The gourmands at Mermaids Bar and Bistro present a menu full of rich New American fare and southern-inspired cuisine against a cozy bistro backdrop replete with partially bricked walls and small, homey tables. Duos and quartets inaugurate feasts with starters including fried green tomatoes (an $8 value) and JR’s tempura cocktail (a $12 value)—jumbo shrimp flanked by sweet thai sauce and spicy wasabi. Popular entrees, such as the seared Atlantic salmon fillet (a $20 value) or the chorizo-anchored creole risotto (a $17 value) tastily exercise long-dormant mouth muscles and heirloom forks brought from home.
Kentucky Wine Tours' knowledgeable guides open eyes and palates to the birthplaces of Kentucky's distinct wines and whiskeys, from the sun-kissed vineyards to the cellars stocked with oak barrels. Continuing a proud tradition begun during Prohibition, when bootleggers offered illegal tours of their moonshine-filled bathtubs, the all-inclusive excursions wend through everything from award-winning wineries to such famous distilleries as Wild Turkey and Maker's Mark. Named one of the 10 "classic American experiences" by CNN.com, bourbon tours travel along the historic Kentucky Bourbon Trail, surrounded by the historic buildings and limestone-rich rivers that lend the state's bourbons their distinct citrusy flavor.
Overlooking 400 acres of farmland and vineyards, the Acres of Land restaurant pairs well-crafted wine with hearty dishes that fuse fine dining and traditional country fare. Seasoned crab cakes seared in pans and dipped in roasted-red-pepper rémoulade prove just as amenable to new mouth and stomach habitats ($10). Dinner debaters can point to hand-cut, bacon-wrapped filet mignon topped with garlic-herb butter to show that beef, like monumental architecture, tastes better when enveloped in bacon ($26).
Equal parts sports fanatics and wings enthusiasts, Wildcat Wings owners Gordon and Emerie Duke create a culinary environment that mirrors the vibrancy of a live sporting event. The idea for Wildcat Wings came to them while rooting on Kentucky versus UCONN in the 2011 NCAA basketball Final Four game. Sensing that wings were the missing ingredient to celebrating the game properly, they quickly discovered the area was lacking an eatery to meet that need. The next thing they knew, both Gordon and Emerie were in their own restaurant slinging more than 20 sauces to slather golden-fried wings in everything from a bourbon glaze and mango habanero to honey mustard and peanut butter and jelly. They also pour frosty brews such as Kentucky Ale with which patrons can wash down feasts of wings and chicken tenders. To keep Gordon and Emerie’s inspiration ever-present, the venue’s TVs air all UK games, as well as broadcasting other sports, including baseball, football, and full-contact Connect Four.
Connected by an asphalt web of highways, state roads, and thoroughfares, blocky yellow signs gleam nonstop, casting a dandelion glow from the words “Waffle House.” The booths at the eateries fill 24 hours each day with the aromas of sizzling pork chops, Jimmy Dean sausage, and endless mugs of coffee. Line cooks brown shredded potatoes on a grill as waiters shout back in a language all their own for hash browns “smothered,” “covered,” or “topped”—served with onions, cheese, or chili, respectively. Angus burgers and steak melts share space on the rippling-hot surface at all times of day, allowing tired drivers to stop for food when they are on a long journey or just listening to an 11-hour drum solo on the radio. The first Waffle House switched on its lights in 1955, and some menu items still bear the names of Waffle House staff of the past, including Bert's chili from Dallas and Alice's iced tea.