Edward Lee has unwittingly become one of the country’s major proponents of modern Southern cooking. An especially odd position given that he was born and raised in Brooklyn, and started his professional cooking career in New York City.
But a stop for the Kentucky Derby in 2001 during a cross-country trip changed his whole life. It was Lee’s first visit to Louisville, and he fell instantly in love with the modern Southern metropolis, and especially its signature spirit: bourbon.
Within a year, Lee had relocated to Kentucky. Fusing his own Korean-American background with the South’s traditional foods, Lee has made a name as one of Dixie’s finest chefs. Besides his trio of restaurants—610 Magnolia andMilkWood in Louisville, and Succotash in Washington, D.C.—Lee came in fifth on season 9 of Top Chef, was the star of a season of PBS’ The Mind of a Chef, published an acclaimed cookbook called Smoke & Pickles and has been nominated for a James Beard Award a whopping six times.
When it comes to drinking, Lee is all about bourbon. He has an incredible personal collection of American whiskies dating back to before Prohibition at his home, and he even worked with cult-favorite brand Jefferson’s on a special Chef’s Collaboration bottling. So it should come as no surprise that Lee’s favorite cocktails in his adopted hometown, right smack in the heart of bourbon country, all call for, well, bourbon.
The Waysider at Decca
This drink “makes you want to sit out on a porch and ponder the lighter side of life,” Lee says. It’s a simple mix of bourbon, lime, mint and ginger beer that’s served over plenty of ice, making it cool and refreshing but with a nice tart-and-spicy bite. Lee recommends enjoying it with a salty snack, like any of Decca’s house-made charcuterie. Be sure to grab a seat in the outdoor courtyard, which shows off the restaurant’s renovated 1870s-era building.
Bitter Betty at The Silver Dollar
Perhaps the most famous whiskey bar in a city full of amazing whiskey bars, The Silver Dollar is a bourbon-lover’s dream come true, with a full eight pages of its 10-page spirits list dedicated to Kentucky whiskies. Lee likes to end his nights here with the Bitter Betty, an aptly named mix of bourbon, the earthy and herbal Italian amari Cardamaro and Cynar, and a house-made cocoa nib tincture. “This is for serious cocktail lovers,” he says. “It’s dark, intense, complex with umami notes.” Despite the other strong flavors in the cocktail, the bourbon still shines through: “It actually works harmoniously with the other bitter notes.”
Shot & a beer at Freddie’s 220
One of those old-school dives that hasn’t changed in half a century, Freddie’s on Broadway (which is what everybody calls it, despite its “official” name) is what Lee dubs “a true Louisville original hangout and a no-frills cocktail.” To do it his way, three things are required: “Get yourself a shot of well bourbon—which is usually Cabin Still—a cold Schlitz beer, and a bag of BBQ chips hanging off the back-bar wall,” he says. “Sit back, relax and enjoy my favorite drink combo in the entire city.”