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Full Steam Ahead

This fall, come to Louisville and enjoy riverboats, horses, and an
impressive selection of restaurants.

Back in the day–before a national rail system and interstates–America’s rivers were her superhighways. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, steamboats were America’s transportation workhorses.

Belle of Louisville

Above: The Belle of Louisville celebrates 100 years this October. Belle of Louisville photo

Below: The entrance to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Elaine Warner photo

Churchill Downs

The Belle of Louisville, originally called Idlewild, was born a packet boat in Pittsburgh in 1914. By the 1920s, the industry had changed and Belle became an excursion boat. During World War II, the boat towed oil barges on the Mississippi, and later moonlighted as a USO nightspot for troops whose bases were located along the river.

Becoming the Avalon in 1948, the boat spent the next several decades traveling America’s waterways throughout 19 states. Tired and tattered, in spite of some cosmetic surgery in the 1950s, the Avalon was put up for auction in 1962.

The highest bid came from Louisville and, with a thorough renovation, the vessel began a new life as the Belle of Louisville. Now named a National Historic Landmark, it is hailed as the oldest operating Mississippi River-style steamboat in existence. Of the six steam-powered boats operating in America today, she is definitely the grand dame.

Birthday Bash

The Centennial Festival of Riverboats, which is planned for Oct. 14–19, will salute the Belle’s big birthday. With fireworks, music, a balloon glow, steamboat races, and a calliope contest, it will be a memorable birthday bash. Visitors can book cruises not only on the Belle and her little sister, The Spirit of Jefferson, but several visiting boats including The Belle of Cincinnati and The Spirit of Peoria. Arts and crafts, food, and even a Bourbon Pavilion add to the excitement, all topped off with a Birthday Parade of Riverboats.

Cross the Big Four pedestrian bridge to Jeffersonville and enjoy that southern Indiana city’s Steamboat Days festival. See a juried art village, hear live music, and let the kids enjoy an area just for them. Steamboat Days will be held Oct. 17–19. Jeffersonville’s selection of shops and restaurants also will be open, so check it out.

While You’re Here

Probably the most famous landmark in Louisville is Churchill Downs, home to horseracing’s most exciting two minutes. It also hosts hundreds of other races during racing season. Several tours of the grounds are offered. The Kentucky Derby Museum that’s on the property covers the history and color of the event with exhibits on clothing, famous horses, trophies, and legends.

The Louisville Slugger® Museum and Factory takes you from the tree to the finished product, and the museum features famous baseball players and their equipment, along with a number of interactive features. You can’t miss this place on Main Street; just look for the 120-foot-tall bat, which is a replica of “R43,” the model used by none other than Babe Ruth.

Kentucky is famous for bourbon, and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience on Main Street offers an excellent tour of its artisanal distillery. Learn about the history of bourbon making and end the tour with a tasting. Evan Williams was Kentucky’s first distiller and dates to 1783. Whether you like liquor or not, you’ll love the chocolate bourbon ball at the finish.

Take a walking tour with Louisville Historic Tours. Enjoy the architecture and history of the Old Louisville neighborhood. Explore haunted Louisville on one of its ghost tours.

Food-loving City

Louisville is gaining a national reputation for its cuisine scene with new restaurants and innovative chefs leading the way. But there’s one traditional stop you must make– the historical Brown Hotel, home of the Hot Brown. Fred Schmidt invented this yummy open-faced sandwich in 1926 for hotel guests who danced the night away and needed sustenance.

Along East Market Street in the “NuLu District,” you’ll find something to suit your palate. Cutting-edge French cuisine was featured at La Coop, a charming little bistro that offered among its impressive menu a pecan salad with farm greens, pear, and red onion dressed with a praline vinaigrette and bleu cheese.

Decca, inspired by the owner’s love of vinyl records, features the restaurant; the Second Floor Store with books, vinyl, and vintage gear; and a basement bar. Menu items are so innovative you may need a dictionary to order.

Breakfast at Toast on Market is the perfect day-breaker. Try the lemon soufflé pancakes or go big with The King–peanut butter, bananas, and mascarpone-stuffed French toast. It’s also open for lunch, but you can still order breakfast.

This fall, a little bit of colorful history comes together with good food and favorite attractions to make an enjoyable getaway to Louisville.

Elaine Warner is a contributor from Edmond, Okla.

September/October 2014 Issue


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To visit Louisville, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Kentucky through the Free Travel Information form found online.


The Original Hot Brown Recipe
Recipe courtesy of Culinary Louisville • Elaine Warner photo


2 ounces whole butter
2 ounces all-purpose flour
16 ounces heavy cream
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
14 ounces sliced roasted turkey breast
2 slices of Texas toast (crusts trimmed)
4 slices of crispy bacon
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half


In a two-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and a thick paste (roux) forms. Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk heavy cream into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2–3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Pecorino Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For each Hot Brown (recipe makes two servings), place one slice of toast in an oven-safe dish and cover with 7 ounces of turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and set them alongside the base of turkey and toast. Next, pour one half of the Mornay sauce to completely cover the dish. Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano cheese. Place entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from the broiler, cross two pieces of crisped bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley and serve immediately.

hot brown

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