Coffee in Kentucky: A Specialty Brew [Guest Post]

I’m excited to feature our first guest post this week… And it is coming from none other than my fabulous sister!

Rachel is the Assistant Race Director for Lexington’s Run The Bluegrass half marathon event. While it may sound as though the job and event revolve around running, the truth is the focus is completely on sharing the Bluegrass experience–the delight that it is–with more people and creating a memorable experience in general. Beyond the race, Run The Bluegrass works to share the little gems that make Kentucky what it is, including horse country, bourbon, great food and great people. A newest addition to what they are offering people of the world is a taste of delightful coffee brewed in Winchester, Ky.

If you’re a coffee lover (like me!) I encourage you to read the following and you can even order the beans for yourself. You can also follow her, Rachel Runs the Bluegrass, on the blog, Facebook or Instagram. Whether you’re a Kentuckian or not, believe me when I tell you that you do not have to be a runner to enjoy what Run the Bluegrass has to offer. 

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Cheers! It’s Coffee Time!

Guest Post by Rachel Crabtree from Rachel Runs the Bluegrass

No matter what is going on in life, one thing is a constant for me: my morning coffee! It’s the time I take, each and every day to breathe in the day, reflect, give thanks and look forward to what’s to come. Even when I travel, the French press, grinder, and RTB mug travel with me! Needless to say… I LOVE a good cup o’ Joe!

And suffice it to say, Eric feels the same! He had always talked about wanting to find a coffee we could make our “RunTheBluegrass” signature blend, but could never find one that suited our palettes…until now!

Rewind to last spring, probably early March – close to race time. We had been working all day and needed a break, so we headed out to our favorite eating spot, Graze Market & Café. After dinner, we decided to try some coffee (with dessert, of course!) – but first asked our server if their coffee was “any good?” The people at the table next to us spoke up and asked if we were big coffee drinkers and a conversation ensued. Turns out, they were the owners of Creative Coffees Roastery, which happened to provide the coffee to Graze. We chatted, exchanged business cards and made plans to go for a visit.

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Finally, sometime in June that visit happened! We took the short drive down I-64 to Winchester to visit our now friends, Debbie and Jeff in their new facility. I really knew very little…OK, nothing, about coffee. Except how to drink it! They showed us the whole process, from the green raw beans, to the roaster and the fancy programming that gets the beans perfectly “cooked,” to some of the flavoring processes they can do. Their beans come from around the world, and they are careful to select vendors who use fair trade practices and only the best quality beans.

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We went back a few weeks later and took our favorite beans (Starbuck’s Café Verona) to sample against some of their coffees, to see if we could find a match. It was a lot like a bourbon sampling, really – I made myself try each one black, first, and before doctoring it up the way I like it (a little raw cane sugar and a good dollop of heavy whipping cream!) Right away, we fell in love with the El Salvador French Roast and its dark, chocolatey notes. Each coffee – like bourbon – has its own unique flavors and nuances, and finally we had found a winner! But when Debbie mentioned that it could be roasted even a little darker – an Italian Espresso roast – which would make it even more bold and chocolatey, I got really excited! So we set a date to come back with a group of coffee connoisseurs, to make our final selections.

Did you know that all coffee beans are hand-picked, first from the trees, and then again, from their pods? And once in a great while, a “freak of nature” occurs and instead of there being two beans in the pod, there is only one: the Peaberry. For whatever reason, this lonely lil bean has its own unique flavor, too. Still a little chocolatey but not quite as strong. And the Italian Espresso roast was AMAZING. Then they threw in a third option – the Costa Rican “Happiness” – which I would call an after dinner or afternoon coffee… a little lighter, some fruit notes, and not quite as bold.

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But why in the world would a race care about having a coffee, anyway? Besides the fact that its organizers love coffee, of course? For us, it’s another way to create an experience for all of our running family. Some may have noticed our Sunday Morning Coffee Toasts led by Papa Green Cawood out in Arizona (on Facebook?) Friendships are formed, conversations forged, thoughts shared…over coffee. After we tasted and voted on our RTB Coffee Selections, we all went to Graze for dinner to celebrate. Many great memories were made, and I’m quite certain a good time was had by all…which is always our goal. Creating a community of people, around the world, sharing life and reuniting each spring for a big ole family reunion!

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So Cheers! I’m raising my cup to you, my running (and non-running) family around the globe!

#RachelRunsTheBluegrass

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Real Life With Rita: Summer isn’t over yet

I hate that as July comes to a close, we mentally start moving into thoughts of “end of summer”. I’ll be the first to admit our recent spell of hot-hot-humidity has kept me indoors and doing anything BUT enjoying summer, but the reality is we have a solid six weeks of summer-y weather left. However, back-to-school mode is in full swing and marketing has shifted to playing on our love of fall weather. Even Dorothy has been talking about playing in the snow–slow it down, girlie!

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However, I’m still over here loving summertime. Maybe it’s the pregnancy; I can throw on tank tops, flip flops and running shorts and be comfortable very easily. (Bundling up with a belly can be a pain.) Maybe it’s the fact our vacation is still ahead of us. Who knows. Either way, I will say I feel like July went by quickly even though it seemed less eventful than June.

After hosting friends a family 4th of July weekend (and having Mingus home for 4-straight days!), we stayed in a lot. I made visits to a few friends who’ve recently had babies, but, otherwise, we’ve laid low.

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However, this weekend I will be packing up the kids for our first ‘family’ vacation, and I cannot deny the excitement I have for our Myrtle Beach trip. I am actually a little disappointed we are headed out later than planned due to some unexpected training that came up for Husband. The good news, the kids don’t feel that disappointment since they are too young to know the plan for departure anyway. We’ll just head out one day and they’ll be excited!

I suppose it seems natural to be excited over vacation–especially when you haven’t been on one in 4 years; however, the sensation is a little new to me. I did not grow up in a house where the word ‘vacation’ was used much outside of the general ‘summer vacation’ term. Often what we ended up considering a ‘vacation’ was a piggyback off of another planned trip… An extended stay in St. Louis for a family wedding; a week in Arkansas during my brother’s pole vault camp; North Carolina to get acquire a specific breed puppy… The only things close to standard family vacations we had were our Disney World trip, a road trip to Montana for a week of camping, and a beach trip to Florida; although this was with my aunt and cousin, not my father.

Most of my friends took regular summer vacations or spring break trips. I never really envied them or wondered why we couldn’t do such things. I loved my childhood. I loved what I saw as “vacation” and the time I spent with my family. If anything I wondered “why” people went on these trips, because in my mind there had to be purpose outside of it just being “vacation”.

Since being married, I’ve been blessed with a wonderful new family. One thing his parents love is the beach–particularly when it is shared with family. We passed on our opportunity for vacation with them two years ago when they were going to Disney World. I was pregnant with Jacob, Dorothy had just turned one and we had spent the year building the house and were prepping to move in; it felt more stressful to think about a week away than anything.

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This year we are traveling with the Harris family to stay in a condo on Myrtle Beach. It will be our family, his parents and his sister’s family of four. And while I did not grow up taking these kinds of vacations (where there was no ulterior motive for taking time away to travel somewhere as a family), I can say I am truly excited about this trip and am grateful for the opportunity. My gratitude comes so much in knowing that this is something I never would be doing by my own choice. (Ask Mingus to take off work so we can spend a week spending money while taking away from the things he could be getting done at home?? Never!)

I so look forward to seeing my two toddlers experience the beach for the first time. While I know they will love it, I also know Jacob will likely have no memory of the experience and Dorothy’s will be dreamlike if anything. That’s why I feel like this is a gift my in-laws are giving me, more than the kids, because I will have these memories—ones I would, without a doubt, not be getting otherwise. Every stage in these children’s lives is precious. It all bring so much joy to my life and I just cannot savor enough. The way they respond and react to everything; the things they say; their levels of excitement. Seeing them experience the beach at this age is a moment in time I get to capture that I won’t ever get again at any point in my life—an experience, that without my mother-in-law and father-in-law—I would never have.

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I am well aware this won’t be quite a ‘vacation’ like it was for Husband and I when we went with them to the beach in 2012 and were newly married with no kids. It will be work. It will be crazy and tiring, but luckily we’ll have the help of others and playmates for the kids.

I am grateful that I was brought up with the mindset that vacations were not something to be expected or something to be taken for granted; however, I am also grateful for a new family that has taught me that there is nothing wrong with taking time out to step away from ‘regular’ life and capture priceless memories with those you love most. Life is short and it’s what we make it. It’s important to spend your time feeling happy—whatever that is for you.  If that is being home, traveling—maybe even working—that is OK. Just do what makes you happy with the time you have here–and spend it with the people who matter.

Also, be sure to check out my July Vlog here!

The Top Items a Toddler Mom Needs at the Pool to Keep it Simple

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Remember last winter when you were so excited for the first big snow and you couldn’t wait to take your little one out? And then you did it once… And were worn out and fine to not repeat! Between dressing the toddler in the bundling up the kid(s) and yourself and then managing them in the snow and keeping the clothes on—was it worth it?

Now it’s stinkin’ hot outside and the pool sounds perfect–but will it be more tiresome than it’s worth?

I’m here to tell you the pool fun can be fun, simple and still refreshing to YOU. But it still needs to be done right or you can end up with madness. We have to pack up and drive for our pool trips. My problem was figuring out what to bring for two toddlers without going overboard. Not to mention I had to get them inside the pool AND carry my stuff in one trip. (And those under age three can’t help carry much more than a floaty toy!) 

How do you avoid eight bags of stuff? Here’s my top items, suggestions broken down into 3 bags; however, you can easily combine these bags, especially if you have only one kid.

Bag #1: Wet Items

Obviously, nothing should be wet arriving at the pool, but leaving you’ll want the wet stuff in one bag. Initially I keep toys/water gear in this bag. 

Item: Swim suits
My suggestion: Swim shirts.
I have one of these for Jacob and need one for Lou. They help so much with the sun cover and are much easier than sunscreen. I suggest two piece suits for girls to make potty breaks/diaper changes simpler. (I also do hats, but I know many kids won’t wear them.) Also, I dress and sunscreen my kiddos in the car. It’s convenient to open the back of my van and do it there. It makes containing more than one toddler much easier! So you know the others are safe while one gets dressed.

Item: Swim Safety wear
My Suggestion: Stearns Puddle Jumpers.
Although they are bulky to pack, they kids wear them well on the occasions they get in the deeper pool. (I have a traditional one and an infant style.) I also like my inflatable raft/carrier they can ride on but deflates for packing. 

Item: Sunscreen
My Suggestion: 50+ SPF
While I actually prefer traditional lotion (and it’s what I use initially), I highly suggest having some spray sunscreen and a sunscreen stick for faces. If you plan to be out more than an hour you NEED to reapply on your kids and the spray will be much easier once they are already running wild. 

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Item: Toys
My suggestion: Smaller inflatables, floating toys
This will vary with your kids, but the key is to limit it if you have limited bag space. Here are some tips.

  • I like the small inflatables because they pack up well and don’t take long to blow up. Lou loves something to float on even in the kiddie pool. (I bought $1 inflatable rings and she loves them!)
  • I prefer floating toys to diving toys because Jake sometimes falls over when trying to pick up the diving kind.
  • I suggest squishy balls and toys that hold water as opposed to things like water guns—they are kind of hard for young kids to use.
  • Another thing to try are items that can poor water (cups, watering cans).
  • I’ve also found mini fish nets to be a hit—kids love collecting things!

Bag #2: Dry Items

Nothing is guaranteed safe from wetness at the pool, but we try our best. One bag for be specifically for the dry clothes and items like your phone. But bring plastic bags for wet clothing/towels in case you need to put wet items into this bag when leaving.

Item: Towels
My Suggestion: Hooded towels.
You may have toddler-sized hooded towels for bath time, but I prefer them even for the pool. My kids like them and they stay on well. 

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Item: Shoes
My Suggestion: Croc-style shoes.
Pavement and concrete get HOT. Kids are in and out of the water. Jake is out as much as he is in, so I make sure he has shoes that stay on his feet well, have good traction, but can also be wet. Both of my kids are too young to tolerate the standard flip-flop/thong between their toe-style sandals at this point.

Item: Dry clothes
My Suggestion: Bring extra!
I like to have two extra sets of clothes. You just never know what might happen. Dresses for Lou because they are so simple and shorts & shirt for Jake. Making sure they are comfortable for the drive home is key because mine always fall asleep. Also, have a plastic bag for the wet stuff at the end of the day. (Just use a plastic grocery bag–we all have a zillion anyway!) 

Item: Purse essentials
My suggestion: Cash & phone
Leave your purse so it’s one less thing to carry. Put some cash (or your card if you think you’ll need it) in a safe place in your dry bag and take your phone. 

Bag #3 Food & Drinks

I list this bag separately because you may bring a cooler to ice items or, in my case, I know this bag will get torn through by both myself and kids at different points, so I don’t want to be digging among other things for snacks. Most pools probably sell food, but I like having my own. It saves trips to the concessions as well as money. And swimming makes kids hungry–trust me!

Item: Drinks
My Suggestion: Water
Being out in the sun, you and your kids need continued hydration. Fruit drinks and soda may seem more fun, but you need to get the water.

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Item: Lunch
My Suggestion: Peanut butter & jelly.
This sounds so simple because it is! You can whip up several before leaving the house but they are just filling enough while being light enough to really hit the spot in the hot sun.

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Item: Fruit
My Suggestion: Watermelon
This especially helps if you have trouble getting your kids to drink water. Any fruit is nice at the pool, but you can load a plastic container with watermelon and have an easy, refreshing snack that lasts awhile.

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Item: Snacks
My Suggestion: Serving-size dry snacks
I won’t give exact suggestions because you know your kids and I don’t. Having single-serving size things is helpful because toddlers can get unplanned things wet and if something were to happen, only a small amount of a particular snack gets ruined, not an entire bag. You can always prepare plastic baggies at home if you like don’t want the added expense of snack-sized servings.

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Experiencing Kentucky: Bourbon Trail & Distilleries

Kentucky has a lot more than just horses and fried chicken to offer, but one thing any native is proud of is the bourbon! (Not to be mistaken with whiskey!)

While I have tried an array of Kentucky’s bourbons, I have only been on one of the distillery tours: Maker’s Mark.  The distillery tours weren’t really something my friends did in our early to mid-20s. (We were still more interested in drinking the bourbon than knowing anything about where it came from…) By the time it was of true interest I’d gotten on the baby-train. (Dot came along to the Maker’s tour actually. She was six weeks old and we were celebrating my brother’s 30th birthday! Hubs dipped a bottle for Lou, though, and we’ll bust it out in 2034 when she turns 21!) Fitting bourbon tours in over the past three years when I’ve been breastfeeding or pregnant just haven’t been on the list.

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But hitting more of these distilleries over time is something I’d love to do and a great activity right here in our back yard.

The Bluegrass has over 20 working distilleries with more than 200 brands. Only some of the distilleries offer public tours, but even those that don’t typically offer guests tastings and gift shops. Most of the more famous bourbon brands can be found on the Bourbon Trail.

In 1999, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association formed the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® tour to give visitors a firsthand look at the art and science of crafting Bourbon, and to educate them about the rich history and proud tradition of our signature spirit.

For full history on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, visit the website.

The trail is a great adventure to take on as a group–whether it be friends or family. Even better: most of these tours and tastings are free! Visit Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, and more all within less than a 100 miles of each other between Louisville and Lexington and beautiful horse and farm country.

Having said that, it is a drive between distilleries and often a lot of twists and turns on two lane roads. (Basically I’m saying, don’t get too carried away on those tastings–you might not make it to the next distillery!) For more tips on covering the trail, read here.

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But you definitely do not need to commit yourself to completing the Bourbon Trail to make any one of the distillery experiences worth while. Just last weekend Holly Jo and her husband treated their out of town guests to a visit to Maker’s Mark, as well as a stop at Woodford Reserve and the Taylor Made Horse Farm before attending the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

Kentucky may not be the travel hotspot on most people’s list, but it’s a gamble worth taking and experiencing it’s horse and bourbon country showcase our beauty and uniqueness well. Even if you are simply traveling through Kentucky on I-75, I-65 or I-64 (Virginia Beach anyone?), make your road trip an experience and plan a detour in Kentucky for one of the distilleries.

Looking for a distillery in a particular area to visit in the near future. Here is a quick list with links to each distillery’s website. 
Bardstown
Barton’s 1792 Distillery
*Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center
Willet Distillery
Bowling Green
Corsair Artisan Distillery
Crestwood
Jefferson’s Reserve at Kentucky Artisan Distillery
Frankfort
Buffalo Trace
Lawrenceburg
*Four Roses
*Wild Turkey
Lexington
*Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company
Barrel House Distilling Company
Loretto
Limestone Branch Distillery
*Maker’s Mark
Louisville
Angel’s Envy
*Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience
Derby City Spirits
*Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
Grease Monkey Distillery
*Jim Beam Urban Distillery
Old Forester
Michter’s Micro-Distillery
Peerless Distillery
Northern Kentucky Region
New Riff Distillery
Old Pogue Distillery
Pembroke
MB Roland Distillery
Shepherdsville
*Four Roses Wharehouses & Bottling Tours
*Jim Beam American Stillhouse
Versailles
*Woodford Reserve
*: Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Derby Eats: The Louisville Eatery Guide

Spring is in the air and in horse country that means big hats, bourbon and the Kentucky Derby. I joined Jo on the vlog today to talk about some of our first-hand experience as former Louisvillians and the insider scoop on Derby, how to dress, and all of the events throughout the two week festival. Check it out here.

But the number one rule for anyone visiting Louisville is you EAT WELL. There is way too much good food in the ‘Ville to consider visiting a chain. 

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You can obviously go to TripAdvisor and get some great tips, but here is a rundown on the direction I suggest you take when choosing your meals during any Derby-ing you may do.

Breakfast

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If you’re up for a full scale eggs, bacon, pancakes—the works—breakfast to start your day, check out one of these locals. Most are located in great areas of town, so you can walk off that full stomach with some local shopping.

North End Cafe is a personal favorite of mine. There are two locations in Louisville, it has a great menu and prides itself on the wholesome options. (If you choose somewhere else for your breakfast needs, this is a great option for any other meal of the day.)

Toast on Market is a one-of-a-kind stop. The menu is less extravagant than some may want if really wanting to do breakfast big, but everything is made from scratch. It’s in the East Market downtown area and close to NuLu, a great place to head for some local shopping after breakfast.

Highland Morning is another local favorite, but I have never eaten there myself. It touts numerous awards and a full breakfast menu. It’s located in the heart of the Highlands, a Louisville-centric neighborhood full of some of the best shopping.

Wild Eggs is a favorite primarily found in the Ohio Valley region and several locations in the area. The service and atmosphere are top notch and the menu is full throttle and even includes a gluten free menu.

Coffee & Pastries

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If getting up early enough to get a table for breakfast isn’t the way you want to start your day (or big breakfasts just aren’t your cup of tea), but you still need your java and a little something… Louisville’s coffee and donuts are not to be overlooked. If you’re a sucker for small, local coffee shops like me, these don’t disappoint.

Heine Brothers can be found in nearly any corner of the city–it’s just that well-loved! It’s a must-stop any time Mingus and I are in the area and we almost always keep their beans in our freezer for our Sunday morning coffee. It’s perfect for grabbing a cup and running (several have drive-thrus), or for starting your morning with some relaxation in the cafe.

There are numerous small coffee shops throughout the city. Quills Coffee is in the Highlands and the epitome of a cozy coffee shop–and not to mention good coffee. Please and Thank You has a downtown (East Market) and a Frankfort Avenue location. It even offers breakfast options beyond pastries.

If a sweet start of pastries is more your thing, DONUT worry… Nords Bakery is family owned–but we warned! The donuts can sell out fast in the morning. It’s a favorite by any donut lover in Lou. Plehn’s Bakery, has been around since 1924 and is still going strong and for good reason.

Dining

I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know all there is to know about dining in Louisville or that I’m some sort of restaurant reviewer. Honestly, there really are so many great places and it’s all dependent on what you’re in the mood for and what kind of price you are looking to pay.

My top tip for choosing a place is to use the LEO Weekly Reader’s Choice List. These are the top picks in every category imaginable by the REAL people of Louisville. Who better to trust? Want steak? Sushi? Pizza? Mediterranean? Check this list. (You can also find great ideas for other entertainment and shopping on this list.)

Fine Dining

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Ramis’s Cafe on the World is my personal favorite place to take anyone visiting the city. It’s in the Highlands–an area close to my heart– has a unique and great atmosphere and the menu is one-of-a-kind. I’ve never had a single thing that left me disappointed. Much of the menu is vegetarian-friendly and all of it is very affordable.

Proof on Main is where you’re going to pay top dollar, but it prides itself on both the food and the artistic culture. Part of the 21c Hotel and Museum, Proof will give you much to talk about–even its bathrooms. You definitely need a reservation if you plan to dine here during derby.

Lilly’s Bistro in the Highlands is another fine dining experience that does not disappoint no matter what you order. The menu changes frequently, so be up for anything. Mingus and I personally know the family who own this business. They don’t just cook incredibly for business, but it’s just in their nature. They can’t make bad food!

Brews, Burgers & Lunch

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BBC (Bluegrass Brewing Company) is a favorite local distillery. If you want some all-American food options and a great brew, you can find BBC in two locations, both differing slightly in their offerings. And if you’re going for a burger, get a bison burger.

Cumberland Brews is where we would take someone who wants a small-shop brewery. Enjoy a meal and a brew–or just a brew–and even sit on the streets of Bardstown Road to take in what it feels like to be a local.

Hammerheads is not the easiest to find, but once there it’s affordable and hard to choose which direction to go with your order. The good news is, it’s all SO good. It’s small and doesn’t take reservations, so you may find getting a table a little tricky. The menu has a wide variety of unique options.

Frank’s Meat & Produce is not one you will simply stumble upon (or perhaps that’s the only way to find it?) Consider this my hidden gem I’m sharing you that you won’t find on other lists. It’s so off the radar, but the best bang for your buck. Seriously, you pay $5-$8 and get SO much food! (Also, it’s not far from Churchill.)

Ice Cream & Treats

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Where are you most likely to find something unique and different to crush your sweet cravings? Given, a lot of the restaurants you are likely to dine at will have a fabulous dessert menu, if you’re just out for a treat, these all have numerous locations in the city.

Homemade Pie and Ice Cream Kitchen, is our favorite swing through stop for something sweet these days. Why? Not only is it homemade and delicious, but it will fill whatever craving you and anyone in your group has. They offer everything from ice cream and pies to cookies and cakes and more. Honestly, the hardest part is deciding what to get!

If you know you are in an ice cream mood, though, Graeter’s and Comfy Cow are both stellar options with a wide variety of unique flavors. I wouldn’t be surprised if they even added some specialty options during Derby festivities.

If you’re more of a frozen yogurt person, there are options for this throughout the city. And for those of you with food allergies–like my husband–check out Annie May’s Sweet Cafe. An amazing selection of allergy-friendly treats.

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Be warned, even on a non-eventful weekend, some of the best breakfast spots will have a decent wait, so Derby weekend will only mean for that much more of a crowd. Get there early, plan for a wait, or try for a reservation if they take them.

Enjoy your Louisville experience, and make sure the food is part of it.

If you’re a Louisville native/local, leave your top choices or recommendations in the comments!