By Lindsey McClave
Where to Eat Great Fried Chicken in Kentucky
There is no question that fried chicken is Kentucky’s culinary claim to fame. But not all fried chicken is created equal. Here are a few signature fried chicken establishments taking their birds to the next level!
Nestled along Midway’s idyllic Main Street, Heirloom is a standout amongst an array of local purveyors, and their Buttermilk-Brined Fried Chicken is a must-order when dining in for lunch. The breading is crunchy and packed with flavor, the light bite of spice tempered by the fresh Arugula and Mashed Potatoes served alongside. True chicken lovers will also have a hard time passing up the fried chicken livers which, tossed with ravioli, aren’t soon to be forgotten.
Tucked off South Clay Street in Louisville, some of the very best fried chicken in the state can be found behind an unassuming screen door. This is where Shirley Mae has been serving her authentic version of soul food to those in the know for the past 27 years. The Southern Fried Jumbo Chicken Wings are her specialty and are served with her famous Hot Water Cornbread which, if there were an award for cornbread, she would be sure to win.
Claudia Sanders Dinner House
Long before the Colonel took his secret 11 herbs and spices global, he and his wife Claudia were perfecting the recipe and serving it to anyone and everyone traveling through Corbin, Ky. After KFC was formed, they moved to Shelbyville and opened Claudia Sanders Dinner House, where family-style service is celebrated and their homemade fried chicken reigns supreme.
Upon opening, Harvest was an instant hit, their commitment to cooking seasonally and locally a perfect match for the discerning Louisville dining set. While the menu changes often, the Buttermilk Fried Chicken is a constant and the Drunken Pork Biscuit Hoecake and Peppercorn Gravy served alongside never go out of season.
Parkette made their mark when they introduced their Poor Boy burger to the people of Lexington in 1951; however those in the know are ordering Joe’s Famous Fried Chicken. Little has changed about this drive-in since its inception, and you will be hard pressed to find a better chicken dinner in the city of Lexington.
Where to Eat Great Burgers in Kentucky
While we wear the fried chicken badge with pride, it is a little known fact that the people of Kentucky can also cook a mean burger. From east to west and north to south, these signature burgers are not to be missed when visiting the Bluegrass state.
Mayan Cafe is a Louisville institution, serving authentic Mayan cuisine while showcasing the best vegetables and meats the Bluegrass has to offer. No better is this exemplified than in the aptly named Mayan Burger. Crafted with Foxhollow Farm grass-fed beef and sandwiched between pretzel bread, it is the bright chile aioli smothered overtop that takes their burger to the top of the list!
As Lexington’s first gastropub, it was expected that the Village Idiot would make a solid burger. What was not expected was that they would take the art of the cheeseburger to the next level, adding pulled pork and an oversized onion ring to the mound of melted cheddar encasing a half pound patty of Black Angus beef. Artisanal and ample, there isn’t anything dumb about ordering a burger at The Village Idiot.
What started as a food truck on Louisville streets quickly became a sensation, and the good people of Grind developed a devoted and hungry following. With demand for their crispy-edged burgers at an apex, they put down roots, and it has never been easier to quench your craving for a B&B -- their signature burger topped with brie, bacon and habanero jam.
The Big Dipper
The Big Dipper has been serving the very best of the greasy-spoon burger sort for over 60 years. Located in Owensboro, The Big Dipper has maintained its original drive-in charm, and those in the know don’t have to think twice when ordering; The Big Boy Through The Garden is the go-to, their signature burger piled high with every topping imaginable.
Pat’s Snack Bar
Tucked amongst the hills of Appalachia, Pat’s Snack Bar has been in operation in Manchester since the 1950s. Hand-formed patties are cooked to order and topped with cheese while still sizzling on the grill. These burgers are dressed to your preference, and lovers of Pat’s famous delicacy have been known to drive for hours to indulge their craving.
Where to Eat While Touring the Bourbon Trail
With routes winding east, south and straight through downtown Louisville, the opportunity to experience Kentucky’s greatest gift to the world is abundant along the Bourbon Trail. And when hunger strikes, we recommend these quintessential Kentucky institutions.
Oh, if the walls of Talbott Tavern could talk! Established in 1779, Talbott Tavern has long been a favored retreat for weary travelers making their way through the Kentucky countryside. Located just steps off of Bardstown’s historic town square, Talbott Tavern maintains its charm and historic presence while serving traditional Kentucky fare such as the Hot Brown and Burgoo, offering up a delicious taste of Kentucky history.
A day of bourbon tasting is best coupled with a leisurely interlude at the Kurtz family restaurant, where the family of ‘Suga’ and ‘Daddy’ Kurtz have been crafting Southern favorites since 1937. A plethora of homemade pies, cakes and cobblers greet guests at the entrance, the aroma of skillet fried chicken confirming that you are about to dine in true Southern style at this venerable Bardstown restaurant.
It would be fundamentally wrong to drive by Wallace Station’s roadside restaurant without stopping for a bite and a sit on their porch. Set among the horse farms of Versailles, watch goats graze and Thoroughbreds roam while indulging your senses with one of Wallace Station’s famed sandwiches made with locally sourced ingredients.
Holly Hill Inn
Midway, Ky. is home to Holly Hill Inn, a restaurant which has fast become one of the finest examples of Kentucky cuisine. With numerous accolades, including nods from James Beard, under her belt, Chef Ouita Michel continues to celebrate the bounty of the Bluegrass, sourcing nearly every ingredient on her menu from the farms and purveyors scattered throughout the bourbon-distillery-dotted countryside. A meal at Holly Hill Inn denotes a truly special occasion.
Proof on Main
The ethos of contemporary Kentucky cuisine can be found at Proof on Main, located in downtown Louisville at the heart of the Urban Bourbon Trail. After dining on Charred Octopus, Roasted Bones and the Woodland Farm Hog Chop, order one last finger of bourbon and take a stroll through the museum galleries located in the adjacent 21c Museum Hotel.