F&W’s roundup of the best restaurants in Louisville, from a terrific spot in the 21c Museum Hotel to an excellent bakery and café. For more great restaurants, check out our guide to the best places to eat in the country.

Louisville, Kentucky, may be horse-racing and bourbon country, but now it’s also food and art central. Many of the best new restaurants, in fact, are near important galleries and museums.

Power couple and local collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson are a force in both the city’s culinary and art worlds. In 2006 they helped launch downtown’s fabulous 21c Museum Hotel—an epicenter of the art scene—and its terrific restaurant, Proof on Main. On a recent night, chef Michael Paley’s bison tenderloin (from Brown and Wilson’s farm) with Parmigiano-Reggiano stone-ground grits kept my eyes fixed on my plate. That was no small feat given the art in the dining room, like Zebra Trophy, Johnston Foster’s taxidermy-inspired sculpture of leather, wire and broom handles.

The next morning, I went to Toast on Market, a new spot in the East Market Street gallery district, for decadent bread-pudding pancakes and stops at the Zephyr Gallery and the Green Building Gallery.

Louisville’s other food-and-art hubs are Bardstown Road—where renowned local chef Kathy Cary cooks modern Southern food at Lilly’s—and Frankfort Avenue, which has an ethnically varied food scene and influential galleries. At the new Basa Modern Vietnamese, I sipped a lychee-lime spritzer with my wok-roasted mussels, fragrant with chiles, garlic and basil. Later, I headed to Sari Sari, where Filipino chef Lourdes Fronteras serves food from her native country, like a slow-simmered chicken adobo.

Some Frankfort spots are dinner-only on weekends, but I had a fantastic Saturday brunch at Blue Dog Bakery & Café. I lingered over poached free-range eggs on grilled levain bread with prosciutto, spinach and Parmesan cheese as I plotted my afternoon of gallery-hopping.

Updated August 2009

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