Review: NuLu Food & History Tour by Louisville Food Tours
Thomas Edison. Biscuit flights. A now-defunct streetcar with a connection to the 1988 film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Those are just a few of the historical gems and curiosities you’ll uncover in the NuLu Food & History Tour run by Louisville Food Tours.
We all know that Louisville is an incredible city in so many ways, including the amazing the culinary scene. From beer cheese to bourbon balls, Louisville is home to some of the greatest treats in the culinary world. Louisville Food Tours explores the history, impact, and flavor of Bourbon City. So let’s go, y’all!
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Led by a former teacher-turned-historian named Jeremy, the food tour took our group throughout the bustling NuLu district — including a dip into the adjacent Butchertown neighborhood — as we discovered the area’s history, punctuated by stops at six local restaurants. Gotta fuel up to learn up.
We convened at Goodwood Brewing at 636 E. Main St. on an overcast but warm-ish Friday, where our journey began with the distribution of little headsets so we could hear our tour guide’s narration despite whatever background noise was going on in the restaurants we visited. While the tour groups are typically capped at 12 people, we enjoyed a more intimate, four-person group where we riffed off the tour guide, relished in second helpings of our samples, and asked any and every question under the sun.
Our group was mostly comprised of local media folks, with one visitor traveling all the way from New York City to be there. And being proud Louisvillians, you know we gave her more information than she probably wanted about our fine city.
Winding Through the Butchertown Neighborhood
We first wound our way through part of the Butchertown neighborhood, appetites perked up from the beer cheese and pretzels we’d had at Goodwood, and we stopped at the Thomas Edison House at 729 E. Washington St. Pro tip: When asked what Thomas Edison was famous for inventing, don’t jump the gun like me and say “electricity,” it’s actually the incandescent light bulb.
If you’ve never been to Butchertown, check out this handy guide to exploring the area. It’s one of Louisville’s oldest neighborhoods — and the 502’s original meatpacking district, hence the name — and its historic homes represent a variety of styles, each adding their own voice to the neighborhood’s story, from Italianate mansions to single-story brick shotguns.
History buffs are in for a treat with this tour, because in addition to highlighting the positive things our city is known for — like bourbon, Modjeska candies, and the Kentucky Derby — Jeremy recounted some of the more gruesome histories of the area as well, like Louisville’s role as a major slave trafficking port, the Bloody Monday massacre in 1855, and the conflict surrounding the redevelopment of the NuLu area.
It provided us with a well-rounded understanding of what the area was really like back in the day, and our guide connected that history to modern efforts to restore our collective understanding of the 502 with groups like the (Un)Known Project Trail, which looks to share the stories of enslaved Kentuckians through poetry, photography, and art-based installations along the Ohio River.
Diving into the (biscuit) belly of the beast
We rounded the bend and found our stomachs hungry just in time to arrive at Biscuit Belly in NuLu, which rose to the challenge of feeding us until the next stop with a flight of four different gravies and a basket full of mini biscuits.
If you’re a gravy-loving girl like me, this will be your favorite part of the tour. Presented before us were four cups containing a classic Goetta gravy — a meat-and-grain-based sausage that’s popular in the region — a mushroom gravy, a Hot Brown-inspired gravy, and chocolate gravy, which, in addition to being delicious, actually has roots in Appalachia. The best part? It’s not too sweet either.
I learned two things that day. One, that I needed just one more bite of the chocolate gravy. And two, I realized that despite living in Kentucky for most of my life, I’d never made my own homemade biscuits and gravy.
The Goetta gravy changed that for me. It was so delicious, the very next morning I woke up and made my own version at home. Still though, you goetta order it from Biscuit Belly next time you’re there.
As we relished in our gravies we learned more about each other. Our tour guide Jeremy told us he actually grew up on chocolate gravy, and the New Yorker in our group told us about her husband also did. It’s amazing how you can connect so much over food!
Onto our next feast
By this time, our biscuits had run out and it was time for our next stop. If you couldn’t believe that I’m a Kentuckian who’s never made her own biscuits and gravy, what I’m about to tell you next may shock you even more: I don’t like barbecue. Not really anyway, but our next eatery turned that disfavor on its head.
We found ourselves a block over at Feast BBQ, which just celebrated its 10th birthday back in August. The restaurant at 909 E. Market St. is housed in an old renovated garage that used to be a mechanic shop back in the day.
But I won’t lie to you. At this point in the tour, I started to get tired from the delicious eats, the walking, and the gray weather outside. Inside Feast, it was quiet as the middle of the day often can be in restaurants and the ambiance was warm, buzzing with servers preparing for the Friday evening rush.
Despite my desire to lie down right there on our bench and take a nap, I was soon perked up by the bourbon slushies we were offered while we waited on our barbecued star of the show: a pork fritter.
Technically listed as “pork cakes” on the menu, these balls of fried pulled pork were crafted with sorghum and green onions and were topped with a creamy coleslaw. This was yet another pleasant surprise, as I tend to prefer a vinegar-based slaw to the mayo-based ones that are common here.
In one bite, I knew I was dealing with crispy perfection. It’s clear someone in the kitchen took their time putting these together. I don’t ever eat pork aside from a strip of bacon here and there (and I know, it’s the worst part of the pig), but these cakes are something I’d happily order again and relish. Plus, they played nicely with the bourbon slushies. Just don’t drink those too fast.
a streetcar named desire
It’s at this point in the tour that Jeremy tells us about the history of a NuLu streetcar that used to trolley patrons from the city’s core to as far out as Jeffersontown. This is also where he told us about the city’s connection to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” but I’m going to make you book a tour to find out instead of me telling you here. Jeremy will tell it better in person than I will here!
Feeling inspired, we headed north into the core of the NuLu neighborhood, also known as the East Market District, to meet our last three treats of the tour.
But now, it’s your turn to guess where our next stop went. Remember, this food tour highlights some of the 502’s culinary gems, and you’d be on the right geographic track if you suggested Mayan Cafe or bar Vetti. Here’s your hint: this NuLu eatery used to have a record store attached to it and bands used to come perform in the back.
a cookie, please (& Thank you)
If you guessed Please & Thank You, home of the commonwealth’s best chocolate chip cookie, ding ding ding — you’re right. But we stopped at this bustling coffee shop for something else.
Meet the Derby Bar. This rich and delicious rectangle of chocolatey, nutty goodness was the star of the stop. It’s a blondie made with bourbon, walnuts, and chocolate, and is similar to Kern’s Kitchen’s legendary Derby Pie, which was first invented in Prospect at the now-closed Melrose Inn in 1954. And we learned that the Derby Bar is just different enough that no one has to involve their trademark lawyers.
If you have a nut allergy like one of the members of our group, you won’t be forgotten. Instead, you’ll be treated to one of Please & Thank You’s award-winning chocolate chip cookies. And they really are that good.
kentucky fried chicken (but better)
Our three-hour saga of eating, drinking, and learning history was drawing to a close with only two more stops left and not much space in my belly. But I was ready to push forward, because our final stops were to Royals Hot Chicken and Muth’s Candies, both of which hold their own special places in my heart.
As a devotee of Royals Hot Chicken, this was not my first rodeo since my roommates and I often get their spicy chicken and mac and cheese delivered for lunch during the week. We tried their plain tenders — a tasty first for me — and the hot ones I usually order. I was delighted to see the members of the tour group punch up at the spice level, especially our new friend who wasn’t from the South.
While hot chicken is technically one of Nashville, TN’s claims to fame, Royals is just as good, if not better, than any Prince’s or Hattie B’s you could visit for its 24-hour brined tenders and smoky hot sauce. And it certainly stomps Joella’s in terms of quality.
candy fit for a (theatrical) queen
In life, I like to end things on a high note. And I think this tour did too, because our final taste of the day was of Modjeskas from Muth’s Candies, a local confectionary institution since 1921.
Growing up, I can’t remember a single holiday season where my mother didn’t gift my father a golden case of these caramel-wrapped marshmallows. Plus, my sister and I usually got some chocolate turtles out of the deal as well.
These candies, invented by French immigrant Anton Busath, were inspired by the great Polish actress Helena Modrzejewska (shortened to Modjeska), who was renowned for her work portraying Shakespearean roles. Anton was so taken with Helena when she performed in Louisville during the early 20th century that he set out to create a candy as mesmerizing as her, and thus, the Modjeska was born.
Though Anton’s candy shop burned down, he passed the recipe for his Modjeska caramels onto Rudy Muth — the patriarch of Muth’s Candies — and the family has continued making these iconic candies for the last four generations.
While that marked the end of the tour, no trip to Muth’s is complete for me without purchasing some of its chocolate-covered Oreos — and at the time, they were on sale.
As we went our separate ways at the tour’s end, I was full, content, and awestruck at all the history we were able to eat through (pun intended) in just three hours and 1.5 miles in my hometown. Once it was over, I went home and laid belly up on my couch in a blissful food coma.
- Book the food tour: Get to experience this tour from yourself from Louisville Food Tours! Explore the story of Louisville and Kentucky while tasting culinary classics like bourbon balls, biscuits, fried chicken, and – of course – bourbon! You can book a weekend tour on FareHarbor.
About the Author: Sarah Shadburne is a contributing writer for Let’s Go Louisville and has written and edited for companies such as LOUtoday and Louisville Business First.
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Disclaimer: Louisville Food Tours is owned by the same parent company as Let’s Go Louisville, but the writer had no association with us when she took the tour. All opinions, bad jokes, and desire to make biscuits and gravy at home are 100% her own opinions and absolutely not our fault.