In the Local Palate’s 2022 Restaurants Issue, our state-by-state guide highlights the new restaurants that have emerged since 2020. Here, Editor in Chief Erin Byers Murray gives an overview of recent additions among restaurants in Kentucky.
North of Bourbon | Louisville
Every meal at North of Bourbon starts with a little lagniappe, a small gift from the kitchen to kick things off. It’s usually boiled peanuts, brined in salt and chiles, and it’s the first signal that hospitality is top of mind at this new restaurant in Kentucky.
Owners, brothers Eric and Brad Jennings and Daniel and Stacy Holyfield, long harbored a dream of opening their own place together, one that might bring them back to the food of New Orleans’ French Quarter, one of their favorite places to visit. When a Germantown space became available, they pounced, with plans to bring foods of the deep South and an epic bourbon program to the neighborhood.
Chef Lawrence Weeks, whose own family hails from parts of Mississippi and Louisiana, runs the kitchen—he grew up eating Creole and Cajun foods in central Kentucky and has worked for chefs like Todd Richards and Ouita Michel. “I used to spend my time chasing hot new things and dishes but now I just want nostalgia,” he says.
Witness his rouxed peas piled over mustard greens tangled with tasso, or the shaved mirliton salad, the thinly sliced gourd doused in a truffle vinaigrette. Drawing directly from bayou cuisine, he does a standout po’ boy with fried catfish; densely packed crawfish boudin balls that sit atop a spicy creole mustard; and a chicken and sausage filé gumbo loaded with Kentucky-grown proteins and Carolina Gold rice.
More than 300 bottles of bourbon await behind the bar of this restaurant in Kentucky, with a range of styles and ages. A cabinet of dusty-ish bottles near the entrance offers a few rare gems, or dive into the list of old fashioneds where you’ll spot bacon fatwashed Wild Turkey in the Turkey and Bacon, and chai infused Old Granddad Bottled in Bond in the Chai Me If You Want. A hand-shaved ice contraption means there are boozy adult desserts, and there’s a bourbon storage locker available to regulars toward the back. Bourbon dominates the design, too, with several booths set into what look like massive barrels, complete with charred staves.
Whether you’re coming in for Weeks’ red beans and rice, or a couple of pours of a 1970s-era Jim Beam, the night usually ends the same way it begins—with a little taste from the kitchen. After about 10 pm each night, Weeks sends out another gift, this time something sturdier, like boudin burritos or dumplings, to help soak things up.
Delta Wet Salad with smoked tomato, cucumber, and red wine vinaigrette
Crawfish boudin balls with spicy pickles and creole mustard aïoli
Crab bucatini with crab roe butter, peas, asiago, smoked tomato, Herbsaint, and black garlic
Louisville’s New Guard
Wild Swann | Louisville
Once a hat company and later an apothecary, the circa 1883 catacombs beneath the Grady Hotel now holds the Wild Swann cocktail bar. There are plenty of brown-liquor pours offered within this intimate, speakeasy-style space. If you’d prefer yours mixed instead of neat, try cocktails like the Apothecary, made with Michter’s rye, sweet vermouth, and orange liqueur. The tight menu at this restaurant in Kentucky features snacks and shareables—pro tip: go late-night for the cranberry bread pudding along with a nightcap.
La Bodeguita de Mima | Louisville
From the rhythmic tunes to the white straw fedoras everywhere to the quick-clipped Spanish that blends with the service, every detail feels pulled from Ernest Hemingway’s old stomping grounds. Cocktails and plates are straight from Cuba, with a forbidden mojito and dishes like tostones relents, towering with ropa vieja salsa and cilantro aïoli. Finish it all with the flan served with piña colada ice cream.
Gertie’s Whiskey Bar | Louisville
Brick-lined and utilitarian, the upstairs of this cocktail den delivers a casual drinks-only experience while the speakeasy downstairs feels comfortably worn. Even the rough-hewn original oak beams feel like they’ve been there since the building’s creation. The menu leans heavily on bourbon with an extensive list of barrel selections along with signature cocktails, including the namesake old fashioned.
Tha Drippin Crab | Louisville
The seafood-heavy menu at this West Louisville cafe and bar is just as playful as the paint-splattered space. Try the 24K wings, wrapped in gold leaf or the dripping sushi, a deep-fried spicy crab roll drizzled with bang bang sauce. A DJ spins from the dining room’s corner, and the happy hour promises half-priced apps and drink specials.
Other New Restaurants in Kentucky
ItalX | Lexington
Get whisked off to coastal Italy in this open and airy contemporary Italian restaurant in Kentucky. Small, tapas-sized plates drive the menu, from antipasti and insulate to house-made pasta. Larger dishes, like pork Milanese with apricot mustard are sizable enough to share. Pair it with an Italian liqueur or a bottle of Barolo.
Scout & Scholar Brewing Co. | Bardstown
Taking its name from the town’s founders—a surveyor and “scout” and a Princeton graduate and minister “scholar,” this microbrewery categorizes each of its brews as either a scout or scholar. Scout beers tend to be more adventurous, such as the High Five Revive, a thirst-quenching fruited sour, while the scholar series stays traditional, with options like All Glass, a hazy New England-style IPA. The solid beer-parable menu includes globally influenced bites, like bulgogi-filled dumplings, arancini, and compressed watermelon.
Image courtesy of Hermitage Farm
Barn8 | Goshen
When it opened in 2020, Barn8 Restaurant & Bourbon Bar gave its owners the chance to immerse guests in the thoroughbred-driven history behind the surrounding Hermitage Farm and its ecosystem. Dine or sip in the refurbished barn, private stalls, or backyard picnic tables on thoughtful dishes prepared with ingredients from the kitchen garden and greenhouse. Don’t miss the guajillo-sorghum glazed ruby red trout with benne seed and peanut dukkah.
Pensive Distilling Co. | Newport
Just across the river from Cincinnati, Pensive Distilling Co. officially opened in May 2021 but was a work in progress long before that. Co-owners Scott Quigley and Jose Escamilla started distilling together nearly two years prior, perfecting vodka and bourbon recipes before opening the doors to their space.
- by Erin Byers Murray
- by Jennifer Stewart Kornegay
- by Emily Havener
- by Hannah Lee Leidy
- by Beth D’Addono