Tom + Chee

The other day, I was walking down Bardstown Road when a sign caught my eye.

A whole restaurant devoted to grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. How intriguing is that?

It turns out Tom + Chee started out as a food tent in downtown Cincinnati, and now has three locations in the Cincy metro area as well as two in Louisville. I've obviously not been watching much television lately, or I'd have known that the restaurant has been featured on Man v. Food. And they received some fairly serious capital from Mark Cuban on Shark Tank a few months ago. It's a pretty interesting story. And the food is delicious.

You can choose most any kind of grilled cheese at Tom + Chee. The bread, cheese, and add-on options are seemingly endless. The soups are great as well; I'm quite a fan of the creamy tomato basil. But they  really up the "y'all ain't gonna believe this" factor with their grilled cheese donuts.

Yep, you read that correctly. Grilled cheese donuts. A donut sliced in half, filled with cheesy goodness, and warmed on a griddle. Their signature donut is filled with cheddar cheese, but my beau and I each opted for more exotic concoctions. All in the name of blog research, of course.

He had the Strawberry Lemonade, which was filled with a lemon mascarpone, mozzarella, and fresh strawberries. It was a really unique flavor; we both really liked the mascarpone filling. 

I ordered the Mint Julep. The name was just too perfect to overlook. And, I have to say, I kind of loved it. The combination of bourbon caramel, mint mascarpone, and graham cracker was decadent and delicious.

Tom + Chee has Kentucky locations in Louisville (Bardstown Road and U of L's campus) and Newport, as well as two stores in Cincinnati. If you're in the mood for fun comfort food, Tom + Chee is a great spot.

Louisville Pizza

Yesterday, Megan posted about those awesome breadsticks from Papa John's.  What she said is so true; sometimes it's hard to remember that the big national pizza chain started in Louisville.  They're simply everywhere!  Megan got me thinking about the first time I ever ate at a Papa John's.  In a very Kentucky moment, I was spending the summer at Centre College for the Governor's Scholars Program.  When I "discovered" the Danville Papa John's,  I didn't realize that the next twenty years of meetings, study groups and ball games would feature orders from Papa John's, nor did I realize the Louisville connection.  I simply loved that garlic butter.

Louisville has always been a pizza town to me.  In addition to the ubiquitous Papa John's empire, some of my all-time favorite slices of pizza can be found along Bardstown Road.  Now, Louisville doesn't have a signature pizza style, like New York or Chicago.  It does, however, have a well-established foodie movement and an unwavering commitment to local foods and products.  You can always find high-quality ingredients and a well-constructed slice.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Wick's Pizza, Baxter Avenue.
Wick's Pizza
Ask any true Louisvillian, and they'll tell you that Wick's is the place to go for huge, deep-dish pizza smothered in quality ingredients.  Their pepperoni is so fresh and spicy that you'll wonder if you've ever eaten pepperoni before.  A funky, laid-back atmosphere (there's often a live band).  Five locations across the Louisville area, but the Highlands location is where you want to go.  

The Douglass Loop location -- located next to a Graeter's, just in case you're still hungry -- is one of my favorite pizza places in town.  Fat Jimmy's offers a light, delicate slice of pizza with a sweetly tangy tomato sauce.  This is a fantastic lunch pizza.  

Impellizzeri's has the best true Sicilian-style pizza in town.  A  Louisville staple, Imp's is an amazing place to dine al fresco with a chalice of Stella.  (The salads, breadsticks, and dining room are all pretty nice, too!)

Spinelli's offers big Brooklyn-style pizzas, and has distinguished itself in the fun Highlands neighborhood by offering late-night delivery (until 4:30 a.m.)  and even later dine-in options (until 5 a.m.).  Everybody's ordered Spinelli's at some point, even if everyone hasn't been brave enough to try their signature fried Oreos.

What is your favorite Louisville Pizza?

Heather's 20 Things

1. Kentucky basketball. Not just the storied Wildcat program-- the sheer love for the game that transcends race, gender, geography, and socioeconomic lines across every little corner of the Commonwealth. From the way everyone congregates at the Hyatt before UK games to the way every high school ball game is a sellout.
3. Dwight Yoakam. He's from Floyd County, and so am I. Even if you don't enjoy his glam-country rockabilly sound (a position I can't personally imagine, but whatevs), you have to love his brilliant acting turns as the husband attending divorce mediation in Wedding Crashers or the abusive drunk in Slingblade.
4. These two houses in Gratz Park. My favorite houses anywhere in the world.
6. The recently departed Gatewood Galbraith -- a true gentleman whose unique voice will be sorely missed in the state political arena.
8. George Clooney. He's a beautiful man.
9. Jenny Wiley Theatre. (We're not going to discuss the whole "moving to Pikeville" thing. I can't talk rationally about it.)
12. The New Year's Day Pajama Party at Lynn's Paradise Cafe.
14. Discovering Kentucky with my dogs. From Cherokee Park to Ashland's Central Park. From snowy days in the Eastern Kentucky mountains to sunny Saturdays on Molly Malone's patio.
Baby Max in Cherokee Park, 2007.
16. The Kentucky Governor's Scholars Program. Where I met my future husband, though it would take me more than a decade to figure it out.  Where so many friendships, partnerships, and relationships were sealed.  Where at least one friend's husband learned to crochet.
18. Kentucky politics. Hilarious. Fascinating. Infuriating.
19. Cheapside.
20. Derby Glasses.

Kentucky Places: The Louisville List

Downtown Louisville as seen from Indiana
This weekend, a Nashville-based friend Facebooked me for recommendations for a summer trip to Louisville.  I guess it's where I've lived in (and loved) three amazing Southern cities, but I get  variants of that email all the time.  "Where should I stay in Louisville?"  "Where are the best places to shop in Nashville?"  "Where should I eat after a day at Keeneland?" -- I actually keep my responses on file in my email account and then re-work the answers to compliment individual friends' personalities, tastes, traveling preferences and companions.

Now, my friend is planning for an early June trip to a concert at the Yum! Center and a few days' stay in downtown Louisville.   She's never been to Louisville before, and wants to get a sense of the city.   There are so many attractions within walking/easy driving distance that this trip virtually plans itself.  Even though it's the middle of winter, talk of a Downtown Louisville summer puts me in the mood for Proof's gelato, a ride on the Belle, and a seat on Molly Malone's patio. -- HCW

The Yum Center and Downtown Museums
The Ali Center
I've never really been to the Yum! Center, but it's supposed to be an incredible venue.  It's right in the middle of Downtown Louisville, and you could have a fantastic trip without ever leaving the Downtown area.
The guys on the trip will probably want to see the Louisville Slugger Museum. If baseball's your thing, the RiverBats - the Minor League team - play downtown. The Frazier Museum has a lot of historical war/arms stuff. The Muhammad Ali Center is also quite neat -- it's kind of a walking tour of The Champ's life, as well as a cultural center that supports a lot of education and charity events.  There are also some very cute galleries/museums up and down Main Street, near Slugger, Frazier and the Ali.
The Seelbach lobby
As for hotels, I would strongly suggest either 21C or the Seelbach. 21C is a very hip and boutique-y museum hotel. The restaurant inside -- Proof on Main -- is extremely cool. Excellent locally sourced food, insanely good cocktails, and a very artsy decor -- all without being too pretentious. Proof also has a fantastic gelato cart on the street during the summer -- I can't recommend it highly enough.
The Seelbach is way more traditional with four-poster cherry beds, marble lobbies, etc. I feel like a princess every time I stay there.  It has some really cool little bars, the best Starbucks in town, and an amazing day spa.  It also boasts the only five-diamond restaurant in the state.  They're even dog-friendly, and treated Max like a visiting dignitary.  Fitzgerald actually got thrown out of the Seelbach for public drunkenness and then set Daisy's wedding there when he wrote The Great Gatsby.
Outside Jeff Ruby's
The Galt House is kind of a non-descript conventioners' hotel, but it does have an amazing view of the river. There is also a really good high-end steakhouse, Jeff Ruby's, at the Galt House that's like a regional Ruth's Chris. Good, big steaks and a fantastic wine list.
Food/ Entertainment

Max  visits Fourth Street Live.
My very favorite breakfast in the world is at Toast on Market. The Blueberry-Lemon Pancakes are insane, as are the pancakes that are dressed out like a pot roast sandwich. Their hash brown casserole is incredible as well. Also on Market is Garage Bar, which is a high-end wood-fired pizza place that also includes a great oyster bar.
The Belle of Louisville
Downtown, just by the Seelbach, is a kind of touristy entertainment district called Fourth Street Live. There's a Hard Rock, a MakersMark-themed restaurant/bar, and a lot of little restaurants and bars. It's a fun place to people-watch and go out for drinks. I think they even have Yum! Center adjacent parking, and there is often live music and other event-y kind of stuff going on.
Oh, and if the weather permits, you can go out on a steamboat. The Belle of Louisville and the Spirit of Jefferson do lunch and dinner cruises and little sightseeing excursions. It's a very neat way to see downtown from the river.
The Highlands
Molly Malone's
If you want to venture just out of Downtown, the Highlands is a fun, eclectic neighborhood just minutes away. Very cute and cool (we lived there for years) shops and some of the best food anywhere. Lynn's Paradise Cafe is a cute, funky diner with fantastic food. Lunch and dinner are really good, and the breakfast/brunch is legendary. Wick's Pizza is kind of a neighborhood favorite -- huge pizzas with tons of quality toppings. There are some really great nicer restaurants up and down Bardstown Road (the main street going through the neighborhood); if you're up for Latin Fusion, Seviche is our favorite restaurant anywhere -- fantastic seafood and mojitos, and my beau loves their skirt steak, too.
I absolutely love the Louisville Stoneware factory--they do tours, paint-your-own, etc., and their big summer sale should be going on. There are also several really cute Irish Pub kind of places in the Highlands -- Molly Malones and O'Shea's are the kind of places where everyone from college kids to Congressmen go -- very laid-back and fun.
Churchill Downs
The one thing that would be worth driving out of downtown would be Churchill Downs. The summer meet will be in full-force by early June. For just a regular weekend race, you should be able to get tix -- you'd be fine to just dress like you would for an afternoon wedding or a "coat and tie rather than suit" church.  If you're in town on the right weekend, I'd hit up Downs After Dark, which is a fun night-racing event.
Louisville in general
Louisville is a really fun city. It can be a little more Midwestern than the rest of Kentucky -- people talk and walk a little faster and sure do drink in public more than they do anywhere else in the state. I think y'all will really like it, though. It's beautiful in the spring and summer! Also, it has really easy roads to navigate for a city its size; you really can get from one part of town to another pretty rapidly.
The biggest drawback to Louisville in the late spring/early summer is the weather. It's located right along the Ohio river and gets a lot of the river basin storms/tornado watches.

What about y'all, dear readers?  What's on your "Must-See Louisville" list??

(All photos are my own.)

My 2012 Kentucky Resolutions

Earlier this week, Sarah posted a brilliant list of her 2012 Kentucky Resolutions. Her list got me thinking about my own goals for the New Year. How can I find new ways to enjoy being a Kentuckian in 2012? I wondered. I've already perfected my own beer cheese and bourbon ball recipes. I've seen the Commonwealth's major tourist sites, I've been to Derby and Oaks, and I've joined in the frenzy following a National Championship win.

But, of course, there are always new ways to enjoy the Bluegrass State. Here are a few goals I came up with for the upcoming year.  I tried to keep them realistic; I'm probably not going to become BFF with Mark Badgley and James Mischka this year (but I'm not going to stop hoping for that...)
  1. Shop(and Eat) Kentucky.I lived in Louisville's Highlands neighborhood for years. Now, when you live in the heart of the Keep Louisville Weird movement, it's pretty easy to have locally-sourced meals and locally-crafted products within your reach. But, recently, I've found myself gradually backsliding into more suburban, mainstream purchasing habits. Over the holidays, I was reminded how delightful local products can be when my aunt gave me a sampler of coffees roasted in-house at Lexington's Coffee Times Coffee House. The Big Blue Blend was so bright and sunny, but with a spicy bite -- it started sweet, like mocha ice cream, but finished with almost a chicory note. I was instantly smitten, and reminded that good things are often made just around the corner!
  2. Tour the Bourbon Trail; learn to place Box and Wheel bets. Yep, I resolve to do some sinnin' this year, but I want to learn to do it well. I want to see where my favorite bourbons are made -- I've driven past the distilleries hundreds of times, but I've just never taken the time to stop for the tour. And, I want to learn to make the kind of sophisticated bets that yield high payouts -- the kind that come from a deeper knowledge of horses and wagering. It's been a long time since I took a statistics class, but I think this will be a fun skill to acquire.
  3. Get involved with Kentucky politics. It's been way too long since I contacted a Congressman about an issue I believed in, volunteeered with a campaign, or generally gotten involved. I kind of miss it.
  4. Publish a story or essay set in Appalachia. As a writer, I've frequently struggled with how to include my hometown in my work while preserving my own experience. I love so many cultural elements of Appalachia, but I really hate some of the imagery of poverty and ignorance that so often emerges in Appalachian fiction. This year, I want to write a piece that is set in Eastern Kentucky, but which doesn't involve bad stereotypes, trips "to the Walmarts", or exploitative dialogue. 
  5. Finally see Western Kentucky.  To be a lifelong Kentuckian, I've spent an embarrassingly brief amount of time west of I-65.  I need to visit The Quilt Museum, eat some barbecue, and visit Abe's house.
What "Kentucky Things" do you want to do this year?