The Kentucky Derby, held the first Saturday in May, is the annual marker of Spring in the south and offers more than just horse races, cocktail dresses, and show-stopping hats. It also gives restaurant goers a perfect excuse to sample a new cuisine: the delicious, decadent fare of Southern food!
Like the Derby, Kentucky’s cuisine is steeped in tradition and includes over 100 years of innovative cooking and recipes from famous chefs Duncan Hines and Colonel Harland Sanders. Kentucky’s culinary evolution draws from its rich history, grand hotels, and multicultural ingredients that can be found in popular southern staples including grits, cornmeal, okra, and of course, bourbon. The Kentucky Derby wouldn’t be complete without these succulent flavors and traditional derby day dishes dating back to the early 1800’s. This May, whether you are in California, New York or Alabama, take this excuse to visit a Southern-style restaurant and sink your teeth into these dishes for an authentic taste of the south.
Fried Chicken– This famous legend goes, Duncan Hines used to stop over at Sanders Café, a local Kentucky restaurant while working for a Chicago printing company. The chef? None other than Colonel Harland Sanders who would later create Kentucky Fried Chicken. Prior to his creation, we have ancient cultures to thank for creating fried chicken and the Scottish for bringing their method of preparation to the states. This same style of frying chicken can still be found in restaurants across the country.
Whether you like your chicken spicy, buttery, or crispy, snatch some up next time you’re out to eat. Sharing is optional!
Kentucky Hot Brown – This Kentucky Derby signature sandwich originated in the 1920’s by Fred K. Schmidt at the Brown Hotel in Lousiville, Kentucky. The Hot Brown is an open faced sandwich with turkey and bacon, Mornay sauce, and baked or broiled to perfection. Garnishes include tomatoes, mushroom slices, and sometimes, peaches.
A Southern spot, or a restaurant showing the Derby on television are your best bets to find this Kentucky dish.
Sweet Tea: Like the Mint Julep, this southern tradition is as simple to make as it is to enjoy. Sweet tea is made by adding sugar to bags of black tea and brewing over hot water, Sweeter than soft drinks and flavored with raspberry, lemon, and mint, this southern staple can be found at most restaurants (even McDonald’s!).
Check the menu next time you’re looking for a sweet alternative to a tall glass of coke!
Kentucky Mint Julep – Created with only four ingredients, the Mint Julep has become a southern staple and includes bourbon, sugar, mint leaf, and water. This simple, yet soothing spirit was first discovered in the 1800’s and originated in Kentucky when Senator Henry Clay brought the sweet drink to D.C. Julep, meaning rose water, is originally shaken with bourbon, yet gin and other liquors have found their way into this traditional cocktail.
Many restaurants will carry Mint Juleps on Derby Day and most bartenders will know how to mix one up for you even if it’s not on the menu. Try it on the rocks or add a leafy mint to punch of the flavors of this delicious drink.
THE SOUTHERN SIDES
Burgoo (Southern Stew) –Burgoo, a Northwest Kentucky Favorite, is typically served with cornmeal at large, social gatherings. Traditionally, this spicy stew includes whatever meats, vegetables, and spices are available. However, this dish has evolved to include three main ingredients: a combination of pork, chicken, or beef, often hickory smoked or with BBQ; vegetables, such as lima beans, okra, and potatoes are often popular additions; and usually cornmeal, beans, wheat, or potato starch are added to create a thicker, creamier base.
Seek out a restaurant that specializes in Southern fare to find this dish, and enjoy it with corn muffins and an icy cold Mint Julep.
Cheese Garlic Grits – Grits, a ground-corn food originating from the Native American preparation of corn, are similar to other thick porridge or polenta dishes found around the world. Water, cheese, butter, garlic, and other spices are added to the ground up corn to add a southern kick to the final dish. Want to be a true Southerner? Pair your grits with crawfish, shrimp, sausage, and add a little gravy on top.
You can find these at most meals, from breakfast to dinner, at Southern spots as a side dish or part of an entrée.
THE DERBY DESSERT
Chocolate Derby Pie– This traditional pastry pie was created in the 1950’s by George Kern at the Melrose Inn in Prospect Kentucky and is one of the top Kentucky derby cuisine options. The pie is a chocolate and walnut tart in a pie shell with a pastry dough crust. Usually assembled with pecans, chocolate chips, caramel, and Kentucky bourbon; this sweet treat has many variations.
Order a slice to wrap up your Southern meal before heading out to place your bets on the race!
top kentucky derby cuisine