By Sarah Kelley
During my tenure as editor of LEO Weekly, the annual Readers’ Choice awards was a project the editorial staff dutifully tackled with a collective groan. It was a labor-intensive endeavor, but that wasn’t the reason for our disdain. It was the fact that the perennial popularity contest was not a true reflection of the best Louisville has to offer (e.g., Papa John’s doesn’t serve the best pizza in the city — end of story).
To make this undertaking a bit more bearable, the staff would devise an arguably more accurate list of Louisville favorites. Below are some of my top choices for food and libations — oldies but goodies that are still around for good reason. Now go forth and enjoy!
Best Salty-Sweet-Spicy Indulgence: Four Pegs Chicken and Waffle Sandwich
There are two types of people in this world: those whose mouths water at the thought of fried chicken and waffles, and those whose taste buds are defective. (Oh, and vegetarians, who apparently salivate at the thought of the veggie burger.) The sandwich version of this soul food classic at Four Pegs Beer Lounge in Germantown includes a boneless chicken breast fried extra crispy with cayenne pepper, served between two waffles and slathered in syrup. The first time I tried this huge hunk of calorific heaven, I noticed a few minutes in that I was no longer talking to my dinner companion … and I didn’t care. Despite its deliciousness, the $10 sandwich is way too big to devour in one sitting, meaning you’ll have a decadent breakfast the next day.
Best Place to Buy Cheap Out-of-Season Beer: Old Town Wine and Spirits
I find the prospect of eating ice cream and popsicles only in the summer absurd. And why is eggnog reserved for the holidays? And for that matter, maybe if turkey and all the trimmings were enjoyed more than once a year, I wouldn’t gorge myself to incapacitation on Thanksgiving Day. Well, the same goes for beer: I want summer ales, pumpkin beer, winter lagers and hearty stouts year-round. If you’re willing to buy in bulk and aren’t dead-set on a certain brew, Old Town is the place to build up your stash of seasonals, a few of which are drastically marked down as the seasons change. As summer 2012 drew to a close, for example, I stocked up on Goose Island 312, buying five six-packs of the wheat ale at $4.99 each to last me through fall. (Turns out I should have bought more …)
Best Soft Pretzel That’s Bigger Than Your Face: River City Drafthouse
The menu calls this pretzel “giant” … and that’s an understatement. The twisted Bavarian treat easily fills most of a 12-inch dinner plate, resulting in a perfect portion for three or four, a heaping helping for two, or an impossible feat for the solo diner. (The good news is it reheats nicely at home.) Outside, the pretzel is buttery and crisp with a sprinkle of fancier-than-your-average salt. Inside, it’s all warm and doughy goodness. It comes with homemade stone-ground mustard for dipping, a perfect combination of tangy and sweet. Pair this pretzel with one of more than two dozen beers on tap (offered in varying sizes) for a perfect carb-loading feast. And if, by chance, you still have room for an entree, try one of the watering hole’s Philly cheesesteaks, served on a roll flown in from the City of Brotherly Love. (Cheese Whiz optional but highly recommended.)
Best Place to Buy a Cheap Bottle of Wine Without Feeling Like a Schmuck: The Wine Market
I love wine but loathe the pretensions that accompany it. And though I’ve come a long way since sipping Franzia from a coffee mug in college, my palate still is not refined enough to discern hints of oak and cloves and dirt, much less talk about it. But trust me -— I know a good red when I taste it. Luckily, I don’t have to feel ashamed of my limited tongue map or slim budget when patronizing The Wine Market on Bardstown Road, where the friendly folks behind the counter are happy to point out quality, low-cost wines with enthusiasm. They often have a bottle open for tasting, which results in an enhanced shopping experience. Plus, they sell an assortment of gourmet cheeses in small portions, making for an all-around affordable wine-and-cheese evening.
Half-Price Growlers at Cumberland Brews
After a weekend of excess, Mondays have long been reserved for teetotaling oneself back to a state of good health. And in my line of work, Tuesday evening has traditionally marked the gateway back to boozetown, as LEO staffers flee to happy hour after putting this baby to bed. That said, I recently discovered a reason to throw back a pint or two of refreshing local brew at the beginning of the workweek: half-price growlers on Mondays at Cumberland Brews. That’s 64 ounces of craft beer for a mere $5. There’s nothing like a cheap batch of Moonbow Wit to wash away a case of the Mondays.