Kentucky Bourbon Trail Travel Guide: Bardstown and Elizabethtown
March 1, 2016 –––––– Charles K. Cowdery
Elizabethtown (everybody calls it ‘E-town') is attractive as an alternate place to stay when you're visiting the Bardstown area. It has a large hotel and restaurant cluster just off interstate 65 and from there it's barely 20 minutes to Bardstown on the Martha Layne. E-town marks the end of bourbon country and the beginning of Fort Knox country. It also has several sites associated with Abraham Lincoln's father, Thomas, and easy access to the Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park near Hodgenville.
E-town has a few non-chain restaurants. Kentucky doesn't have the ‘meat-and-three' tradition you find further south, but Back Home comes close. It's in a 19th century house with multiple dining rooms. Family-owned and operated, it is warm and friendly. Fried green tomatoes are the star. Chicken-fried steak, chicken-fried chicken, and Kentucky country ham are all good traditional choices. Corn pudding and sweet potato casserole are on the long list of sides.
In that hotel cluster out by the highway is where you'll find 701 Fish House and Oyster Bar, probably the best place for seafood between Louisville and Nashville. They feature oysters on the half shell, wild-caught Maine mussels, and a fresh fish ‘catch of the day.' They have an oyster bar and a full alcohol bar. Seafood is featured but if you have a hard-to-please group they also serve Kentucky country ham and sides like collard greens and bourbon cheese grits.
Both E-town and Bardstown have many good choices for non-chain Asian and Mexican cuisine. If bourbon touring gives you a hankering for nachos and margaritas, Ricon Mexicano is right in downtown Bardstown on 3rd Street. As you might imagine, the Fort Knox area, just over I-65 to the west, has many international dining choices.
In Bardstown, the long-time favorites are your best bets; Kurtz Restaurant for Kentucky classics like fried chicken and country ham in a dignified, traditional setting, and Mammy's Kitchen to bring the funk. You'll find many of the same dishes at both.
Spalding Hall, formerly a school, has the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History on its first floor. In the basement is the Rickhouse Restaurant and Lounge. The menu features steak, the bar often has live music, and the space is coolly subterranean. Harrison-Smith House is fine dining above ground in a historic home right on the town square, with a farm-to-table menu that changes often.
The distilleries in or just outside of Bardstown are Barton 1792 (Sazerac-owned, so not on the Bourbon Trail) and Willett, which is considered a craft distillery, but is actually quite large with a lot to see. Across the road from Willett is Heaven Hill, which doesn't distill there, but the Bourbon Heritage Center is a must. The other nearby distilleries—Maker's Mark, Jim Beam, and Limestone Branch—are a bit of a drive, each in a different direction. If you go to Limestone Branch in Lebanon, don't miss Kentucky Cooperage, which is also there.
Many of these destinations will put you in the country on twisty two-lane roads. Just take it easy and enjoy the scenery.
Barton 1792 Distillery 300 Barton Rd., Bardstown, 502-331-4879, 1792bourbon.com
Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center 1311 Gilkey Run Rd., Bardstown, 502-337-1000, bourbonheritagecenter.com
Jim Beam American Stillhouse 526 Happy Hollow Rd., Clermont, 502-543-9877, jimbeam.com
Kentucky Cooperage 712 E. Main St., Lebanon, 417-588-4151, independentstavecompany.com
Limestone Branch Distillery 1280 Veterans Memorial Hwy, Lebanon, 270-699-9004, limestonebranch.com
Maker's Mark Distillery 3350 Burks Spring Rd., Loretto, 270-865-2881, makersmark.com
Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History 114 N.5th St., Bardstown, 502-348-2999, whiskeymuseum.com
Willett Distillery 1869 Loretto Rd., Bardstown, 502-348-0899, kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com
Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park 2995 Lincoln Farm Rd., Hodgenville, 270-358-3137
Where To Eat and Drink
701 Fish House and Oyster Bar200 Commerce Drive, Elizabethtown, 270-735-9648, 701fishhouse.com
Back Home 251 W. Dixie Ave, Elizabethtown, 270-769-2800, backhomerestaurant.com
Harrison-Smith House 103 E. Stephen Foster Ave, Bardstown, 502-233-9993, harrisonsmithhouse.com
Kurtz Restaurant 418 E. Stephen Foster Ave, Bardstown, 502-348-5983, bardstownparkview.com/dining
Mammy's Kitchen 116 W. Stephen Foster Ave, Bardstown, 502-350-1097, btownmammys.com
Rickhouse Restaurant and Lounge Xavier Dr., Bardstown, 502-348-2832, therickhouse-bardstown.com
Rincon Mexicano 204 N. 3rd St., Bardstown, 502-349-0049,rinconmexicanorestaurantandcantina.com