EXCLUSIVE: Get your first look at the upscale menu in Churchill Downs premium spaces (2024)

Matthew Glowicki,Kirby AdamsLouisville Courier Journal

The premium views of the new paddock at Churchill Downs come with a Kentucky Derby menu meant to both comfort and dazzle guests.

“No matter what happens, if you win big or lose big at the Derby … you’re going to win with the culinary experience," said Robert Lopez, head chef for this year’s Kentucky Derby and senior executive chef for Levy, the Chicago-based food and beverage provider for Churchill Downs.

It takes a culinary team of more than 4,000 people to keep the food flowing at more than 40 premium spaces throughout the historic racetrack during Kentucky Derby week.

“Each space has its own unique feel,” said Kenneth Hardiman, Levy regional executive chef. “We've kind of tailored (the menu) to that particular location.”

The Courier Journal was invited to taste a sampling of a few of these spaces, including the new Woodford Reserve Paddock Club and Club SI, both of which are located steps from the horse stalls in the new paddock. Matt Winn’s Steakhouse, which is open year-round, was also on the tasting tour.

The menus in these more curated spaces aim to highlight locally grown and raised food, including grits from Weisenberger Mills, meats from Berry Beef, cheeses from Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese, and breads from Blue Dog Bakery and Café, to name just a few.

In his first year overseeing culinary operations at Churchill Downs, Lopez said he’s tried to bring his “modern, new-age” style to a time-honored tradition.

“What I like to do is take things and make them into something that no one has seen before…or not seen in that way,” he said. “I like to turn heads."

Here’s what we tried:

What food is served at the Woodford Reserve Paddock Club during Kentucky Derby week?

The most premium space at the new paddock is the Woodford Reserve Paddock Club, where two-day tickets for Oaks and Derby days range from roughly $11,000 to $16,000.

The space holds about 300 people, offering a select group access to the highest tier of dining the track has to offer.

“We only procure hundreds of pounds instead of thousands or tens of thousands of pounds, which some of our other menus do,” Lopez said, leading to the “best ingredients for the best experience.”

The Courier Journal sampled from the menu offered Opening Night through Thurby. One-day-only menus are set for Oaks and Derby days.

A twist on the classic Caesar salad included grilled lettuce dressed with radish, shaved Parmesan Reggiano, pickled white anchovy, and house-made lemon and roasted garlic Caesar dressing and croutons.

The “Louisville rolled oysters” were a fried yet light bite when paired with a zippy co*cktail sauce, and the hardwood smoked smothered pork chop was dramatically presented bone-in atop a garnet yam puree.

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Bourbon and smoked rosemary chicken “pops” were easily snackable and a farro and baby rocket salad made for a refreshing bite, with its goat cheese, tomatoes, and mustard vinaigrette.

The space features a lower-level speakeasy and a bourbon tasting room that will offer an exclusive bourbon and chocolate pairing session to about 100 people between Oaks and Derby days.

The club serves up its exclusive menu in three different ways. Smaller, sample-sized portions allow for a taste of many of the space’s offerings. Clubgoers can also have larger portions as they make their plates, like a buffet, or order their food a la carte for family-style table service.

What food is served at Club SI during Kentucky Derby week?

EXCLUSIVE: Get your first look at the upscale menu in Churchill Downs premium spaces (3)

EXCLUSIVE: Get your first look at the upscale menu in Churchill Downs premium spaces (4)

Kentucky Derby food at Churchill Downs. A taste of what to expect.

Courier Journal reporters get an exclusive taste of what visitors can expect to eat while at Churchill Downs during the Kentucky Derby 2024.

Another high-end experience in the new paddock is Club SI, which gives guests an up-close look at the paddock while surrounded by iconic Sports Illustrated magazine covers and photos.

The Courier Journal tried a cool and refreshing sweet corn shooter, an inventive sip that acts as a palate cleanser between bites.

Thinly sliced bourbon barrel smoked beef tri tip was served alongside a Kentucky chop salad loaded with toppings, including white beans, country ham, apple, pickled onion, oven-dried tomatoes, and a sorghum red wine vinaigrette.

Much like the Paddock Club, Club SI ticketholders will have fresh, custom menus for Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby days.

“A lot of people say memories are built off of senses, and I can tell you one thing, there’s a lot of senses going on with this experience,” Lopez said. “Everything from sitting at the glass watching the actual athletes, the horses, 2 feet away from you … all the way until you walk into the club and all the smells hit you. Just creating those memories through taste, through smell, through something that you may never get to taste again.”

What is on the Derby week menu at Matt Winn’s Steakhouse at Churchill Downs?

The on-premises restaurant, Matt Winn’s Steakhouse, opened in 2020 and gives a taste of Churchill Downs year-round.

Elevated custom furniture and finishes fill the restaurant, which is named for Colonel Martin J. “Matt” Winn, the track’s legendary president and general manager for decades in the early 1900s.

The Courier Journal sampled the shrimp and grits, which let the Weisenberger grits and Argentinian red shrimp shine with understated flavors of white wine, garlic, and parsley.

A visit to the steakhouse of course meant beef, specifically, the carved prime rib roast spiced with rosemary and peppercorn served with whipped potatoes, asparagus, and the homemade “Finish Line” steak sauce.

An old fashioned smoked with cedar-wood and bourbon-soaked maraschino cherries and a house-made orange simple syrup accompanied the trip to the on-premises steakhouse.

A sweet trio of espresso chocolate mousse, banana pudding, and berry trifle served in small cups rounded out our visit.

While the specific menu items the Courier Journal tried are tied to Derby Week, Lopez said they are indicative of the level and variety of offerings throughout the year.

Reporter Matthew Glowicki can be reached at mglowicki@courier-journal.com, 502-582-4000or on Twitter @mattglo.

EXCLUSIVE: Get your first look at the upscale menu in Churchill Downs premium spaces (2024)

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