Where to eat, play and sleep when you’re not busy caving “Under Kentucky”
By Hope S. Philbrick
Exploring the subterranean world “Under Kentucky” is fantastic. But not all the fun is below the surface. Here’s our advice about what to eat, do and where to stay once your eyes readjust to the light.
Where To Eat…
440 Main Restaurant in Bowling Green
While the party is going on Mardi Gras-style at Micki’s On Main over on the bar side of the wall, on the dining room side at 440 Main the New Orleans-influenced menu serves up steak, seafood and pasta in a more refined setting. Nightly specials showcase fresh ingredients grown in Kentucky. Local artwork hangs on the walls of the building (circa 1871), which still boasts the original pressed tin ceilings and grand mahogany staircase.
More Info: 270.793.0450
Chaser’s Chocolatier’s in Cave City
Most touristy towns have a fudge shop, so you’re forgiven if you pull into the parking lot in front of this one and hesitate for a moment wondering if it’s really worth going in. Yes. It is. Trust me, you do not want to drive by this place. Run by a husband and wife team—she worked previously as a chef at a four star French restaurant—the candy here is made fresh daily, so on any given day you’ll see about 38 of the possible 75 different fudge flavors available. “Kentucky is one of only five states where it’s legal to make chocolate with liquor,” she says, by way of explaining why the couple left Ohio six years ago. 21 Plus Salute!: Many of the chocolates boast a hefty kick of liqueur (hence the name, it’s like a shot or ‘chaser’). “We use premium liquors and all natural chocolates—no wax,” she says. “We’re really picky about quality and use our own blend of three types of dark chocolate.” That’s why Chaser’s is superiorly smooth, creamy and decadent, a love-at-first-bite experience no matter what sample you grab. You’ll never sail past the I-65 Cave City exit again: You’ll want to stop here and stock up. Just good luck not eating all of the non-alcoholic candies that you bagged before you get home; be sure to exercise restraint with the spirited versions since responsible grownups don’t drink and drive.
More Info: 270.773.8766
Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant in Louisville
Kentucky cuisine is a fusion of Southern and Midwestern fare and this menu serves a mix of options from both: Entrées include shrimp & grits (classic lowcountry), pan-seared flat iron steak (American standard), bourbon and sorghum glazed pork belly (contemporary Southern), grilled Black Angus cheeseburger (classic American), and roast turkey sandwich on wheat bread (ditto). The food is good, presentations picturesque, drinks excellent, and the upscale casual environs promote an atmosphere with a relaxed grownup vibe. Try to snag a table in the not-so-secret “Speakeasy” room if you prefer to hear the live musical entertainment at a more subdued volume. Down One is open for lunch, dinner and drinks.
@21plusTravel Tip: This restaurant is below street level, so if you’re an “Under Kentucky” diehard, this place is especially for you. And if you like wordplay, well, how can you resist ordering a shot of bourbon to down one at Down One?!
More Info: 502.566.3259
El Mazatlan in Cave City
With a menu far more extensive than the average roadside Mexican restaurant, this place impresses with fresh and flavorful options like seafood and even vegetarian dishes. You’ll also find standards like burritos, fajitas and quesadillas. The full bar mixes up multiple margarita variations, which makes us @21plusTravel smile. This restaurant has great prices and is also quite clean, factors we very much appreciate.
More Info: 270.773.7448
Home Café and Marketplace in Bowling Green
Stop here for a quick bite at lunch- or dinnertime and you’ll be surrounded by locals who know where the good stuff is served. With three classically trained chefs on staff, this restaurant was founded because “we were tired of hearing people say they had the best meal in Nashville, Louisville, or some other city. Home was born out of the idea that people could say the best meal they’ve ever eaten was at Home in Bowling Green,” the owners explain on the restaurant website. The menu focuses on gourmet pizzas, sandwiches, salads and desserts made using fresh ingredients that are sourced locally to the extent possible.
More Info: 270.846.1272
Mama Lou’s BBQ 2 in Munfordville
Based on the success of their first location in Uno (near Horse Cave), the owners opened this second restaurant that serves the same smoky, sweet barbecue as well as burgers, side dishes and desserts. As a Georgian, I admit that it can be hard to find great barbecue outside of my home state. So it means a lot when I say this was darn good. If you’re a barbecue devotee notice how Kentucky shredded pork is finer than the standard Southern-style shred, to the point that it’s almost as thin as hair. For some serious YUM, order it atop a corncake, douse it with lots of sauce, and fork some cole slaw with each bite.
More Info: 270.524.3287
Sahara Steak House in Cave City
This is a casual, traditional American steak house with various cuts of beef served to order alongside sides like baked potatoes and the vegetable of the day. A cold salad bar stands ready for you to grab a plate and load it up so you can start feasting while waiting for the kitchen to fill the rest of your order. The salad bar options are large enough to suffice as an alternative entrée if meat isn’t your thing. The food here is good and straightforward. Note that there’s no alcohol served at this restaurant.
More Info: 270.773.3450
Turtlelini’s Pizza & Pasta in Horse Cave
This restaurant is open on Sundays, something that cannot be said of many others in this part of the country. Every day of the week the dough is fresh, sauce flavorful and prices low (e.g., a trip to the salad bar is just $1.99 with the price of an entrée, like baked spaghetti for $5.99). The atmosphere is very come-as-you-are casual and welcome-to-our-small-town friendly. If you leave hungry, it’s your own fault.
More Info: 270.786.8686
What To Do…
The Antique District in Cave City’s downtown boasts more than 50 antique dealers including the Caveland Antique Mall, Broadway Street Paul’s Antiques, Four Seasons, Christy Lynn’s, Primitives (opening fall 2013) and more.
Corsair Artisan Distillery has operated in Bowling Green for five years; the second location in Nashville, Tenn., opened three years ago. The owners still live in Bowling Green, which is where the absinthe, gin, vanilla bean vodka, spiced rum, barrel-aged gin, Genever and pumpkin spice liqueur, and a variety of hopped whiskies are produced. (The rye whiskey, quinoa spirit, triple-smoked whiskey, bourbons, moonshine, and more hopped whiskies are produced in Nashville; the two locations have different types of distilling equipment.) “The company as a whole has three different points of focus,” says Steve Whitledge, distillery ambassador. “(1) smoke and how it influences spirit; (2) alternative and ancestral grains; and (3) hops and how it influences whiskey.” Learn more during a free tour and tasting. 21 Plus Salute!
More Info: 270.904.2021
@21plusTravel Diagnosis: If you don’t fall in love with Ryemageddon, there must be something seriously wrong with your palate.
Detweiler’s Country Store in Cub Run is one of several Amish businesses in Hart County. This store fills two buildings: one that’s a general store and one focused on hardware and feed supplies. Find shelves of healthy grains, homemade jams and jellies, as well as Amish clothing, homemade baskets, and other crafts. Wind chimes, signing clocks and jigsaw puzzles are especially popular.
More Info: 270.524.7967
Stroll the two-acre Fountain Square Park in Bowling Green, which has a rich history. The square is surrounded by the restored facades of 19th-century buildings, a renovated Art Deco movie theater, and several businesses including Candle Makers on the Square, where you can dip your own candle and/or stock up on your favorite hand-poured scents; and Morris Jewelers, which has operated since 1881 and where jewelry is still displayed in the original cases (themselves works of art).
At the Jim Beam American Stillhouse, off I-65 at exit 112, you can just walk around and take a peek or sign up for a guided tour through the entire Jim Beam Bourbon-making process from start to finish. The standard tour lasts just over an hour and does permit children. Twice a month, however, there’s a “Super Premium Tour” option that includes a meeting with Master Distiller Fred Noe, seventh generation Beam family member, plus a visit to the “dump floor,” a bourbon themed meal on the porch of the Knob Creek House, commemorative etched bottle, and transportation provided by Louisville’s Mint Julep Tours. Priced at $199 per person, the Odds of Encountering Children on this tour hover close to zero. 21 Plus Salute!
More Info: 502.543.9877
The Lincoln Museum in Hodgenville, which is an official site on the Civil War Discovery Trail, honors the life of the 16th president of the United States. Exhibits include dioramas of pivotal times in Lincoln’s life, rare newspaper clippings, campaign posters, and other Lincoln memorabilia, an art gallery, and civil war memorabilia. There’s also a sizeable gift shop. Self-guided tours are standard but you can arrange for a guide if preferred.
More Info: 270.358.3163
Opened in 1994 as a tribute to America’s sports car, the National Corvette Museum is located in Bowling Green, which is the only place in the world where the cars are made. (The assembly plant is nearby; pre-delivery inspections are done at the museum.) Learn about the car’s design and development, take a stroll down ‘Nostalgia Alley,’ explore racing history, and visit the exhibit hall where the museum has 75 classic corvettes on display—featured Corvettes rotate, so just because you’ve been to the museum once doesn’t mean you’ve seen it all; 95 percent of the cars in the museum are on loan from owners and collectors. You can feel a part of the action at the interactive Pit Crew Challenge and Educational Driving simulators—the only simulators of their kind in the U.S., they’re very impressive and can challenge even an experienced driver. If you own a Corvette (circa 1981 and newer), the library and archives can come in handy if you want to get your hands on the original window sticker or build sheet.
More Info: 270.781.7973
Odds of Encountering Children: The average age of a Corvette owner is 55, so the museum appeals most to grownups. Still, you will very likely see youngsters; there is a KidZone available to hopefully help them burn off energy.
*Win a Corvette! The museum holds a series of raffles each year as a way to raise operational funds. Anyone age 18+ may purchase a raffle ticket and you need not be present to win. For details click here. Good luck & be sure to let us know if you win!
Where To Stay…
Overnight accommodation options include camping, bed and breakfasts like Country Girl at Heart Farm B&B—an environmentally-friendly, working farm experience “where you can get your hands dirty or just put your feet up” alongside vacationing families—boutique inns, national chain hotels including Hampton Inn Horse Cave, Sleep Inn Cave City, and Hampton Inn Bowling Green, and Louisville’s grand Galt House Hotel. For recommendations to suit your specific needs and preferences, contact the local tourism experts listed below.
Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
Cave City Convention & Visitors Bureau
Horse Cave/Hart County Tourist Commission
Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau
- Rearview mirror and Fountain Square Park photos courtesy Bowling Green Area CVB; National Corvette Museum image courtesy National Corvette Museum; remainder © HSP Media LLC