Food is Louisville, Louisville is delicious

Nov 5, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Thank all that is good that the Senate race is over, and it is now time to discuss more entertaining issues. For instance, this week’s LEO Dining Guide. Food and beverages! It does not get any more fun than that. 

So as the ink dries on this week’s LEO, the final ballots are being counted. Hopefully we already know the winner. The short analysis: If Alison won, 30 years was long enough for Mitch McConnell. If Mitch won, Barack Obama was too heavy for Alison to carry. 

Analysis complete. Now, food, beverages and Louisville culture. 

I once wrote that there was a time in Louisville history when TGI Fridays was the hot spot in town. I was only being half facetious. The more serious point is that Louisville has transformed into a major food destination on the national map. The array of independent restaurants, scattered throughout every zip code of the city, offering any cuisine one could possibly desire, and at  prices that would shock anyone from similarly food-loving cities is truly breathtaking — mostly because it’s hard to breathe with your mouth full. While I’m still a sucker for much-needed Chipotle or pizza on football Sundays, a small part of me is always regretful that I’m missing out on one of Louisville’s best.

But to be blessed with such amazing edible options is no accident. I contend that our surge onto the national food scene is more cultural than it is appetizing. The natural product of us as a community is a vibrant social lifestyle based on music, the arts, basketball, philanthropy and of course food — the common thread.

The same time that a youthful LEO was promoting an alternative Louisville culture in its own adolescence, downtown began to reshape, the music scene flourished and a community of artists bloomed. The city began to host major events like the PGA Championship, Ironman and Ryder Cup, and the Kentucky Derby grew from a two-minute race to a two-week “Festival.” We discovered a Waterfront Park existing beneath stockyards; museums and glassblowers on West Main Street; a center of “Live” entertainment on Fourth Street; and a “Nu” slice of “Lou” on East Market. And while we were always proud of our TGI Fridays, we always knew we had more to offer. Enter “Louisville Originals.”

What binds Louisville’s cultural evolution of events, attractions, destinations together? Food. Lots and lots of food (and bourbon). Where Louisville’s brand was once confined to tobacco, fried chicken, basketball and horses, we now proudly wear the badges of progressive and artistic, a destination for music, theaters and museums, tourism and conventions, baseball bats and bourbon, as well as world-class dining (and basketball and horses) — enough badges to make a Girl Scout envious.

This is the Louisville that we have always felt, but only recently realized, the Louisville that people remember if passing through for only a day or a weekend. 

A community’s brand is a reflection of its culture. Whether it is the rugged steel and sports town of Pittsburgh, or the young, progressive, diverse melting pot of Northern California, a community’s brand is defined by the culture cultivated by its people, their industries and the predominant social interests of those within.

Sometimes we Louisvillians have been known to want to be a bigger city, and be included in bigger conversations (a professional sports team, for example). This is because we know we are a big small-town gem in between the coasts, we are proud of the cultural quality of life we have created, and our hospitable nature compels us to invite others to enjoy it — or we just want some damn credit. Nevertheless, we are proud of our community. Where people meet opportunity, opportunity leads to leisure, and leisure is enjoyed, full belly.

Not to return to political commentary already, but a common economic argument made by conservatives is one of small government, limited intervention and letting the “free market” decide. This overly simplistic view of capitalism is terribly frustrating because it is so often misunderstood and misused. However, in the case of Louisville, Kentucky, we can be proud of our free market, because in this market we have chosen a brand we can be proud of; a brand we can show off; a brand we can taste.

As a child of Louisville, born and resided for most of 31 years, it is difficult to not get a little romantic about the LEO Dining Guide.