Key to Small Town Dining is Knowing Where the Locals Go

Jun 09, 2016

When traveling outside large cities, you might find yourself searching for great places to eat. But if you’re lucky, you know a local who can steer you to where “people ‘roun’ here go.” Or better yet, you can keep on reading here.

Sometimes those culinary treasures are hidden right in plain sight, locations you’d never think served some of Kentucky’s best food. A high-end fish restaurant immediately off a small town interstate exit? Yeah, right.

Or a progressive Southern restaurant in a 150-year-old home that’s so period correct you wonder if the chef cooks in the fireplace. No “interesting” food there, right?
Wrong on both counts.

Just as exciting is when you find some agreeable watering holes, bars and lounges nearby where you can sip rare bourbons and first rate cocktails. Again, these aren’t always easily found, even on Facebook, but locals know about them. In Kentucky, the locals are usually eager to tell you about them, and especially so if the community in which you’re searching just became “wet.” Heck, if you’re really interested, or just act real nice, they might even take you there, which has happened to me.

What else is there to do between stops for eating and drinking? Well, we’re talking north-central Kentucky, so there’s always a distillery nearby for touring or shopping for liquid goodies found only on those premises. Food is now available at some, and if a new bill turns into a much-needed law, visitors soon will be able to have cocktails onsite.

One distillery in the area is even building a six-room bed and breakfast inn, a separate restaurant and a new visitors center to raise bourbon tourism to the level of accommodations found in Napa Valley wineries. Save for a night in the woods, could there be a quieter sleeping place than on a distillery campus near thousands of resting whiskey barrels?
This lovely area to which I’m hinting is a modest, 40-ish-mile strip of blacktop connecting Bardstown to the east, Elizabethtown to the south and Radcliff to the north.
Radcliff is home to Boundary Oak Distillery, which will soon give tours of its new distillery, where it makes its palate-dazzling Kentucky Amber, a cane-sugar spirit aged in used bourbon barrels.

Just a few miles south is the western-most point on this gastronomic chevron, Elizabethtown, which boasts an amazing new restaurant.  The Wicked Eyed Woman, where the “steam punk” art and décor are, just like the food, created by the proprietress who really isn’t wicked, but who likes that reputation. Thirsty for whiskey? Just walk across the street to the Bourbon Barrel Tavern, where 90 bourbons are served in a cozy setting along with live music.

Have you heard of Harrison-Smith House in Bardstown? That’s the name of what could become one of the state’s most significant restaurants. Chef and co-owner Newman Miller not only cooks the food, he crafts every cocktail right in the kitchen. Five minutes from there is Willett Distillery, where the construction of new attractions is even outpacing bourbon and rye production. Its owners say by the fall you’ll be able to stay there overnight. Yes, Maker’s Mark isn’t far away in Loretto, nor is Jim Beam in Clermont. All in all, you’re still basically in Bardstown.

For more delicious details, keep reading.

Stephen Coomes, 2016