Thursday, September 8, 2011

Danville, KY - Small Town American Charm

I first heard of Danville in Japan of all places. I was dating Nic (now my husband) and he mentioned that his stepdad worked at the radio station there. Just a few months later, while perusing a book of the best 100 small towns in America, lo and behold - there was Danville again!

Summer evening in Danville

It seems we were fated.

Once I moved to the US, and eventually Kentucky, I became more familiar with the town, visiting the Pioneer Playhouse, Constitution Square, and other local landmarks. I decided the book had probably been right. Danville seemed like a very nice place.

Ten years later, and Danville has undergone quite a renaissance. It's become an even more lively town, thanks to liquor laws. Coming from Europe and a liberal, social attitude towards drinking, the concept of dry and wet counties is something of a bizarre novelty to me. It seems amusing to note which are the dry counties in Kentucky - you can always tell by the presence of a liquor store just across the neighboring county line.

When Danville voted to change its liquor laws a few years ago, I heard from relatives that this could bring a bad element into the pleasant, college town. On the contrary, it has led to the birth of a new Main Street. No longer do the doors all close at the end of the regular business day. Now, Main Street stays alive into the evening with a wonderful selection of new bars and restaurants.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to experience some of the new dining choices in Danville when the Kentucky Food Bloggers were invited to tour some of the local businesses. A huge thanks must go out to Adam and Amandalin from the Danville/Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau for being incredible guides.

Our first stop of the evening was V-the Market.

I thought that Lexington had some great outlets for buying liquor, wine, and gourmet cheeses, but this could put the best of them to shame. Mary Robin is knowledgeable about the products she has in store, and is quick to advise customers about suitable pairings. In addition to several ales, we also sampled a blue goat cheese, Lincolnshire Poacher (similar to a white Cheddar), and some prosciutto di parma that melted in my mouth. Goat cheese is something I have only recently come to appreciate, but this was delightful. I have already sent my father-in-law back to buy more of the delicious Life and Limb ale that we tasted.

I'm sure I'll be visiting again soon to see what cheeses are in store and to further explore their extensive wine and bourbon selections.
V-the Market has an extensive selection of craft beers and imports.
Some of the bourbons available at V-the Market
The new lounge area at V-the Market is nearing completion.

From V-the Market, we crossed the street to Mermaids. This charming restaurant may not have been open for long, but it is already making quite a splash on the Kentucky restaurant scene. Earlier this year, Mermaids won the Outstanding Dining Experience Award at the TourSEKY "Experience the Bloom" Awards.

Mermaids co-owner Kelly took the time to chat with us. Among the first to see the potential for a restaurant in Danville should the new liquor laws be passed, Kelly had his license application ready to submit as soon as the City Hall doors opened.

The menu celebrates locally grown and produced foods. We tried some local steak, shrimp in prosciutto, and Ahi tuna wrapped in greens and cucumber with a dash of wasabi. There were also drinks a-plenty - the restaurant's signature punch, sprinkled with nutmeg, and their Porch Punch - as we admired the fabulous blue-lit bar. The decor is particularly noteworthy. With ice blue and white, it would have been very easy for the resulting effect to be cold; instead, Mermaids manages to make the combo feel rather cozy. Mermaids is now on my list of romantic dinner locations, although it is equally suited to cocktails and appetizers with friends.

Bubbles the Mermaid
The next stop was where Adam reminded us of his earlier warning to pace ourselves. There was food and lots of it at 303W on Main Street. The rich wooden interior of this pool hall and bar reminded me of a 1920s
speakeasy. Whether you want to watch the football game, play pool or darts, hang out with the locals or meet friends for a beer, 303W is the perfect place. Relaxed, laid back - what more do you need from a bar?

And there's food. Good, simple bar food. Wings. Pretzel bread sticks with pimento cheese. Beer cheese. Cheese sticks. It was hard not to just eat everything here. In fact, I think we all staggered out, wondering how much more we would be able to eat. But still three more stops....

Yummy Pretzel Bread
Appetizer Selection
On to Bluegrass Pizza and Pub. Much as I like pizza, I am pretty picky about it. I don't mind if it's deep-dish, thin crust, hand tossed, etc, but I do dislike most of the chain pizza places because they are so greasy. On the few occasions when I go out for pizza, I tend to go to the smaller, privately owned places where I can enjoy good quality, handmade pizza. Bluegrass Pizza and Pub is now on that list.

Cheesy Bread

Mediterranean Pizza from Bluegrass Pizza and Pub
It is small, and therefore it gets crowded very quickly, but if you want a friendly place with beer and absolutely divine pizza, this would be my first recommendation.The pizzas are huge (and grease free). We split a Mediterranean, piled high with artichokes, olives, red onion, and chicken, and some bread sticks. There was still plenty for our hosts to take home as leftovers.

And what could be better after pizza than beer? Danville is developing a bit of a reputation as a spot for craft brewers, thanks in part to the Beer Engine. If you didn't know it was here, it would be all too easy to miss pass this bar completely. It's back off the street, in a secluded parking lot. Take a close look at the tables and you'll see why. This used to be a bowling alley (the former floorboards were used to make some pretty spiffy tables).

The owners offered us samples of several beers, some brewed on site. Although the Nut Brown was a bit strong for my beer tastes, I adored the honey ale and the Dogfish Head Peche. Everything is available on tap; no bottles here. With the variety available, you are sure to find a brew to your liking.

And finally, we all collapsed in the comfy chairs at The Hub, Danville's favorite coffeeshop. We had eaten; we had drunk; and we were merry after a jolly evening of tasty treats and fun conversation. Yet despite our full bellies, we still managed to find room for cupcakes from The Twisted Sifter.

Champagne and Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Then, laden with gift bags of goodies from Burke's Bakery and Karamel Kreations, I made my way home. But I can definitely say I will be back. After all, I still have a whole lot of eating to do in Danville!