Travel

There’s always something new in Louisville

Bobby Benjamin, owner and chef of one of Louisville’s newest restaurants, Butchertown Grocery. The restaurant is located in an old grocery store in the Butchertown neighborhood.
Bobby Benjamin, owner and chef of one of Louisville’s newest restaurants, Butchertown Grocery. The restaurant is located in an old grocery store in the Butchertown neighborhood.

Having always been a fan of the old Speed Museum, I was understandably excited at the prospect of seeing the new, improved Speed Museum. The $60 million renovation, which doubled the museum’s square footage and tripled its gallery space, necessitated its closure for three years.

It was definitely worth the wait.

For starters, the architectural design of the new addition not only blends seamlessly with the original 1927 structure, but through large floor-to-ceiling windows, integrates the University of Louisville campus on which it is located, and makes the campus itself part of a changing art exhibit. (Contrast that with the closed-in, poorly located and practically inaccessible University of Kentucky Art Museum.)

A sense of openness and airiness pervades the entire museum, with many of the galleries in view from multiple spots, and the display continues outdoors with the newly added Elizabeth P. and Frederick K. Cressman Art Park and Piazza.

The nucleus of the Speed’s 14,000-piece collection of items dating back 6,000 years remains intact. That means visitors can still marvel at Greco-Roman statuary, 18th-century Flemish and French tapestries, English and Dutch landscape painting, African and Native American tribal art, modern and contemporary art, and an English Renaissance Room transported in its entirety from the county of Devon in southwest England.

Among the Speed’s additions are 10,000 square feet of gallery space for new collections, a 56,000-square-foot Kentucky Gallery, showcasing sculpture, paintings and decorative arts from commonwealth artists and a 142-seat state-of-the-art cinema.

One truly remarkable feature of the renovation is the exterior glass paneling which contains reflective metal protecting the valuable art while allowing for a lot of natural lighting.

The Speed has long been considered one of the upper South’s best art museums, and the renovation has only enhanced that reputation.

Louisville Boasts New Restaurants, Attraction

The renovated Speed isn’t the only new game in town. Louisville’s restaurant scene — never one to rest on its considerable laurels — has welcomed several newcomers in the past year.

One of the buzziest is Butchertown Grocery, located in its eponymous neighborhood and packed nightly with both serious foodies and those in search of a good time at the lively bar (if you want to be assured of a table or a bar seat, best to book in advance).

Chef-owner Bobby Benjamin’s menu offers southern comfort food with unique touches. The New Orleans BBQ shrimp may not have a roux quite as thick as that found in the Big Easy’s Pascale Manale’s, but it’s pretty close. Paired with a baguette, it’s an appetizer that could serve as an entrée — that is, unless you want to try their signature sandwich, the Butcherblock (meats from their curing room, fried eggs, arugula, hash browns, manchego and chive aioli).

Butchertown Grocery also offers a menu of classic cocktails. I had their version of the Old Fashioned (Old Forester’s Signature Bourbon, demerara sugar, house bitters, lemon and orange oil), and if I’d had the constitution, I might have sampled the intriguingly named Corpse Reviver #1 (Copper & Kings Craft Brandy, Applejack, Carpano Antica and Angostura). If that’s #1, I can only imagine what future Corpse Revivers will be like.

If you’re looking for a great breakfast spot, you won’t find a better one than Louisville legend Anoosh Shariat’s new diner on Brownsboro Road. Noosh Nosh opened this past May offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, and if the other two meals are as good as the breakfast, this is destined to be another Shariat success story.

I had the smoked salmon omelet with housemade ricotta and chives, but I was sorely tempted by the Kentucky French Toast — if only for the pleasure of pouring their Pappy Van Winkle syrup all over it (not to worry, there’s no alcohol; the syrup just sits in the Pappy barrel and absorbs the bourbon flavor).

Trust me, you don’t want to leave Louisville without dropping into Noosh Nosh.

If you’ve recovered enough from breakfast to have lunch, another new spot beckons: Le Moo. I’m a big fan of its sister restaurant, the Village Anchor Pub in Anchorage, and while this is completely different, it also offered an enjoyable experience (although I’ve heard that it can be a bit chaotic during the dinner hours).

Lunch was serene, however, and as the name suggests, the restaurant specializes in beef, with the Wagyu Pigs in a Blanket being a signature dish (Wagyu hot dogs on a croissant with bleu cheese and bacon jam).

Though tempted, I opted for the Kentucky Benedictine Sandwich, a housemade spread with diced cucumber, cream cheese, and fresh arugula topped with crispy country ham on thick-cut bread. Delicious!

If you are feeling flush — very flush — request the alcove named for Louis Vuitton and decorated with remnants of the designer’s luggage.

If you have one more meal left in you, head out River Road to the newly opened River House. The setting is impressive: diners walk past a 20-foot tall and 40-foot wide water wall to reach their tables, either inside or on the patio overlooking the river.

There’s a fully stocked Raw Bar and the menu features bounty from the deep, although there are also beef, pork and chicken entrées for the non-seafood loving. There are also some interesting sides such as butternut squash and goat cheese gratin and crispy Parmesan grit cakes.

Even before it had a distillery of its own, Louisville had been proactive in marketing itself as the logical place to begin the Bourbon Trail. Lexington and Bardstown might take exception to that claim, but they can’t deny that the River City has gotten the jump on what is likely to be the next spirit to go through a revival among cosmopolitan drinkers: brandy.

In June of 2013, Copper and Kings Distillery opened in Butchertown, distilling brandy and absinthe, the only one in Kentucky. Guests on one of the daily tours can view the distilling process and learn that all grapes come from California’s Central Valley and are distilled in three pot stills named after women in Bob Dylan songs: Sara, Magdalena and Isis.

It seems the grapes, while they like aging in the pot stills which help maintain their character, aren’t as partial to Dylan’s folksy tunes. The grapes happily percolate along to all kinds of music, from rock to jazz.

Women may be especially interested in the tour, because as production manager Brian Downing explains, “Despite the fact that, historically, brandy and cigars were associated with men, its lack of hard edges makes it essentially a feminine spirit.”

Following the tour, visitors adjourn to a rooftop tasting room where a view across the city provides a great backdrop for sips of Copper and Kings’ two spirits.

Whether your interest is in a great museum or great restaurants or the next great spirit to burst on the American scene, it’s comforting to know that you can find them all just a short drive away.

Patti Nickell is a Lexington-based travel and food writer. Reach her at pnickell13@hotmail.com.

If you go

The Derby City

Where to Stay: Brown Hotel, 335 W. Broadway, brownhotel.com. If you would like to channel the spirit of the late Muhammad Ali, book the suite named in his honor.

Where to Eat

▪  Butchertown Grocery, 1076 E. Washington St. Butchertowngrocery.com.

▪  Noosh Nosh, 4816 Brownsboro Center. Nooshnosh.com.

▪  Le Moo, 2300 Lexington Road, Lemoorestaurant.com.

▪  The River House, 3015 River Road, Riverhouselouisville.com

Where to Visit

▪  Speed Art Museum, 2035 S. Third St., Speedmuseum.org

▪  Copper and Kings Distillery, 1121 E. Washington St., Copperandkings.com

More information: Gotolouisville.com

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