From: Michelle Shih Subject: Louisville, Kentucky

When I went to Louisville recently, I expected to see horses, not lobsters. But the city has more going on than the Derby. Former tobacco farmers have used government settlements to switch crops and sometimes even careers. They're now doing a booming business in farmed catfish, have an experimental program for Australian freshwater lobster and ship their products all over the country (Louisville is a UPS hub).

My best meal was at Holly Hill Inn (426 N. Winter St.; 859-846-4732), a restaurant in a 150-year-old house in Midway, an hour's drive from Louisville. Chef Ouita Michel serves her country ham custard with radish and arugula finger sandwiches—like a Southern high tea. And her very smoky pork chops come with a mess of sides, including creamy Gorgonzola grits (nearby Weisenberger Mill grinds the best I've ever tasted and sells them by mail order; 800-643-8678). The Blue Dog Bakery and Café (2870 Frankfort Ave.; 502-899-9800) in Louisville was my favorite place for lunch. It's an airy space with a pressed-tin ceiling. I had excellent pastrami panini and beet-and-tomato soup, which was like gazpacho crossed with borscht.

Because Kentucky is the home of Colonel Sanders and because I'm a fried chicken fanatic, I had to find the best. Science Hill Inn (525 Washington St., Shelbyville; 502-633-2825), an old-fashioned place a half hour outside town, serves divine chicken on china; a lot of the female customers wear gloves. In the same building, Wakefield-Scearce (502-633-4382) has 44,000 square feet of antique housewares (the silver collection is amazing) and furniture; their specialty is Georgian and Victorian pieces.

Since Kentucky is famed for bourbon, I took the hard-hat tour at 200-year-old Buffalo Trace (1001 Wilkinson Blvd., Frankfort; 800-654-8471), the longest continuously operating distillery in the U.S. The brick buildings sit prettily along the Kentucky River, but the place still seems real—the men sealing the bottles with wax have scruffy mustaches and tattoos. The most photogenic distillery, Labrot & Graham (7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles; 800-542-1812), has stone walls and burnished wood floors. And the drive there is lovely, through bluegrass country, with mares and foals running around. It reminded me that I have to come back for the Derby.