrilling! Horses gallop around the track, trainers monitor horses, stalls are mucked, and steam rises as a horse gets a bath. A horse breaks loose! Quickly, a stable hand captures it. From a viewing platform, our guide educates us on thoroughbred racing and life at the track. Spot the “Switch Lead!” Thoroughbreds “switch” from a left lead coming around a turn to a right lead on the straightaway. Watching horses race around the track with the twin steeples of Churchill Downs in the background, we ponder, “Will one be the next Derby winner?”
At 8:30 AM, our Inside Churchill Downs tour takes us into the stands where horses are still racing and warming. From here we envision the exhilaration of a day at the Kentucky Derby. Standing right next to the track, horses race by a mere few feet away. Our guide shares stories of Derby day, the craziness of the midfield crowd and the betting on race day. Leave your credit cards at home. ALL bets are CASH ONLY.
Ready for a hearty breakfast we head to Wagner’s Pharmacy. Located across the street from Churchill Down’s backside it’s been a hangout for horsemen since opening in 1922. Sitting at the fountain, we enjoy hearty home-cooked breakfasts in this unassuming, down-to-earth joint. It’s walls are a wealth of history with a collage of past Derby winners along with famous figures who have graced the pharmacy’s fountain through the years. Good food and history abound at this low-key restaurant/pharmacy.
The Kentucky Derby is the first jewel of the Thoroughbred Horse Racing Triple Crown. The Greatest Two Minutes! Feel the exhilaration of the fans, glimpse the bright silks of the jockeys, sense the energy of the high-spirited Thoroughbreds, gaze at ladies adorned with the ultimate Derby chapeaux, sip a Mint Julep, place a bet, and sing along to the Stephen Foster classic “My Old Kentucky Home.”Can’t get a ticket to the Kentucky Derby. Go to the Kentucky Derby Museum to get an in-depth look into Thoroughbred racing and the Kentucky Derby. The Derby story comes alive as we watch “The Greatest Race,” a 360-degree high-definition presentation. It’s almost like being there. On our self-guided tour, we delight in the fabulous Derby fashions of magnificent outfits and hats, view films of Derby’s of the past, learn how to place a bet, listen to interviews of jockeys, trainers, breeders, and owners. Race a thoroughbred! Mounting a simulated horse, we each try to maintain a jockey’s stance for two minutes as we race to the finish line. FUN! An excellent museum that tells the history, highlights, and excitement of the Kentucky Derby & Churchill Downs.
Back at the Galt House, we take the steps to Louisville Waterfront Park, an award-winning 85-acre park on the banks of Ohio River. Time to get on the River. Aboard the Spirit of Jefferson, we begin a sightseeing/lunch cruise. Built in 1963, the boat has the look and feel of an old-time steamboat with modern conveniences. A DJ entertains with music and points out special sights along the river as we relish a delicious lunch buffet and tasty desserts. Sitting on the top deck we take in the scenery and serenity of a river cruise. While the Spirit of Jefferson is celebrating 50 years, her sister boat, the Belle of Louisville, the oldest operating Mississippi River-style steamboat in the worldcelebrates 100 years in October, 2014. Belle’s Big Birthday Bash is a six-day festival of historic riverboats, art, bourbon, music and culture – sounds like fun!
Louisville’s Museum Row on Main features the Frazier History Museum, Louisville Slugger Museum Factory, Kentucky Science Center, Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, 21c Hotel Museum, the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, Kentucky Show!, The Muhammad Ali Center, and Glassworks. All within an easy walk of each other. Decision time! As a neighbor and friend of Angelo Dundee, the Boxing Trainer for Muhammad Ali, a visit to the Muhammad Ali Center is a must. Taking the escalator to the top the journey begins into the heart of a champion. The Center’s three levels of award-wining exhibits gives a fresher look at the life story of Louisville’s most famous native son. Ali revolutionized the sport of boxing by sheer power and magnetism of his personality and he loved the limelight creating a wealth of films of his fights, videos of interviews, and clips of his witticisms. Spar with the champion, punch a bag, jump rope! Interactive activities get us involved in boxing. Visitors will discover the six core principles that Muhammad Ali embraced throughout his life.
What’s hot and beautiful? Glass! At Glassworks we stop at the Flame Run Glass Studio and Gallery, featuring the only exclusively glass gallery in the region representing glass artists from across the country and international locations. Watching a glass-blower, who patiently and carefully takes red hot molten glass and slowly creates a fabulous glass ornament. The Gallery has elegant and whimsical glassworks.
Our Louisville finale is dinner at Kentucky’s only AAA Five Diamond Restaurant, The Oakroom Restaurant at The Seelbach Hilton Louisville. Its rich wood décor adds warmth to the pristine white tablecloths and petite vases of fresh red roses on each table. Sharing with Chef Patrick Roney our preference for seafood, he prepares a sensational five course dinner with an array of bold, flavorful dishes. Each imaginative and inspired dish is beautifully presented by a staff that is attentive to all the details for a fine dining experience. Our first course is a scrumptious Maine Lobster Bisque, followed by the Green Goddess Millionaire Salad featuring fresh heart of palm, avocado and a delicate green goddess, white balsamic dressing. Chef’s passion for flavorful seafood dishes continues with a Cioppino combining scallops, mussels, clams, lump crab in a fennel puree with a crunchy rouille crouton, followed by a succulent, fresh Seared Sea Scallop with white and green asparagus, and then a melt in your mouth halibut filet.
Chocolate Decadence Awaits! The finishing touch is the Chocolate Passion Fruit with multiple layers of rich dark, milk, and white chocolate mousse accompanied by passion fruit ganache and passion fruit coulis. We agree that The Oakroom definitely sets the standard for a fine dining across the Bluegrass state with an award-winning culinary team that creates an incredible dining experience. Cheers to The Oakroom and Louisville!
If you go:
City Taste Tours, 332 W Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202; (502) 457-8686; www.citytastetours.com
Galt House Hotel, 140 N 4th St, Louisville, KY 40202; (502) 589-5200; www.galthouse.com
Kentucky Derby Museum, 704 Central Ave, Louisville, KY 40208; (502) 637-1111; www.kentuckyderbymuseum.org
Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, 301 South Fourth Street, Louisville, KY 40202; (502) 379-6109; www.golouisville.com
Muhammad Ali Center, 144 N 6th St, Louisville, KY 40202; (502) 584-9254; www.alicenter.org
Spirit of Jefferson, 401 W River Rd, Louisville, KY 40202; (502) 574-2355; http://www.belleoflouisville.org/the-spirit-of-jefferson.html
The Oakroom, The Seelbach Hilton, 500 4th St, Shelbyville, KY 40065; (502) 807-3463; www.theoakroomlouisville.com