Food and Dining
9:55 am
Fri January 25, 2013

Secrets of a Lonely Planet Writer: How Food Helps a City Land on Top

Eiderdown on Goss Avenue.
Credit Dana McMahan / WFPL News

We’re number one! So says Lonely Planet in their list of top U.S. travel destinations for 2013. The publishing monolith has evidently caught on to what we all already know – that this is a fine place to be. Because I closely follow (and revel in) Louisville’s culinary scene, I give our food and dining a lot of credit for this recognition. But how exactly does a city rise to the top of these lists?

“Louisville's not on the main interstates so rarely gets picked up by most cross-country road-trippers, yet it’s famous for the bats and the horses,” Robert Reid, Lonely Planet’s U.S. editor, told me. “We wanted to say, hey, it's more than that.”

We had a champion in guidebook author Karla Zimmerman, Reid said. Karla lives in Chicago, and covers the Midwest (nearby states, but not Kentucky) for Lonely Planet, but evidently is quite a fan of our town. So I asked her what made her go to bat for Louisville.

What is your background with Louisville and how much time do you get to spend here?

My experience with Louisville is as a visitor. I lived in Cincinnati for 20 years, and made many trips to Louisville during that time. I also have good friends who live near Louisville, and so I visit your city when I visit them.

What was it special about Louisville that caused you to want to champion us?

When I was there this summer, there just seemed to be a lot going on, especially in NuLu. Wherever I went - Garage Bar, Louisville Beer Store, Ghyslain are a few - buzzed with customers and had an impressive range of offerings and creative, locally sourced menus. I heard the neighborhood was looking into LEED certification, which adds an admirable layer to the scene.

What was the number one food related thing you thought Louisville offered that should make it a #1 pick?

Does bourbon count as food? Honestly, I think the insane number of bourbons available (weird, small-batch stuff that's hard to find anywhere else) is what makes Louisville one-of-a-kind.

What are your top three culinary-related experiences or places in Louisville that you think a visitor shouldn't miss?

The city's brunch/breakfast scene is sweet. Lynn's Paradise Cafe (biscuits), Toast on Market (lemon soufflé pancakes), Hillbilly Tea (smoked tofu scramble). (Lynn’s has closed since the Lonely Planet announcement.)

What do you think new visitors may be surprised by when they come to Louisville?

Its low-key cool might surprise visitors. It really is more Portland hip (as Robert said in the original Best list) than Kentucky Derby southern belle, which is the stereotype that jumps to mind for many people.

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Everyone has their favorites, and of course I have the places I’m partial to. Here’s a short list of the places I like to take visitors to show off how awesome my town is.

Eiderdown:  I never get tired of going to this homey Germantown restaurant. Chef Brian Morgan is an under-sung culinary superman with his creative “nose-to-tail” local dishes.

Please & Thank You:  Source of my favorite latté in town, best place (in my book) to get some work done in a buzzing environment that smells amazing (and plays great music – the coffee and treat shop is also a record store).

Greenhaus: When this shop opened I stopped regretting my move from renting in the expensive Highlands to homeowner in affordable Germantown, especially once this beer/wine/vintage furniture store started carry Blue Dog baguettes. Proprietor Daniel Duncan helps me choose wine, bourbon and beer; Cellar Door chocolates and fancy cheeses tempt; and when I need a plant for a friend, that’s available too.