#BLUBRUNCH at Louisville's Downtown Marriott

Yesterday, Bob and I were treated to brunch at BLU Italian Grille at Louisville's Downtown Marriott. If you follow HerKentucky and BLU Grille on Instagram (and, seriously, why wouldn't you?), you know that we turned our brunch into an Instagram takeover. It was so fun, and the food and service were fantastic!

Sunday brunch at BLU is a bit of an event. There's a jazz trio,

delicious beverages,

and an extensive buffet of breakfast and lunch fare.

Steak medallions, garlic mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables

Two kinds of smoked salmon with caprese salad.

One entire table features locally-sourced items from Kentucky and Indiana. It was fabulous, y'all.

Bourbon cheddar cheese and Bibb lettuce. As #kentuckyproud as it gets!

Bourbon cinnamon buns

And then, there was the dessert table. Oh my goodness. The dessert table.

Bourbon + Cheesecake.

The Chocolate Bombe was, well, The Bomb.

 Cheers to BLU for a great brunch, an attentive staff, and a whole lot of fun!

BLU Italian Grille is located at 280 West Jefferson Street in Louisville. You can peruse their menu here.

(Thanks to BLU for the invitation and the wonderful meal!)

Chef Maria's Greek Deli

"I'll have a gy-ro," a patron requests.
"We don't have that. You can have a yeer-o. In Greek, our 'g' is pronounced like a y," Chef Maria Bell proclaims.

With that exchange, I knew I'd found my new favorite neighborhood deli. Anyone with standards that exacting is bound to create some amazing food.  

Let me tell y'all, she didn't disappoint.

The lamb gyro meat was insanely fresh and flavorful without the greasy texture so often associated with that dish. The feta cheese was salty and mellow and perfectly seasoned. And the tzatziki? Well, it was good enough to eat with a spoon.

Zorba the Greek pita. Amazing.
As we awaited our food, Chef Maria painted an enchanting verbal picture of Greece -- "The air smells like the ocean" -- and showed us all the take-away delicacies her deli offers. My beau and I walked away with plans to visit often, and possibly book a trip to Greece soon.

It's good to see that some folks still want to do things perfectly.

Chef Maria's Greek Deli is located at 102 Fairfax Avenue in Louisville's St Matthews neighborhood. You can order online here and sign up for cooking classes here.

The Hot Brown at Louisville's Cheddar Box Too

I love hot browns.

They're a matter of some debate here on HerKentucky, but I simply adore them. The ingredients? I mean, it's turkey, bacon, cheese and tomatoes. What's not to love? 

And then, there's the story of the hot brown. I have to say, it rekindles my Scott and Zelda obsessions when I hear that Louisville's famous Brown Hotel first served the filling, warm, open-faced sandwich as a midnight meal for Jazz Age flappers and their beaux, providing the fuel by which they could Charleston the night away. Good Lord, it just makes me smile to type that. 
Joan Crawford in Our Dancing Daughters.
These days, hot brown is one of those quintessentially regional cuisines that you just have to try if you visit an area. Visitors to Central Kentucky just have to try a hot brown. And those of us who live here, well,we either love them or we hate them.

Now, I've tried appetizer hot browns and breakfast hot browns. I've had the eponymous sandwich from the Brown Hotel (always my favorite!), and I've followed their recipe to make my own. But, this weekend, I found a whole new adjective to describe the hot brown: "light."

The Cheddar Box Too! is located in the Chenowith Square shopping center in Louisville's St. Matthews neighborhood. It's a delightful little lunch nook -- a spinoff of one of those old-school delis that sells delicious pimiento cheeses, salads and baked goods.  The hot brown was light and delicious, with farm-fresh tomatoes and a light hand on the mornay sauce. I had a side of baby field greens with house-made cherry balsamic vinaigrette, which made the meal decidedly more "ladies who lunch" than "flapper." I guess I'll put my Roaring Twenties daydreams aside for another day, but this was a really great sandwich.

Who serves your favorite hot brown?

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.

Magee's Bakery

In fact, this blog post could begin and end with that one sentence. I love Magee's Bakery a lot. Their buttercream frosting is pretty much the perfect food. Their cakes and cupcakes are my all-time favorite, far surpassing any "cupcakery" that has popped up in recent years. Their eclairs and donuts are supurb. And, lest you think my sweet tooth makes all my decisions, I also count their breakfast sandwiches on the short list of the best breakfasts in Lexington.

This weekend, we picked up a King Cake from Magee's.  My beau and I are both huge fans of King Cake, and this cinnamon-filled cake didn't disappoint. It was light and moist, and not overpoweringly sweet. It was a fantastic addition to a family lunch, and it made for a tasty breakfast the next morning. It was one of those once-a-year treats that I'll be glad to see again next February!

 I love Magee's. What Hometown Bakery do you love?

Courthouses and Cafes

Early in my career, I worked as an auditor of local government officials all over the Commonwealth. I would spend a week in the courthouse going over the tax collection records of the county Sheriff or combing through bail bond monies at the Circuit Court Clerk's office.

I understand that most people would find this an incredibly boring and tedious job. Sometimes, it was just that. Other times, though, those weeks served as my opportunity to explore a new part of Kentucky. I worked from Pikeville to Paducah, Whitley City to Covington and lots of places in between. I didn’t quite make it to all 120 counties, but I saw more than my fair share!

This was the era just before counties started getting monstrous new buildings called Justice Centers – financed by the Administrative Office of the Courts and designed to bring the judicial system in Kentucky into the high-tech modern world. At the time, working in a broom closet or in a back office whose exposed brick walls had crumbling mortar enough to see the outside world, I would never have admitted to feeling lucky. I was, though, I got to work in the old-style courthouses. The buildings were lined with historical markers, and it was cool for a history buff like me to imagine the events that had transpired in each building.

One (of many) unfulfilled ideas I’ve had was to create a cookbook featuring pictures of the old Kentucky courthouses and recipes from the local, hometown restaurants found near the courthouse square. Ok, so I know the idea of crumble old buildings might not get you going, but the little restaurants should! Some of these places are amazing! My coworkers and I tried to always opt for local eateries over national chains.

lee co ch
Not the prettiest courthouse, but a tasty cafe!
Photo via Kentucky Court of Justice.
There was Dooley’s Purple Cow Restaurant in Beattyville, Kentucky. We patronized that establishment for two reasons: 1) it had been featured in Southern Living, and 2) it was pretty much the only game in town besides the IGA deli counter.

Photo via Shelby County Facebook Page
Shelby County had more than your average number of city-center restaurants, but McKinley's Bread Shop and Deli was my very favorite. This little gem has decor that's pleasing to customers of all ages, but I think the kids really loved the model train that circles the room every so often. Adults are probably too busy noshing on the flavorful sandwiches, salads and soups. Hands down, my favorite was the bacon ranch potato salad. In fact, I made my mom and sister go try it so we could recreate it for my wedding reception.

Photo via Kentucky Court of Justice
While I haven't visited many of these places in recent years, I still find myself craving a trip to Oldham County and the quaint downtown of LaGrange. Complete with a railroad running through the central business district, fantastic antiques and curiosities shops, LaGrange also boasts one of my all-time favorite restaurants: The Red Pepper Deli. I remember the food as fresh, flavorful and going beyond the typical cold-cut sandwiches fare. My colleagues and I kept meaning to try the other restaurants within walking distance of the courthouse, but we found ourselves at The Red Pepper every single day. It was not monotonous at all!

From the Hickman County Courthouse, where the Clerk showed us filming locations for the Tommy Lee Jones film U.S. Marshals, to the Bell County Courthouse, nestled in Pineville among the mountains, there are some amazing small towns, old buildings, and awesome eateries in this state. I was afforded the opportunity to see and spend some time in these towns, and I encourage you to explore them, too. Not all the Kentucky gems are found in Louisville or Lexington. Some of the best hometown hospitality and charm just might be off the beaten path in the local courthouse square.

Do you have a favorite courthouse or cafe? Share it with us in the comments!