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You Can Leave Your Hat On: Food and Fashion of the Derby

on May 13, 2016
I started my trip to Kentucky on a really good note. I had this dish that I’m still dreaming about.  Let me tell you a little bit about this place…
It’s in Terminal F of the Philadelphia airport which is the end of God’s country–but as I discovered…so worth it.  OTG is elevating traveler experiences with “farm to terminal” plates. Why I love this place:
  • Cozy old school counter seating (think diner) with outlets at the ready to charge whatever a traveler might need to charge.
  • They give you an Ipad that takes your food order and that you can use to search the internet, or play games while you’re waiting.
  •  Their menu offers simple food that’s very satisfying, hearty, and comforting.
  • I’m still craving their spin on mac and cheese topped with pulled pork.  I’m still thinking about it. I’m not kidding. It was that good. Cavatappi (corkscrew) pasta smothered in a cheese sauce so creamy, so gooey, so rich and delicious with little pieces of smoked ham throughout.  I want it. Right now.
As my partner in culinary crime, Lisa, and I got our bearings around town, we checked into the historic Galt House Hotel.  What a beautiful hotel, truly.  But there are so many great options for dining within walking distance, do yourself a favor and eat out. The key to having a really great culinary experience while celebrating the Derby is to PLAN and to book well in advance.
That said, the first great meal we got out for was none other than the legendary
A meal and a half—I coulda fed 4 people on the size of this sandwich…the leftovers actually ended up as our late night snack! The Hot Brown is served on thick Texas toast points, a piece of thickly sliced fresh turkey breast, then topped with a gorgeous Mornay sauce, which is béchamel and cheese…crown that with two grilled Roma tomatoes, a crisscross of bacon and then a big mound of grated Pecorino Romano cheese….OUTRAGEOUS.  Rich, satisfying stick-to-your-ribs DECADENT—that’s all I can say.  GO!
And when you do go…get a Bloody Mary—just great here—The Brown Hotel serves theirs with some cherry peppers, olives, celery, pepperoncino, and they are delish…just the right mix…and you know what? Almost a meal in itself–I consider that the vegetable of the day! Perfectly paired with my Hot Brown.
On to Thursday evening: a friend of Lisa’s, gave us two VIP tickets to A Taste of Derby…so lucky! A lot of celebrity chefs, and the highlight for me was Chef Brook Williamson—her food was REALLY good. A perfect meal. Check out the gallery below to see all the speciality menus.  What a great night!
Now, there are TWO really important races the weekend of the Derby, and it all starts with the Oaks.  The Longine’s Kentucky Oaks is after my own heart…cause it’s all about the girls! It’s America’s most lucrative race for 3-year old fillies (the lady horses!) and runs the day before the Kentucky Derby.  The Oaks, to me, had much more of a local, hometown energy than the Derby, and boy, do these locals know how to party in style.  Of COURSE the Derby and the Oaks celebrations are known for the amazing hats the women wear, but I’ll tell you…the men get in on the fashion flair as well!  The Stargazer Lily is the official flower of the Oaks, and the horses are blanketed in the beautiful pink bloom.  Even the signature cocktail is “The Lily”–of course I had to have one!
INSIDER TIP: if you ever go to Oaks and the Derby, order your drinks inside, because they’re made by the bartenders…the drinks served outside taste more pre-mixed and unbalanced…these cocktails are meant to be crafted.  Just isn’t the same otherwise.
Lunch at Churchill Downs— I had the Famous Lobster Salad…claw meat and a tiny bit of tail, really, really good, just the right amount of mayo, just the perfect dressing to make it moist…I loved the salad so much I had it twice over the trip!
Derby Saturday: the video says it all!  It was a long but exciting day!  They say..the greatest two minutes in sports!
It’s amazing the friends you make at the Derby. On the shuttle on the way home, we met some nice guys from Cleveland and when the conversation turned to food, Lisa and I were so grateful for the recommendation to Doc Crow’s. First and Main—absolutely delicious, probably the culinary highlight of the entire trip.
Lisa and I couldn’t help ourselves, because we were  starving…I mean this was the day of the Derby. It was a long day and we were ready for sustenance. This place didn’t disappoint. Fried green tomatoes, fried oysters with an aoli sauce, garlicky and delicious. I dipped the whole oyster in the sauce, I mean like, dunked it. Yum.
The fried green tomatoes were crispy on the outside, a cornmeal crust, also served with an aioli. Lisa ordered a combo that featured St. Louis Wet Style Ribs that just fell off the bone…she offered me one and it literally fell off the bone as I went to take it! Pulled pork on the plate too, really nice and sweet and tangy, a little bit of homemade coleslaw and some brisket…the flavors were really, really good.
I had the Shrimp and Grits…mmmmmmm mmmmmm mmmmm, mmmmm GOOD.  Let me just start out by saying…I did not eat one shrimp. The grits. With the sauce. I ate the whole bowl. I offered it to Lisa, and I think by the time she got to it, she got maybe two tablespoonfuls…when I tell you it was a bowl, it was like a giant bowl of pasta…HUGE.  Thank goodness. The sauce was fantastic, it was a tomato-based creamy sauce and the grits were cheesy cheddar perfection…DIVINE.
Here’s the punchline:
At the end of both nights after Derby and Oaks…you do not get changed, meaning:
You don’t go back to your room, put jeans on or put casual clothes on …you can, but everybody, I mean, everybody, goes out with their hat on and their outfit of that day. By that time they’ve all got flip-flops on, but they all wear their hats– they all leave their hats on. Same thing on Derby Night, unfortunately it rained this year so we didn’t venture outside with our hats on–we took a cab to a restaurant that was within one and half block walking distance…heeheeeheee…cause WE LEFT OUR HATS ON!
What a fantastic, fabulous trip!  Thanks #KYDerby!  Hope to see you next year!


 Read more about our adventures at the #KYderby in “Tales from the Bourbon Trail!” and see more great pictures of all the fun in the gallery.

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