Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: Kentucky

Kentucky vs Central Michigan – Sunny Saturday in Horse Country…

Driving east on Interstate 64 out of Louisville on an early Saturday morning, the change in geography starts becoming more pronounced. The stretching plains of the Midwest gradually start undulating into the far western foothills of the Appalachians. The highway bridges a few ravines now, and bisects great rock cuts carved into the Kentucky Limestone. I’m entering Bluegrass Country, the picturesque rolling hills bordered by long sections of split plank horse fence. Thoroughbreds graze on the wet morning grass, while I graze on a few sunflower seeds and motor on into Lexington.

I bypass the twenty dollar ripoff parking in front of a few houses, circling a few side streets until I shoehorn into an open spot along an empty curb. Rap music pumps out of an open window in the house out front, and beer cans litter the garden. A few more houses down, some students are milling around the yard clutching beers, tossing a Frisbee at a PVC pipe planted in the ground. Chalk up another new drinking game I am unfamiliar with.

It’s my first SEC game of the season, if you could call it that. Kentucky fans would be quick to tell you that real athletics on campus don’t start until basketball season, football is just a warmup. Though still certainly an SEC school, there is a different feel on campus than some of the other traditional SEC powerhouses that I have visited. It’s a decidedly more relaxed atmosphere. Still plenty of tailgating and revelry, but without the unbridled passion of a place like LSU for instance.

I mill around the stadium for a few minutes, dickering with the scalpers, chuckling at some of the prices they demand for a Kentucky versus Central Michigan ticket. I find a scraggly kid in a hoodie instead, pawning his uncles’ tickets. Twenty bucks later and I hustle into Commonwealth Stadium to catch the opening ceremonies.

It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon for football, eighty degrees or so and sunny. I’ve got some extra room on the aluminum bleachers next to me, so I spread out a bit and relax. Central Michigan jumps out to a surprising early lead, stifling Kentucky in the first half and taking a 13-6 lead at halftime. But the Wildcats don’t fold. Finding their rhythm on offense, they score three touchdowns in the second half, one of them an electric 87 yard run by Josh Clemons and cruise to a 27-13 comeback win.


Sunburnt from the unobstructed afternoon sun, I wander out of the stadium after the final whistle and pick my way down side streets to my car. A couple of those same students are passed out on the porch now, hoodies pulled tight over their slouched heads. All is right in Lexington on a College Football Saturday…

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Hot Brown Sandwich – The Louisville Legend

There are a handful of towns across the country known for having a signature sandwich, a dish that likely started as an oddity, and has now become an icon for that particular city. The cheese steak in Philadelphia and Italian Beef in Chicago are a few of the obvious examples that come to mind. In Louisville, that offering is known as the Hot Brown Sandwich. While it may sound like something out of the Urban Dictionary, the Hot Brown is one of those elusive cultural standalones that I seek out during my travels. Epic sandwiches are a challenge I simply can’t resist.

Ground zero for the Hot Brown, as I discovered, is the opulent Brown Hotel located in the heart of downtown Louisville. The hefty offering is served open faced on toast points, consisting of roast turkey slathered in Mornay (cheese) sauce, and topped with a couple slices of crisp bacon. Its origins can be traced back to 1923, when chef Fred Schmidt made the sandwich for late night party goers, looking for an after hours snack. It has since become a staple throughout the city of Louisville, but there is something to be said for the original.


Carving into a few bites of my Hot Brown in the classically appointed Brown Hotel, harkens images of a 1920’s flapper scene. Surrounded by marble and ornate frescoes, it’s like being transported back into an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Gooey, indulgent and greasily satisfying, you might say that the Hot Brown sandwich is the original drunk food. Eating one at the Brown is like connecting with our hard drinking forefathers…

Hot Brown Sandwich History

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Old Hickory Pit – Owensboro, the other BBQ Mecca…

When it comes to premier barbecue geographies in the US, places like Memphis, Kansas City, Texas or North Carolina immediately come to mind. While Owensboro, Kentucky, located a stones throw from the southern Indiana border might not typically be associated with that list, the city prides itself on being a barbecue hotbed. Putting their pits to the test meant trying at least one of two stalwart locations in the city: Moonlite Barbecue or Old Hickory Pit Barbecue.

Normally, I would have opted for both, but since Moonlite observes limited hours on Sundays, the Old Hickory Pit became my only option for a late Sunday lunch on the drive back to St. Louis.

Pulling up to the building offered some encouragement, as a sizeable wood pile was stacked up along the rear walls, always a leading indicator of proper barbecue. Settling into a booth in the dark wood paneled interior, I ordered up the usual brisket and ribs along with a few newcomers to by barbecue adventures; bbq mutton and burgoo. Mutton is a specialty of the Owensboro area, so a sampling was in order. Burgoo is a regional side dish, a stew made with various meats, corn and okra along with a handful of other mystery ingredients and spices. It was reminiscent of Brunswick Stew, often found in older North Carolina BBQ joints.

Unlike the delicate butcher block slicing of Texas barbecue joints, or the raspy electric knife found at Snow’s Barbecue, Old Hickory pit takes their slicing to an entirely new level. Hearing the whine of power equipment, I shuffled over to the kitchen area to find the servers carving up my order in a band saw. Intimidating, and over the top. I love it.

I’m happy to report that there is a dedication to the craft here at Old Hickory Pit worthy of it’s long standing tradition in Owenboro. The meats are smoked with care, both the ribs and brisket enjoying well defined smoke rings and a deep smoke flavor throughout. They had dried a bit, likely from sitting out too long, but the deft hand of the pitmaster still shone through. BBQ mutton was fork tender, but I simply don’t have much of a taste for mutton. They gamey flavor of the meat simply overpowers the smoke, and I’d likely not order it on a return trip. The burgoo was hearty side dish, with a touch of heat to it that would make for a perfect winter meal by itself.

In all, Owensboro was a worthy detour on the ride back. While I’d have to sample a few other joints in the city before giving it more praise, Old Hickory Pit was a great introduction to the barbecue capitol of Kentucky!

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Wagners Pharmacy

In the shadow of Churchill Downs racetrack, quite literally across the street from the entrance, sits a little pharmacy that has been in operation since 1922. Wagners Pharmacy is a legend in Louisville, and nary a horse racing fan hasn’t walked through their doors at some time or another. Scenes from the recent movie “Secretariat” were filmed at Wagners, and the walls are adorned with an archive of black and white Kentucky Derby photos.

With the height of racing season over for the year, I eased into Wagners early on a Saturday morning and took a gander over the traditional, unpretentious breakfast menu. A few regulars sipped their coffee a few stools down from me, exchanging stories with the waitresses about the Louisville tailgating scene the night before. I gazed around, curious at all the racing paraphernalia, admiring the history in the walls.

I ordered up a simple breakfast, some eggs over easy with ham, then watched eagerly as the lady at the grill scraped the cook top clean and cracked a few white eggs onto the hot griddle. A few minutes later, she plopped my breakfast onto a paper plate and slid it across the counter in front of me. Paper plates were an odd choice I thought, perhaps they just didn’t feel like doing dishes yet. Paper doesn’t have quite the same satisfying scratch sound when you scrape a fork across it, but with the ample portion of ham on my plate, I had little to complain about.

Settling up, I hopped into the car for the morning ride out to Lexington

Wagners Pharmacy Website

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