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Chef David Danielson Shares His Favorite Food Experiences In Louisville, Kentucky

Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef, celebrity, or local hero.

Get out your best duds (ladies, festive hats are mandatory) because we are going to the home of the Kentucky Derby, and we aren’t leaving until you have a bourbon buzz. Our guide for the week is David Danielson, who’s been the head chef of Churchill Downs (where the Derby is held) since 2011. Classically trained in France at the Duma Pere school and the Ecole Hotelier Tain l’ Hermitage, Danielson has a background in 4-star Chicago hotels — like the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons. But, he also served as the personal chef to the British Consulate General.

Over the course of his career, Danielson found a niche in events. As the chef at Rockefeller Center in New York City, he fed guests at the PGA and US Open. During this time, he began using his fine dining mindset as a foundation and learning how to build upon it for large groups. He has perfected the approach and now specializes in the authentic flavors of the South while remaining progressive and inventive. He’s inspired by contemporary culinary trends, global cuisines, and seasonal, farm-fresh ingredients. He works to surprise race fans with meals that acknowledge the past, but point very strongly to the future of cuisine.

Check out these amazing plates; the man is working magic.

Hungry? Great! Now we’re off to see Chef Danielson’s favorite food experiences in Louisville!

Pizza

Butchertown Pizza Hall

This is my new go-to pizza spot. They serve a great big slice of pie with really high-quality toppings; the crust is amazing and it has the right balance of sauce and cheese. The space has a good feel, service is quick, and there are lots of options as far as toppings. I think their Italian sausage is some of the best around.

Tacos

La Rosita

Located on Westport road in the back of a Mexican grocery store, you’ll find authentic Mexican tacos to die for. These are no fuss or trendy toppings, just good old amazing tacos. I love both the pork carnitas as well as the pastor; however, they have several other choices and I’ve sampled them all. There is not a bad choice here. They have a good selection of homemade salsas and some great drink options as well.

Asian

Jasmine Restaurant

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Buns yo! #sichuanfood

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This is one of the more authentic Asian restaurants in the Louisville community of Middletown. One of the best things that Jasmine offers is two different style menus. One menu offers a “common” approach to Asian cuisine, while the other is authentic Chinese cuisine offering choices such as beef tendon and, my favorite, hot chicken dumplings. This cuisine is handcrafted by a passionate owner and kitchen staff — my go-to spot when I am in the mood for Asian

Sweet Food

Cellar Door Chocolates

One of the most pleasing local chocolate shops I have come across. Its two locations, one in the Butchertown Market and one at a kiosk in the Oxmoor Mall, making it easy for me to get my sweet fix. Cellar Door Chocolates offers a wide variety of chocolate novelty items as well as great gift sets. Erica and her team have a “sweet” entrepreneur spirit and tremendous passion for the business of all things chocolate.

Fine Dining

Harvest

When I go out for a special meal or I am asked by out of town visitors where they must eat, Harvest is my first choice. Chef Patrick Roney is creating amazing cuisine sourced from local farmers and artisan purveyors and the menu is constantly changing based on seasonality and availability. His creative use of nose-to-tail butchery always ensures nightly surprises. Patrick and his team excel at telling the local food story throughout each dinner. They also have a great bourbon selection and the atmosphere is relaxed but attentive.

Casual Dining

Red Herring

When I am looking for a relaxing afternoon or night out to have a couple cocktails and some great eats, this is my spot. The menu is small but every dish is a winner. Whether you want to start with some appetizers for the table like the fried chicken skins or smoked brisket bites, or have one of the best burgers in town there is no way to go wrong here

Brunch

Garage Bar

A great kept secret when it comes to brunch in Louisville, Garage Bar has everything from your staple brunch items such as poached eggs and smoked salmon to sausage, egg and cheese pizza. Garage Bar uses a ton of local products and ingredients in their cuisine. Their country ham selection is hard to beat. Another thing that Garage Bar does well is their Bloody Mary! Spicy or subtle — whatever your flavor, they’ve got it.

Iconic Food of the City

Haymarket Whiskey Bar

While bourbon is not really a food, it is the most iconic product we make here in Kentucky. When I think of an establishment that screams Louisville, this is it. Matthew, the proprietor of this fine bar, has gone beyond the typical bourbon bar. He has created a museum of whiskey with a wide selection of modern bourbons and hard-to-get, rare selections as well as a vast collection of his own private barrel selections.

The feel is funky and welcoming. This is the place for both bourbon novices and old pros to come together and share in some bourbon love.

Odd Culinary Experience

Red Hog

I am not sure this qualifies as odd as much as a unique dining experience. Red hog is both a butcher shop that sells the highest quality local meats as well as what I feel is the best charcuterie program around. They also double as a restaurant that features the products from the butcher shop worked into a weekly changing menu. Food is prepared in a wood-burning oven as well as a wood-burning grill. Several items also come on bread baked in the blue dog bakery just down the street. When it comes to scratch cooking, they are second to none, and each time you bite into one of their dishes the love and care they put into there is very apparent.

Guilty Pleasure

Lonnie’s

Being a Chicago native, every once in awhile I need a taste of home. That’s when I go over to Lonnie’s to get an Italian beef or a Chicago dog. Vienna products trucked down from Chicago are the real deal. This spot reminds me of so many places in Chicago that I used to visit. They’ve got it all — great dogs, polish sausage, Italian beef, hand cut fries. Great place for a quick lunch.

Hangover Food

Sam’s Gyros

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Gyro time.

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Sam’s is tucked away in a small Central Avenue shopping center and is on my way to work at Churchill Downs. After an evening of bourbon libations, I need a little pick me up to get me going through my day. Being a Chicago native, gyros were on every corner in the city. Now we have a spot just around the corner from the track, made fresh right in front of you with a variety of toppings for your style of gyros. The prices are great on everything in this small Gyro shop.

Vegetarian

Decca

While this is not a vegetarian restaurant, Chef Annie Pettry truly embraces vegetable cookery in a special way. There is always an array of seasonal veggies cooked in a creative and delicious manner, whether it is wood-grilled broccoli with almonds or wood grilled beet salad with pistachio za’atar, labna and dill. Other favorites include caramelized summer squash with Marcona almonds and chile oil and fried green tomatoes with harissa crema, feta, mint and sumac. Decca features one of the most eclectic and creative menus in the city. Each dish always has a little unexpected twist that sets them apart and speaks to the talent in the kitchen.

Thank you Chef Danielson, for taking us on a culinary tour of Louisville!

Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out Nashville, Raleigh, San Diego, Cambridge, Hoboken, Hollywood, Return to Miami, Return to Las Vegas, Manhattan, Oakland, Paris, Portland, Tampa, Durham, Toronto, Baltimore, Monterey, Vail, Lexington, Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.

See you next week!

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