The Kentucky Bourbon Trail- Part I

For John Mark’s 40th birthday we said for years that the Kentucky Bourbon Trail would be our destination. His favorite cocktail has always been Marker’s Mark on the rocks; usually a large, single rock, or neat. The first birthday cake I ever got him eight years ago was a Maker’s Mark cake made by the original Sweet Malisa in Opelika, Alabama. He’s an ambassador with the brand and has always had an appreciation for the beverage. I was determined to make this bourbon themed birthday his most memorable birthday to date.

We started our journey in the heart of the bourbon trail, Bardstown, Kentucky. Located about an hour south of Louisville, this town has been named the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America”.  I would beg to differ, but I am a little biased because Auburn/Opelika truly is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen. We arrived around lunch and headed directly to Bottle and Bond Kitchen located within the Bardstown Bourbon Company distillery. The distillery’s exterior is very modern and unlike any other we saw during our trip. The interior is an unstoppable Instagram worthy photo-opt-spot at every turn. The design is immaculate and tasteful; elegant and elevated, yet casual and comfortable. Our server was warm, kind and knew the menu very well. All of her recommendations were spot on. We could have closed this place down, and we would have been more than content. All of the food we tried was excellent. The four-cheese macaroni and cheese, with an herbaceous, crispy crust, was out of this world good. Definitely in the top five best mac n’ cheese variations we have ever tried. The specialty cocktails also were equally delicious and dynamic. The “Margarita  Caliente” was a punch to the palate; spicy was not even the word, it was hot, but I liked it.

We had a reservation to tour Willett in the early afternoon, so we ran by our AirBnB located a few blocks from historic downtown Bardstown. Dubbed the Maxwell Inn this is probably one of the nicest AirBnB’s we have ever stayed in, and the only one to have a kitchen stocked with waters, beers, coffee, and an array of breakfast foods for our enjoyment. We had the entire home to ourselves and entered via a lockbox. The home was sparkling clean and had the most perfect front porch. We highly recommend staying here if you visit the area. It was close to everything and is within walking distance of the festival if you were to attend that event.

Of course, our trip coincided with the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival, so the downtown was bustling and vibrant with cars and people. We did not attend the festival but did get to see a glimpse of what it was all about. I think it would be fun to return to the area again to attend this event, and also see some of the places we did not have time to visit during this particular trip.

After dropping off our luggage and checking into the house, we set out for our next stop on our agenda, Willett Distillery. It was an extremely hot Kentucky day. There was not a single cloud in sight. They have experienced dry, hot conditions similar to those we have had in Alabama this summer. You arrive through a gated entrance and up a long gravel drive and are welcomed by white, large rows of rick houses and wind around until you are led to a gravel parking lot at the end of the drive. The concrete sidewalks lead you into the welcome center, which is also a gift shop, the tour starting place, a coffee bistro, and the newly opened restaurant area upstairs. We were greeted at the door by several friendly faces and were directed where to sign-in for the tour of the facility we had arranged before our arrival. The gift shop was full of apparel, varieties of Willett bourbon for purchase, and many other whiskey themed items. John Mark collected a bottle of bourbon at each stop, always a variety of bourbon he could not purchase back in Alabama. Something else he can enjoy for many more years to come, or at least enough years until we can return to Kentucky.

Herb was our tour guide. A retired gentleman who had a good deal of enthusiasm for bourbon and Willett. He led our group of about fifteen people out of the welcome center over to the distillery. This was the first experience for both of us getting to smell the wondrous aromas that are produced by corn whiskey distilleries. The sweet, sour corn mash aromas permeate the air. Not being a big fan of bourbon, I thought I would be put off by this aroma, but the rich, sweet, fruity aromas of it led me to appreciate the flavors within Kentucky bourbons. It was close to 100 degrees outside this day, so I estimate it was at least 120 degrees within this distillery. The air was thick, steamy, and would take your breath away. I excused myself from the tour and John Mark continued with the group to see the rick houses and other highlights of the facility. I joined back up with the group when they returned to the welcome area tasting room that adjoins the gift shop. Herb was a generous host and gave John Mark birthday tasting pours. John Mark also benefited greatly from all of my tastings that I only tried a little of. I made myself try every single one though, and it did broaden my appreciation for the spirit, and also helped me gain a great deal of knowledge about which bourbons I prefer. Like most other things, it always seems to be, unknowingly to me, the more expensive it is, the more I like it. Funny how that works.

After we had spent several hours at Willett, we returned to our AirBnB to get all dressed up for what I was hoping would be a very special birthday dinner at The Rickhouse in Bardstown. I did my research, as I do with everywhere we visit or eat, read the reviews, and this place did not live up to the hype. We were greatly disappointed with the service and food. To sum it up in one sentence, the brussel sprouts were frozen, the green beans were from a can, the wine list was non-existent, and our server pulled her ringing cell phone out of her bra at the table adjoining ours.

We asked for our checks, and retired to the house and shared a nice bottle of wine John Mark brought from our home collection on the front porch. It was a quiet Wednesday night and we enjoyed the tranquility of the stillness and being able to just enjoy rocking together on the porch sipping.

The next morning we packed up our things and started our way over towards the Lexington side of the trail. John Mark did not know this at the time, but there was a slew of surprises in store for him that day. We started the day at Woodford Reserve. The drive into the distillery is breathtaking and beautiful. The rolling hills and uniform, fenced-in horse pastures as far as the eye can see. Exactly what I envision when I think of Kentucky. The visitor center for Woodford is across the street from the distillery and tasting room where you end up at the end of the tour. Woodford by far was the nicest facility, most organized tour, and overall best experience we had during all of the tours we went on during our time on the bourbon trail. It was pretty crowded, but we were there during what is probably the busiest season of the year due to the bourbon festival. Even with the crowd, the tour was very organized and we had a great guide. He was cheerful and an avid bourbon enthusiast. Woodford is the oldest known distillery site in Kentucky, dating back to 1812 and Elijah Pepper. It was early enough in the morning that the heat was not unbearable during this tour. I made my way through the entire facility with John Mark, getting to see the three impressive, large, bronze stills used in their distillation process, which greatly affords that smooth, easy-drinking flavor that Woodford is known for.

We did not have a lunch reservation for another half hour, and we could not arrive early due to impending surprises, so we stayed at the little bistro/bar area off the back of the tasting room at Woodford. I had a Kentucky Mule, which is a Moscow Mule, but made with bourbon, this one made with Woodford, of course. John Mark had a Woodford Old Fashioned, and we settled into a shady spot on the porch and sipped our cocktails while taking in the beauty of the moment and enjoying a relaxing moment in time together. I was trying to hide my anxiousness, so I was thankful to have the Kentucky Mule to sip on.

We walked back across the country road to our vehicle and made the five-minute drive down the hill to The Stave. John Mark had no idea that his mom who lives in Pinedale, Wyoming was about to show up, and that the next few days would be full of big surprises….

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Entrance to Bardstown Bourbon Company.
Four Cheese and Herb Crusted Mac N Cheese at Bottle & Bond Kitchen and Bar located within Bardstown Bourbon Company.
Margarita Caliente
Jalapeño-infused Cimarron Blanco Tequila / Avocado / Cilantro / Lime / Dry Curacao / Salt Rim
Stay Gold
Belle Meade Bourbon / Honey / Lemon / Turmeric / Moroccan Spice Blend
Bread Pudding
Bourbon Caramel / Louisville Cream Premium / Small Batch Ice Cream
Our AirBnB near downtown Bardstown, named the Maxwell Inn.
Willett Distillery entrance, gift shop, tour start, and bar/restaurant upstairs.
Fat distillery cat at Willett.

The distillery house at Willett. It was blazing hot!
Getting to taste the corn mash that eventually becomes corn whiskey. Amazing smells.
Woodford Reserve was by far the best tour of the trip!
Wall of Woodford.

Inside one of the rickhouses at Woodford Reserve.
The exterior of the distillery at Woodford Reserve.

Excellent tasting experience at Woodford Reserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Nice to See you Birmingham

A few months back we had an amazing weekend getaway in Birmingham, Alabama. Easily lured by some longtime friends to attend a Martin Sexton concert on Saturday evening, we decided to head up on Friday night and make a weekend out of it.

During the day on Friday, I got a notification that one of our friends was attending a show at Iron City in Birmingham, and it was a new band that I’ve recently been turned on to and desperately wanted to see live, Tank and the Bangas. A New Orleans based band, I first heard of them when they came to Montgomery a few years back to play at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. Their music is lively, soulful, playful, fun,  and just makes me want to bounce all over the room smiling. Us getting to see them was fate because we rolled into town right as they came onto the stage. The timing could not have been any more perfect.

After a night of seeing friends and dancing all over Iron City, we retired to an AirBnB that we had rented for the weekend just a few blocks away from Iron City, near Five Points. It was the cutest little bungalow, and it was SUPER convenient for everything. Everywhere we went the entire weekend was only a five dollar Uber ride, and the free parking on-premise was nice as well. It allowed us to have easy access for our daytime adventures further out from downtown.

The next morning, we were up and out early, and we were able to make brunch at The Essential about a mile from our apartment. There was parking along the street, and we were there early enough that we had no wait to be seated. Described as a refined neighborhood cafe, The Essential is located on the historic cobblestone roadway, Morris Avenue. There are two murals close by the cafe, the “Before I Die” chalkboard and the John Lytle Wilson Robot mural just beyond the overpass. As we walked into the restaurant, we were warmly greeted, and I could hear my favorite band of all time playing over the speakers, The Allman Brothers. I knew immediately we had chosen the right place to start our day. My husband started with a latte and a mimosa to drink. I had already had several cups of Mama Mocha’s brew that I always travel with back at the apartment. So I started off with a one of their house Bloody Mary’s. The Bloody Mary, aka the Hair of the Dog, hit the spot! It was spicy and woke my mouth up. I ordered the quiche of the day, which was Gruyere and caramelized onions, and my husband ordered the smoked salmon eggs Benedict. Everything we had was delicious. The service staff was very attentive and we had a lovely breakfast.

After fueling up for the morning, we started our adventure around downtown Birmingham and the Avondale area in search of some of the many murals scattered throughout the city. As you have seen in some of our previous trips, seeking out murals and art in cities we visit is a must on my to-do list. It provides us the opportunity to not only see some great art but also see parts of the cities we may have not visited otherwise. I had researched mural locations online before our trip and knew all of their approximate locations before we set out for the day. I also had discovered a local place called MELT that had a pretty unique, delicious-looking menu. The ambiance of the place was casual and comfortable. It was packed when we arrived, and we bellied up to the bar. We ordered cocktails and a few appetizers to share. To eat we tried out the mac n’ cheese egg roll. Yes that is macaroni and cheese, wrapped, fried inside an egg roll, and served with spicy, sweet and sour dipping sauce. I really was not sure if I would enjoy such a savory dish, but it was incredibly delicious. We also tried the Food Truck Nachos, which were a base of kettle chips, loaded with  BBQ pulled pork, nacho cheese, BBQ sauce, jalapeno ranch, and fried jalapeno crisps. You would not think that we had just had breakfast just a short couple of hours or so before. We devoured both dishes and cocktails quickly! There is a mural directly outside of the restaurant, as well as a waiting area equipped with a corn hole set. Not far from Melt is HOT BOX, another favorite spot of ours for cocktails and delicious food. Located within an Air-stream trailer, it’s a pretty cool scene.

That evening we were able to grab a table at the newly opened Automatic Seafood and Oysters. They had just opened their doors a few weeks prior to our visit. The restaurant is located in what was at one time Automatic Sprinkle Co. in downtown Birmingham. Upon entering the restaurant you are immediately blown away by the breathtaking, stylish interior. Even the bathrooms were unique and interesting. I loved the color scheme, vintage feel, and excellent use of astonishing wallpapers.

Chef Adam Evans, a graduate of Auburn University, and his designer wife, Suzanne Humphries Evans are the visionaries behind this beautiful establishment. With her style and his culinary skills, this place is destined to be a long-standing, hugely successful restaurant in Birmingham. The menu is largely fresh seafood-focused, and they have an excellent beverage selection as well. I tried several of their specialty cocktails, including one of my favorites, frosé. As a group, I think we may have ordered everything on the menu. We shared dishes so that we could experience as much as we could during our visit. The fried whole snapper was amazing. I have only ever had that before in Culebra, Puerto Rico, so being able to have seafood that fresh and delicious in the heart of Birmingham is incredible.

I am ready to start planning our next trip to Birmingham. There are other murals to see and more food to try! I have been so delightfully surprised to see the culinary world in Alabama elevate and progress, most notably in recent years. I am grateful for the risk all of these restaurateurs have made in changing the culinary face of Alabama. I am excited and hopeful for the future food scene of Alabama.

That’s So Fetch mural located at 3027 6th Avenue South.
Know your History mural located in Avondale across from Melt on 4th Ave S.
Miss Fancy mural on the side of a salon located  at 400 41st St S Suite 100.
Tre Lilli Mural located on side of Alabama Ballet 2726 1st Ave S.
Homewood Is Always A Good Idea mural located at 2790 B. M. Montgomery Street.
It’s nice to have you in Birmingham mural located on side of John’s Diner @ 112 Richard Arrington Jr Blvd N.
John Lytle Wilson Robot mural located on Morris Ave just past The Essential.
Before I Die chalk board mural located just past The Essential on Morris Ave.
What’s Up Birmingham? mural by Paul Cordes Wilm just past our AirBnB on 18th St. S.
Tank and the Bangas at Iron City Birmingham.
Very simplistic outdoor area of The Essential on Morris Ave.
Yummy, yummy latte from the Essential. Cocktails not pictured.
Gruyere and caramelized onion quiche at the Essential.
Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict at the Essential.
The “Waterever is Meant to Be” cocktail from MELT.
“Bitter Peach Symphony” cocktail from MELT.
BBQ Nachos on homemade chips with fried, crispy jalapenos on top. Delicious!
Mac N’ Cheese Egg Roll with sweet n’ sour dipping sauce!
Deep Fried Double Stuffed Oreo’s covered in confectioner sugar.
Delicious frozen drink from Automatic Seafood.
“Spring Time In Mexico” cocktail from Automatic Seafood- Tequila, Vida Mezcal, Herbsaint, cucumber, lime, mint.
Menu from Automatic Seafood 4/20/19
Marinated Spring Vegetables from the starters at Automatic Seafood.
Oysters for dayzzzzz….at Automatic Seafood. The Murder Points were my favorite!
Whole B-Line Snapper Fried. Felt like I was ocean side in Puerto Rico!
Chris Trapper opening for Martin Sexton at Workplay Birmingham.
Martin Sexton at Workplay in Birmingham, Alabama.

 

Lucy’s

For our last date during the month of June, we returned to the place where we met. June for us is a month of celebrations. We met on June 8, 2013, and had our first date together at what was Maestro 2300. Three years to the day we married in a wine vineyard in Oregon. My birthday is the following week and it’s the beginning of summer fun. Needless to say, I love June.

In the building where Maestro 2300 used to be located in the Moore’s Mill area of Auburn, Alabama, you will find the newly-opened, completely-renovated, vibrantly-cheerful,  Lucy’s.  Lucy’s is a great addition to the restaurant scene here in our growing community. Classified as a neighborhood eatery, with killer cocktails, shared plates, wine on tap, and good vibes only. During our visit, they lived up to all these things.

Upon entering the restaurant, I believe you will be blown away at the transformation Lisa VanderReijden, one of the owners and interior designer has done with this space. Her design style is impeccably classy and timeless. This space resembles nothing of is predecessor. It’s vibrant white, with black and yellow tastefully accenting the room. It’s no longer a choppy, obstructed dining room, but a beautiful open space that is welcoming and inviting. The beautiful bar, and the locally made metal accents throughout by John Howell add an industrial feel to the space.

We were seated in one of the booths just left of the bar area. It was a perfect spot to view everything going on in the bustling restaurant. As we usually do, we started with cocktails. My husband ordered the Affirmation, which consisted of Redemption Whiskey, Cappelletti, Vermouth, bitters, and Jack Rudy Bourbon Cherry. If you’ve never tried Jack Rudy products, I highly suggest you do. One of my favorites is their classic tonic syrup. It makes the best vodka tonics! I ordered the Habanero Paloma.  This delicious sip consists of Casamigos tequila, grapefruit, habanero simple syrup, sparkling rosé, and a Himalayan salt rim. This was a great kick off to  our dinner.

For starters, we ordered the tuna poke and the truffle fries. The tuna poke was a beautiful and colorful dish, almost too pretty to eat! You have probably seen poke restaurants starting to pop up. Poke originates from Hawaii and refers to the type of preparation of the dish. Poke is a chopped salad consisting of raw tuna (in this case), cucumbers, avocado with a house yuzu dressing. Lucy’s serves theirs with a side of plantain chips for dipping. The tuna was fresh and delicious, and I really enjoyed the plantain chips. The truffle fries were as expected, savory and delicious.

For our entrees, I ordered the Argentinian style New York Strip steak. My steak was cooked perfectly to my desired temp, medium well. I know many would criticize my temp preference on steak, but I like what I like, and that’s what I order. The chimichurri sauce served over-top of the steak was yummy. I almost thought about asking for more. Chimichurri sauce is a raw mix of finely chopped parsley, garlic, oregano with garlic, red wine vinegar, and red pepper flakes, originating from Argentina and Uruguay. The sides were lovely roasted potatoes that had been smashed into a flat disk, blistered tomatoes, and perfectly cooked asparagus. Everything was perfectly season and very tasty.

My husband ordered the garlic and rosemary lamb shank. The presentation was pretty awe-inspiring. The shank was served over McEwen and Son’s polenta, with stewed vegetables and braising jus. The shank peeled off the bone with ease, and all the combined flavors worked really well together. We enjoyed a bottle of a 2015 Jean Louis Chave Offerus Saint Joseph. This wine is comprised of one-hundred percent Syrah, which paired nicely with both of our meals.

Last, but certainly not least, we ended this magnificent feast with attempting to share the dessert board. This astounding board of chocolateness was comprised of ice-cold Blue Ribbon milk out of Tallassee, Alabama, served alongside fried cookie dough balls, and a hot fudge sundae with the cutest tiny milk can full of fudge to pour over ice cream and meringue crisps, and finally a small iron skillet full with monkey bread, served with bourbon butter pecan ice cream.  It was all sinful to the say the least, but was thoroughly enjoyed.

I cannot wait to dine at Lucy’s again! I really want to go back and try their brunch menu they serve on Saturday and Sunday’s. I see many more drinks and dinners here in our future!

Dinner menu.
Cocktail menu.
His and Hers Cocktails. The Affirmation for him, and the Habanero Paloma for her.
Tuna poke and plantain chips.
Truffle Fries.

Argentinian Style New York Strip steak with chimichurri sauce, served with asparagus, blistered tomatoes, and roasted smashed potatoes.
Lamb Shank served over polenta with stewed vegetables.
Dessert Board  (L-R) Ice cold milk from local creamery, fried cookie dough balls, hot fudge sundae with meringue crumbles, and monkey bread with Bourbon butter pecan ice cream.

Key West is the Best- Day Two

The best way to wake up after a late night out is to just pick up right where you left off; grab yourself a Bloody Mary, and keep yourself moving. I am an early riser so I was up despite the late night/early morning prior. It is truly a blessing and curse. A blessing because I get to enjoy the quiet and stillness that the morning often brings. A curse because my body was starved for much-needed rest. Coffee is the first thing I drink every single morning. It is one of the few constants in my life. I bring my own Mama Mocha’s Coffee with me whenever I travel. Our AirBnB was stocked with a coffee pot and filters and after a quick walk around the block to the supermarket for my favorite creamer, I was set.

I spent my morning reading on the front porch and drinking my coffee while all my housemates caught up on their rest. Our porch overlooked the gorgeous Curry Mansion. It was nice to watch the beautiful bed and breakfast start to come alive for the day. I think if we were to ever return, I would love to stay there. However, I do enjoy the amenities and sense of being at home that vacation rentals afford.

Once everyone started to rise, I was anxious for us to decide on somewhere to eat because it was almost midday. The groom suggested we stroll down Caroline Street a few blocks and meet his incoming family at one of their favorite places, B.O.’s Fish Wagon. A staple in Key West for over twenty-five years, this no-frills shack just blocks from the water is a must stop. They are known for their conch fritters with key lime mayo and Cuban sandwiches. We ordered the conch fritter appetizer, my husband had a Cuban sandwich, and I tried their burger. The conch fritters were good, and my burger was absolutely delicious. Between the coffee and the burger, I felt like a new woman.

After lunch, my husband and I separated from the group to go and see the Hemingway House, which was on my list of must-do’s while in Key West.  It was a short stroll from our rental house down our favorite street, Whitehead Street. Along the way, we passed the impressive Kapok Tree and many banyan trees; truly a botanists dream. We popped into a few local shops for souvenirs, and could not resist making a pit stop at our favorite bar, The Green Parrot.

After having a quick cocktail, we wandered down a few more blocks to the breath-taking estate of Ernest Hemingway. We arrived midday, and I was happy to see there were not hoards of people visiting. We slowly wandered throughout the house, stopping to pet the numerous kitties (some with six toes) and taking pictures of all the nostalgic memorabilia of one of my favorite authors. They offered guided tours throughout the home, but in an effort to avoid the crowd, we chose to do a self-guided tour and kept to ourselves. The lush lawn, the picturesque pool, and the overall ambiance of the property are captivating.

Later, we cleaned up for a nice dinner at a spot recommended to us by the groom’s mother, Bagatelle on Duval. This was hands down one of the best dining experiences we had while on the island. The atmosphere was tropical and intimate. We were seated in the upstairs dining room overlooking the moon lounge. We made the reservation last minute, so I was thankful they were able to accommodate us on such short notice. We started with cocktails and moved into wine with dinner. They had an excellent selection of cocktails and wines. For an appetizer, we shard the octopus salad and the barbecue shrimp wrapped in bacon. For my entree, I ordered the whole fried snapper. I had only had snapper like this before on one of our trips to Puerto Rico. I was really excited to see it on the menu here and to be taken back for a moment to our time in Culebra. The snapper was better than I could have hoped for, and I really like the Thai chili sauce that lightly covered the snapper. My husband had the yellowfin dish and it was equally tasty.

After dinner, we hurried down to Mallory Square to catch the sunset celebration and meet back up with our group. We had perfect timing and caught all the excitement. Our visit to Key West coincided with the Conch Republic Independence celebrations. They were having boat wars out in the water, there was a conch shell blower, and all kinds of exciting activities going on pier side. One of the more unusual acts we saw was that of Cat Man, Dominique LeFort. He has a slew of cats that he has trained to jump through fiery hoops and walk tight-ropes. It was intriguing to say the least. He is a staple act on the pier in Key West.

After the sun had set, our group ventured over to the Smoking Tuna off Charles Street. They had a live band playing, and everyone was having a great time. We hopped around after leaving here until we all ended up back at the house to rest up for what would be another eventful day.

B.O.’s Fish Camp on Caroline Street.
Really cool looking banyan trees everywhere.
The Kapok Tree on Whitehead Street.
Sidewalk quotes are throughout the Key.
Back at The Green Parrot.
Hemingway House Historical Maker.
Such an exquisite property. Can I live here?
Lord cat of the manner. He was huge….
And he has SIX toes!
If this pool could talk!
Exceptional dinner menu at Bagatelle on Duval Street.
Octopus and fresh tomato salad with Parmesan crisps.
Key West pink shrimp wrapped in bacon with a spicy chipotle sauce.
Whole fried snapper with a thai chili sauce served with jasmine rice.
Sesame Yellowfin Tuna with udon noodles, pickled edamame and a peanut sauce.
Sunset walking up to Sunset Pier at the end of Duval Street.
Key West Cat Man, Dominque LeFort.