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How to Spend 48 Hours Eating Through Louisville

The first thing anybody asked when I told them I was going to Louisville was, “why?”

Nobody inquires as to why you’re going to Miami or Phoenix or even Montgomery, yet Louisville draws plenty of puzzlement. Most of what anybody knows about Louisville probably boils down to whiskey and Muhammad Ali, with baseball bats as an afterthought. 

What I found, however, is that Louisville lives in a state of limbo trending towards a leap to greatness. 

It has a small-town feel, yet features many of the a’la carte makings of an ambitious American city: rich history (both good and bad, as you’d expect from any city in the South), no shortage of watering holes, and a mean culinary scene. It has many echoes of Nashville or Savannah, a broad thoroughfare of a main street, replete with places to easily pop in without a reservation.

I left Louisville after a few days of eating followed by a weekend of bachelor party debauchery pleasantly surprised and anxious to return.

But first, I had to arrive.


I love sub-hour flights. They don’t even feel real! By the time you’ve reached cruising altitude, it’s already time to begin your descent. I spent my flight sitting next to a Vietnam veteran who went acoustic for this trip – no book, no tablet, not even a magazine – en route to his cavalry reunion. He wanted to buy us a few screwdrivers to get the festivities started but the flight was unfortunately too short for bar service. I had a strange feeling we’d find each other again, stumbling the streets of Louisville with our respective fraternal groups (spoiler: we did not).

I took a quick 15-minute Uber to my hotel right in the heart of downtown, dropped my bags off, changed out of my airport clothes, then started the mile-or-so walk in the warm evening breeze to my first meal of the trip.

Repeal Oak-Fired Steakhouse

Does it look sad eating alone in a steakhouse on a Tuesday evening? Perhaps. But I felt overjoyed with my entire experience, from entry to exit, and highly recommend folks put their social anxiety aside and treat themselves to a meal like Repeal.

According to my impeccably attentive and welcoming server Andre, Repeal is the birthplace of bottled bourbon and the steak is cooked over an oak fire (is the name starting to make sense?). 

To start my meal off, I figured, when in Rome, why not get something with whiskey? I started off with Repeal’s Signature Old Fashioned, made with Elijah Craig small batch with vanilla demerara, black walnut bitters, and the essential orange peel and cocktail cherry. 

Tumbler glass with brown liquid inside of it with a cherry on a wooden pick and an orange rind
Repeal’s Signature Old Fashioned | Repeal Oak-Fired Steakhouse | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

This cocktail was remarkably smooth with a subtle sweetness to balance out the bite of the whiskey. And man, do I love the booze-soaked cherry at the bottom. I’m not sure how alcoholic they actually are by the time I eat them, but if they can intoxicate I’d love to eat an entire bowl of these. I followed this up with another whiskey, this time Buffalo Trace with a big rock.

For my starter, I got the Truffle Honey Burrata Cheese served with grilled rustic bread. Anything with burrata is immediately a winner, but when you’re adding sweet apricot, fresh mint, and rich, crunchy marcona almonds, it’s the eater who’s the real winner. Truffle can often be loud and in your face, but here it was just the right level of umami to comfort you and leave you ready for more. The grilled bread offered a perfect structure to smear on some gooey burrata.

Circular piece of white burrata topped with brown apricot, green mint, and almonds with toast points in the background
Truffle Honey Burrata Cheese | Repeal Oak-Fired Steakhouse | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

This also came with a house-made Parker House Roll with butter. The roll had a focaccia-like texture with a phenomenal buttery flavor. I try not to fill up on bread, but Repeal did not make it easy.

A muffin-shaped roll with a silver tin of frothy butter next to it
Parker House Roll | Repeal Oak-Fired Steakhouse | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

And then came the main course.


Close-up of a filet with a pink interior on a white plate
Bone-In Filet | Repeal Oak-Fired Steakhouse | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

I got the bone-in filet (as much as I love dry-aged ribeye, I couldn’t in good faith expense a $80+ steak) cooked medium rare plus. A filet simply has no business melting in my mouth. Not only did this do exactly that, but it was magnificently seasoned with a top-tier char that never overpowered the quality of the meat. Sometimes with filet, you find yourself in limbo, munching on a chewy piece that you begin to lose patience with, but not here. Every bite ended far sooner than I wanted it to. 

As key as the steak is to the steakhouse experience, the sides complete the picture.

Two long skinny slivers of peppered bacon on a silver tray
Thick-Cut Peppered Bacon | Repeal Oak-Fired Steakhouse | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

While I was ordering, I was going back and forth between the Whipped Yukon Gold Potatoes and the Thick-Cut Peppered Bacon until the table next to me advised I opt for the latter. The chef sent out half servings of both. Maybe I command respect, maybe they felt bad for the solo steakhouse diner…whatever it was I can’t imagine a world where I didn’t have these potatoes. 

The bacon also warrants a “wow” of its own, with a delicate maple sweetness to balance the rich and fatty smokiness. My man Andre recommended I spread some mashed potatoes on top of the bacon, which elicited a reflexive “damn” under my breath because it was just that good. Between this and the remaining Parker’s House Roll with steak on top, those two bites were hall of famers.

By the end of this meal, even with plenty of leftovers, I was absolutely stuffed. This meant I would only be getting ice cream for dessert.

Louisville Cream

I walked a mile or so east along Market Street to end up at a locally-beloved ice cream shop called Louisville Cream. 

When I arrived, I asked an employee the best flavor for a first-timer and she immediately suggested the Banana Pudding, which I got in a waffle cone so I could walk back to my hotel while enjoying it.

Hand holding up a cone with a light tan ice cream
Banana Pudding Ice Cream Cone | Louisville Cream | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

This was a perfect flavor, a summertime staple made even lighter and tastier in ice cream form. It’s subtly sweet and the bits of Nilla Wafer chunks added some nice crunch. 

My phone was about to die as I was walking, so I took a play out of my buddy from the plane’s playbook and went no headphones or anything. There’s a charm to walking through a city with no stimuli besides what’s in front of and around you. It feels like a drug, firing old neurons that have been lying dormant since a pre cell phone era.

With an invigorated perspective, a charging phone, and a very full belly, it was time to rest up for a full day of eating more Louisville staples. 


It was a crisp and still morning in Louisville, so I took advantage of the weather by going for a riverside jog. The Louisville Loop River Walk is a trail-sidewalk hybrid running parallel to the Ohio River. Besides the view of the Clark Memorial Bridge leading to Indiana, there were party boats, dinner cruises, and more to really display the importance of the river to the historic development and contemporary livelihood of Louisville.

After my run, I grabbed a quick post-workout snack in the hotel lobby (with a surprisingly strong veggie egg white omelet…nice work, Holiday Inn Express and Suites) then showered and got ready for my day. My first stop of the day was several miles away, so rather than legging it and working up a premature sweat, I hopped on an electric scooter and took advantage of Louisville’s seamless bike lanes to make my way to La Pana.

La Pana Bakery y Cafe

When a bakery has an open view of the kitchen, you know they’re proud of their product. La Pana, a local Mexican bakery, offers one window where you place your order, but in immediate view is the preparation station where at all times you can see dough being kneaded, pastries being formed, and beautiful donuts and buns being pulled out of the oven.

Just when I thought picking my side dish at Repeal was tough, narrowing my order down to two items here proved to be a Herculean task, with plenty of necessary guidance from the two gentlemen behind the window (one of whom compared and contrasted the pastries without breaking a stride as he was intricately forming them). I ultimately decided on the Rol De Canella Con Lechecilla and the Lechecilla Donut .

Two pastries on a brown paper bag on a black table
Rol De Canella Con Lechecilla and Lechecilla Donut | La Pana Bakery y Cafe | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

The Rol De Canella Con Lechecilla is a flaky puff pastry cinnamon roll filled with Oaxacan vanilla custard and pecans. It’s everything you love about a cinnamon roll but with a crunchier exterior; the middle is still obviously the best part. The Lechecilla Donut is a cinnamon sugar-coated donut filled with Oaxacan vanilla custard. It’s delicate and mildly sweet and the cinnamon sugar adds a nice crunchy bite.

I wouldn’t exactly classify this as brain fuel for the day of work I had ahead, but it was a Wednesday so I had plenty to do. I walked into the Logan Street Market (a food hall replete with arcade games and other quirky decorations) and beelined to Safai Coffee, where I got the Rocket (cold brew with an espresso shot) to hopefully counteract the sugar and carbs I just ate. 

Clear cup with iced coffee on a wooden table
Rocket | Safai Coffee | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

After a surprisingly productive couple of hours (Rocket: 1, Mexican pastries: 0) I was ready for lunch, and despite the day heating up, I had a hankering for something even hotter.

Royals Hot Chicken

You walk a fine line when eating hot chicken. You either think aloud, “ooh, that’s got a nice kick!” with a laugh but ultimately enjoy a harmless meal, or you think “ooh, that’s got a nice kick!” and then proceed to cough, sneeze, hiccup, and sweat your way through a crescendoing heat that leaves every orifice of your face leaking with the only salvation coming from water and/or mac and cheese. Fortunately, this was the former.

To be fair, I got the “Hot” flavor, which perhaps counterintuitively is only the third of five heat levels, followed by “X-Hot” and “Gonzo”, so I wasn’t tempting fate or tickling my ego by going for broke. You can get your chicken in a variety of formats, like a sandwich or tenders, but I went for the tacos, which proved to be a perfect vessel. 

Hand holding a soft hot chicken taco, topped with shredded lettuce, pickled onions, and ranch
Hot Chicken Tacos | Royals Hot Chicken | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

The tacos were filled with chunks of delightfully spicy chicken with a cayenne pepper flavor, impressively bringing the heat without compromising the flavor. The pickled red onions, lettuce, and housemade ranch tied everything up with a beautiful bow. The chicken itself was unbelievably good solo but really thrived as a part of the group, much like Paul McCartney (I’m not sure anybody has ever made that comparison, which I’m either proud of or ashamed of).

I got my tacos with the Broccoli and Bacon Salad, with a nice blend of fresh veggie with smokey bacon, that classic southern combo that takes a healthy boring thing and makes it tasty. I panicked while ordering my drink and ended up with a PBR, which actually hit the spot with spicy tacos better than I could have imagined.

I still had a few hours of work to knock out this afternoon, so I found a coffee shop just a sneeze away that had an unexpected treat.

Please and Thank You

I’m generally sold on any coffee shop as long as it has strong cold brew and a comfortable chair, ideally near outlets. But when there’s a sign outside that says “best chocolate chip cookie,” my journalistic instinct takes over and I simply must investigate further. There were a few flavor options, but it’s hard to top a chocolate chip cookie, especially when it’s the moneymaker.

Chocolate chip cookie in a paper sleeve held up in front of an iced tea with a label saying "Please & Thank You"
Chocolate Chip Cookie, Black Iced Tea | Please and Thank You | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

What makes this cookie so exceptional is that the makers recognize that less is more; they aren’t afraid to let the chocolate chips be sparse. When your cookie dough is this tasty, the chocolate becomes a nice touch rather than an essential element. The cookie is served perfectly warm, with a crisp bite and a chewy middle, as all elite cookies should be.

To accompany my cookie, I got their “City’s Best” Black Iced Tea, which was a super refreshing choice after walking outside and eating spicy fried chicken tacos. It has a tasty mix of fruits and flavors like black tea, mint, and lemon.

The coffee shop itself has fun vibes with a jukebox playing all kinds of eclectic tunes from “Good Night, Sweetheart” to “Rock Lobster”. After spending several hours working and relaxing here, I’d like these guys to please open a location back in Atlanta…thank you.

*Pause for laughter*

At this point, it was nearing evening so I walked back to my hotel to recharge my phone and my body and prepare for dinner. After a bit of downtime, I walked a block or two away to indulge in an aperitif.

Proof on Main

It feels wrong to be in Kentucky and order any drink that isn’t brown. I’m of half a mind to quote Ron Swanson – “clear alcohols are for rich women on diets” – with the caveat that I actually like vodka, gin, and tequila. But when in Rome, you order whiskey.

Glass of whiskey with ice
Rye Rye Birdie | Proof on Main | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

This time, I ordered the Rye Rye Birdie, with rye, sherry, amaro, apricot liqueur, Kentucky straight ice cube, walnut orgeat, and biters. This was a typical type of upscale cocktail wherein I was only familiar with a few ingredients and just assumed I’d enjoy the rest. Luckily my hunch was correct; this drink had a stout bite with a sweet and forgiving aftertaste. I’d be slightly disingenuous if I said I noticed the subtle tastes of the amaro and walnut orgeat but it wasn’t a bad way to rev up my appetite.  

Mussel & Burger Bar

With a name like this, I had a pretty good idea the two dishes I needed to order. I honestly can’t think of a restaurant that has combined two more disparate foods in the titular role like this. With such a wild journey ahead, I sat at the bar and played it safe with a water and a Coke Zero (l have to keep something in the tank for the bachelor party starting the next day) as I scanned the menu and decided on my mussels and burger.

Mussels in a curry broth topped with cilantro
Curry Cream Mussels | Mussel and Burger Bar | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

For my mussels, I ordered the Curry Cream variety, with yellow Korean-style curry, red onions, lemongrass, garlic, cilantro, and lemon zest. I’ve never had mussels like these! 99% of the mollusks I’ve had are served in the same Italian-style garlic and white wine sauce, but this flavor really changes up what I expect with mussels. There’s a hefty saltiness that plays well with the freshness of the cilantro. Plus, it’s a treat to dunk the side of bread in the broth, which is the benchmark of any great mussels.

With the mussels taken care of, it was time for the other half of the restaurant name. I got the CEO Burger, topped with Gruyere cheese, truffle aioli, caramelized onions, mixed greens, and oven-roasted tomatoes and a side order of duck fat fingerling potatoes.

Burger with arugula, roasted tomato, gruyere cheese, and more with a side of fingerling potatoes and an aioli in a black cup
CEO Burger | Mussel and Burger Bar | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

This was a well-prepared burger with high-quality meat with a perfect fat content. The peppery arugula dances gracefully with the umami flavor of the roasted tomato. I practically needed a rag from the messiness of this burger, no thanks to the mighty wall of arugula that disrupted the structural integrity of the sandwich. I also really enjoyed the roasted tomato component, which brought more complex flavor and a softer texture than the raw variety.

The potatoes were simply seasoned, if a bit soggy, but went beautifully with the garlic aioli.

After this rich meal, I needed to go for a walk to properly digest, convince myself I was burning more calories than I was, and continue taking in the town bathed in a perfect sunset.

River with a bridge and sunset in the background
Photo Credit: Joey Weiss


I set an alarm to make sure I got in a full morning before I logged off to kick off my friend’s bachelor party. I got in a quick workout, showered, and walked down 4th street to get breakfast. Fourth Street Live! certainly feels touristy, but in a good way, with a sectioned off area containing bars, restaurants, and a plaza that I learned later in the weekend is a killer place to go out with a group and drink excessively. 

The Brown Hotel

My destination for breakfast was a Louisville icon: J. Graham’s Cafe at The Brown Hotel, the birthplace of the Hot Brown sandwich. The Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich with turkey breast, ham, and bacon covered in Mornay sauce and baked or broiled until the sauce begins to brown. Before eating it, I was simply astounded that this is Louisville’s pride and joy. Never has there been a less enticing assemblage of ingredients with a less appealing name.

Once I was seated in this classy hotel and handed a complimentary newspaper (I see why everybody used to read these!), I ordered the Petite Hot Brown, a necessary serving for the sake of my longevity the rest of the day.

Brown pan with a gravy-covered open-faced sandwich topped with bacon and parmesan cheese
Petite Hot Brown | J. Graham’s Cafe at The Brown Hotel | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

I burned myself immediately upon my first bite, which never sets a great tone for a meal. Nonetheless, this was an underwhelming dish. The turkey tasted like a cafeteria’s Thanksgiving meal. The chunk of hot raw tomato was texturally and gastronomically unpleasant. The bread got super soggy as it continued drowning in the sauce. The mornay itself, however, was quite flavorful and I loved the parmesan sprinkled on top as well as the bacon. Every time I took a new forkful, I somehow released a new pocket of heat which managed to burn my mouth all the way to my last bite.

Needless to say, I was not a member of the clean plate club on this one. 

I spent a little more time reading the paper and drinking some coffee (is this what retired life feels like?) before walking back and checking out of my hotel. Fortunately, the bachelor party house was ready for check-in so I rolled my bag two blocks north and settled in before the majority of the group arrived.

Once the bachelor got in, we went for a quick bite and drink.

Bristol Bar and Grille

We ordered a few beers ($3 drafts on Thursdays!) and split a light appetizer before we had our full appetites.

Four golden wontons gathered around a black cup of green sauce
Green Chili Wontons | Bristol Bar and Grille | Photo Credit: Joey Weiss

The Green Chili Wontons are fried and stuffed with Monterey Jack and green chilies and served with a guacamole dipping sauce. These were light and unassuming until you took a bite and they shot out at you a jab-cross combination of steamy and flavorful. 

Like another Louisville icon, these wontons floated like a butterfly but stung like a bee.