It’s called the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” and on May 7th at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, the Kentucky Derby will be run for the 142nd time.
In the South it’s not enough to simply enjoy the race. There’s a whole afternoon of entertaining to be done, and so we sat down with four Southern ladies in the Atlanta food scene to ask, “What makes a great Kentucky Derby party?” Here’s what we learned:
A Kentucky Derby party needs pimento cheese like a jockey needs a horse. It should also have a biscuit bar with country ham and mini hot browns, and some kind of mechanism for betting on the horses (because what’s the use of competition if nobody gets to talk trash – even polite trash?)
Mint juleps are the elegant beverage of choice for the sport of kings, and it’s helpful to make batches or set out the ingredients for folks to make their own. If you’re feeling fancy, you could even guide your guests through a Kentucky whiskey tasting.
If this all sounds a little boozy for you, go a little more country, with cowboy boots, fried chicken and a punch with some pineapple juice in it. Or try Sprite and sherbert, Church Lady-style. Well isn’t that special?
Okay, so far we have: pimento cheese, hot browns, mint juleps and betting. Is that all?
Heck no! if you want to cross the finish line first, you need one last thing: a running of the rose race. And if you don’t know what that is…read on.
What you need to know here is that there are a bunch of great restaurants in Atlanta that will sell you pimento cheese (though you probably want to call ahead just to make sure). Try Holeman and Finch’s market counter, Fox Bros. BBQ, Star Provisions or Empire State South. But if you don’t have some place nearby, just run to the grocery store. Our favorite is Pawley’s Island Palmetto Cheese which you can buy plain, or with bacon or jalapeno from your local Kroger or Publix.
The Hot Brown
These open face sandwiches were created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville 90 years ago. To make them take a thick slice of toast, throw some sliced turkey on it, and slather it in delicious cheesy Mornay sauce. On top of that you should layer some sliced tomatoes and then cap it with a slice or two of crispy bacon.
To recap: bread, turkey, cheese sauce, tomatoes and bacon. What is there to not love about this?
Get out your finest silver cups because to do this right you’re gonna need them. Or glass tumblers if you’re less fancy, or plastic cups if you’re like the rest of us. The Cocktail Project lists the ingredients as:
Muddle the mint and the simple syrup (use a muddler if you have one, try using a wooden spoon if you don’t). Add the Maker’s Mark and the water. Fill glass with ice. Sprinkle ice with powdered sugar and garnish with mint leaves.
There are dozens of variation on this recipe, and bartenders will often add their own unique twist, so don’t be afraid to experiment a little.
Running of the Rose
According to our special advisors, this is, “Ladies running in party dresses, heels, and fancy hats without spilling their wine or tripping on their heels is kinda the funniest thing you’ll ever see.”
The race can be run over whatever distance seems right for your guests. Prizes are optional and can range from bragging rights to special privileges at the party to actual prizes.
While state and local authorities may frown on organized wagering, and we certainly wouldn’t encourage anyone to break the law, a little friendly competition with prizes can get party-goers far more interested and invested in the race’s outcome. Probably the easiest way is for participants to draw horses’ names, paying a small amount for each name they take, and whoever has the winning name at the end of the race wins the money everyone has paid in. Or divide it up for first, second and third place horses.
So now you’re equipped to have your own Kentucky Derby Party. Just remember that you should be sober enough for brunch with mom for Mother’s Day the next morning.
Thanks to our ladies: Krista Miller of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Beth McKibben, freelance food writer; Amy Norton King, ATL food-tweeter and urban farmer; and Laura Scholz, freelance food writer.