Do you have places where you feel like your heart lives? Where just the thought of a place floods you not only with great memories, but also a yearning just to be there?
For Clay, that place is Lexington, a city of 300,000 in central Kentucky, the heart of Bluegrass country. Clay went to college there, and because several of his friends are still Lexington residents, we've visited nearly once a year for almost a decade.
We were itching for a spring outing to Kentucky, so we recruited Drew and Ralph to join us for a long weekend. On tap? Horse racing. Bourbon. Biscuits. And beautiful spring weather.
If you follow us on Instagram, you might have caught little snippets of our weekend away.
Here's a rundown of where we ate, what we saw, and where we ate some more.
We started with biscuits, because obviously. Ouita Michel is a Kentucky-based chef with a small empire of restaurants around Lexington. We hit three of them on this visit (stomachs willing, we would have hit more), starting with Windy Corner Market, a country diner just outside of Lexington. We literally drove straight there from the airport!
We feasted: breakfast burritos, a breakast po' boy, biscuits and gravy. It was all delicious, but the biscuits and gravy blew us away.
Keenland Horse Track. (This photo is from Ralph.)
The rest of Friday was spent at Keeneland for thoroughbred racing -- watching it, not participating in it. Keeneland has been a Lexington tradition since the 1930s and is now open for four weeks each spring and fall. We sipped bourbon cocktails and bet on the horses. Zach won $62 on one $2 bet (but we won't say how much we spent on drinks!).
We started our evening in downtown Lexington with cocktails at Parlay Social followed by dinner at Table Three Ten. This was our second visit to Table Three Ten and the dinner did not disappoint. The highlights: grilled sardines (huge!) on crusty bread and a tartare of Kentucky raised beef.
Unfortunately, Stella Parks -- a Best New Pastry Chef recognized by Food & Wine in 2012, is no longer at the restaurant, and dessert wasn't quite the love-affair we remembered on our last visit.
We never -- ever -- visit Lexington without a stop at Magee's, a family-owned bakery that's been around since the 1950s. Do not miss Magees. We love the cinnamon rolls, but we we're obsessed with the biscuits. Is the country ham biscuit or the sausage biscuit better? You'll just have to order both to find out for yourself.
Saturday's main event was visiting distilleries outside of the city. We started at Buffalo Trace, which our favorite distillery of the whole day. Not only because our tour guide was so passionate about the process and product, but also because it's just beautiful, with historic warehouses and lush grounds to explore. This is the home of the legendary Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. We also hit Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve, all of which are great, but none of which matched the experience of Buffalo Trace.
For lunch we hit our second Ouita Michel restaurant, Wallace Station, a sandwich place out in the country. Everything we've ever eaten here is amazing. Clay had a pimento cheese burger (come on!), and Zach had a turkey sandwich with caramelized onions and barbecue sauce.
After our day on the bourbon trail, we rested up at the hotel before heading out for dinner.
Saturday night we made our third stop on the Ouita Michel culinary pilgrimage, visiting the most upscale of her restaurants, Holly Hill Inn in Midway, Kentucky. Our friend Katie joined the four of us for dinner. The restaurant is set in an historic home, and the food is lovely. Our favorite dishes were the petite ham biscuits, a goat cheese souffle with a lemon marmalade (pictured above), and pan-fried oysters with a bacon jam.
After racing and bourbon, we needed a bit of a slower day. So we started our Sunday with a leisurely brunch at Doodles, a converted gas station turned breakfast-and-lunch spot. (By the way, if it sounds like all we did in Kentucky was eat and drink, that's only because that's almost literally all we did do.) Doodle's is adorable and the food is knock-out. We had (more) biscuits and gravy (don't judge us!), their version of toad-in-a-hole made with biscuits, a really delicious country-ham hash and a breakfast strata.
We spent the afternoon on a leisurely drive out to the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, which is America's largest restored Shaker community. At its height, 500 people lived in the community, which was sustained for more than 100 years. Now, it's an historic site filled with beautiful old shaker buildings and furniture, as well as an inn and restaurant.
Our day of leisure continued at West Sixth, a newish micro-brewery back in the city. (Ouita Michel also owns a restaurant inside the brewery, but we just didn't have it in us.) We had dinner just around the corner, at County Club, which is sort of a nouveau juke joint serving barbecue and other yummy things in an unassuming cinderblock building. Sunday might have been a bad night to visit -- they were out of a number of menu items -- but we loved the peanut coleslaw, spicy Asian wings and the burger.
Plan yourself a trip to Lexington! It's a perfect little weekend getaway.
We recommend visiting in April or October, when the weather is not only beautiful, but the horses are also running. Who knows? You might just win back enough to pay for your whole trip!
In the meantime, here are a few more bonus photos: