One of the most enjoyable components of travel is having the chance to eat at excellent restaurants, trying exciting dishes that aren't usually on the menu at home. Equally enjoyable is finding that perfect urban hotel or country inn where you can wallow in luxury or charming comfort. If you're lucky, you can find both in the same location.
Forget dinner and a movie. Try dinner and overnight in one of these three great Kentucky spots.
The Brown Hotel, Louisville
If eating in your own kitchen doesn't exactly have you jumping for joy, how about eating in someone else's kitchen — in this case, chef Josh Bettis of the English Grill at Louisville's Brown Hotel?
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Bettis, whose culinary stints have included Montelucia Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the Hotel Fontainebleau in Miami, can arrange an intimate dinner for two or a celebration for up to 10 in his kitchen.
Those who have dined at the award-winning English Grill are familiar with Bettis' original take on regional cuisine. For those who haven't, allow me to acquaint you with the menu at my recent Chef's Table dinner.
The amuse bouche, avocado mousse with lump crab salad, was so good I was tempted to ask for another. My first course, Kentucky pork belly with a Maker's Mark salted caramel candied apple, was followed by a salad that was the very essence of farm-to-table: Growganica Farms' leaf harvest, Capriole Farm's goat cheese, Four Roses candied pecans and Huber Farm's tart apple vinaigrette.
The main course of roasted monkfish with chickpea blini, curried banana and coconut cilantro was accompanied by a specially chosen wine to accentuate the unusual combination of flavors.
Adorned with white linen and good china, the kitchen table is right next to the prep line, and throughout the meal diners are encouraged to interact with the chefs preparing their food.
Dinners with wine pairings are four courses ($70 plus tax and gratuity) or seven courses ($120), and must be booked two days in advance by calling (502) 736-2998.
After all that food and wine, you'll appreciate that you don't have far to walk to your room in a historic American hotel. The eponymous Hot Brown was invented here in 1923; Louisville native Victor Mature had a brief stint as an elevator operator before earning fame as a 1950s Hollywood leading man; and guests have included British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, entertainer Al Jolson and opera diva Lily Pons, who horrified staff by allowing her pet lion cub free run of her suite.
The Camberley Brown Hotel is at 335 West Broadway. (502) 583-1234. Brownhotel.com. Rates begin at $249.
Beaumont Inn, Harrodsburg
The white-columned Beaumont Inn has been a Harrodsburg fixture since 1845, when it opened as a school for privileged young ladies. Since 1919, it has been catering to another clientele — those who appreciate the charm of a cozy Southern inn and a restaurant offering regional cooking at its finest.
Plan your visit when co-owner and general manager Dixon Dedman is hosting one of his bourbon tastings in the inn's James Harrod Room (he does them four times a week; reservations are a must.)
Dedman offers two different tastings — the Profile Tasting, $35, or the Premium Tasting, $55, which showcases rare bourbons that Dedman says "you're not going to find on the shelf."
I took him at his word and opted for the Premium. Among the six bourbons I tasted were a Pappy Van Winkle and the 125th anniversary Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon.
Master distiller "Jimmy Rutledge calls this the best bourbon he's ever produced," Dedman says of the Four Roses Small Batch. I can't say I disagree — it was silky and smoky at the same time.
After the tasting, head for the inn's dining room, where the menu features perennial favorites such as Kentucky cured country ham, yellow-legged fried chicken, corn pudding and cornmeal batter cakes.
If you're not ready to call it a night, you may opt for a nightcap in Old Owl Tavern or the Owl's Nest, adjacent to the main building. Otherwise, make your way down a hallway lined with portraits of Civil War generals to a room furnished with antiques.
Beaumont Inn is at 638 Beaumont Inn Drive, Harrodsburg. Call 1-800-352-3992 or go to Beaumontinn.com. Rates are $90 to $230.
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg
If it's been a while since you've been to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, you might be surprised to find a few things have changed. Sure, the 3,000 acres of rolling farmland are as bucolic as ever; the serenity of a bygone era still lures those frustrated by an increasingly frenetic world; and the Shaker philosophy, "We make you kindly welcome," continues to prevail.
However, there's a subtle change in the air at the National Historic Landmark, which dates to 1805. Exhibits have become more interactive; some rooms in the Trustees' Office have gotten face lifts (traditional Shaker furniture remains, but the addition of warmer colors and softer textures give the rooms an appealing aesthetic), and the food ...well, that you need to taste for yourself.
Ever since David Larson was lured away from his executive chef position at Woodford Reserve Distillery to take over food services at Shaker Village, the menu can best be described as "simple fare meets sophisticated styling."
While a meal in the Trustees' House — with comfort food such as fried chicken, catfish, vegetables and the traditional Shaker lemon tart, served family style — is always inviting, it's a special treat to experience one of the village's Garden Suppers (Aug. 16 and 23, and Sept. 6 this year; $85). The al fresco seed-to-table meal is served next to the late- summer vegetable garden.
With a soft breeze coming through the trees and stars twinkling above, with juicy ripe tomatoes, fresh lettuce and other delectable goodies from the garden on the menu, and a refreshing mint julep to quench your thirst (yes, Shaker Village now offers bourbon and other spirits), it's summer picnicking at its best.
Shaker Village is at 3501 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg. Call 1-800-734-5611 or go to Shakervillageky.org. Rates are $100 to $285. Those who attend a Garden Suppers can get a 10 percent discount on an overnight stay (to register for the supper and to get the discount, you must call the 800 number and dial Ext. 1545).