Five Food and Drink Options for Keeneland First-Timers

Events / Travel
Fans enjoy a day of racing at Keeneland Race Course. (Eclipse Sportswire)

You’ve heard for years that Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., is a must-visit destination if you consider yourself a fan of Thoroughbred racing. You watched the track host the Breeders’ Cup World Championships for the very first time in 2015, and heard guests chatter on NBC time and time again in between races, “Man, this place is great.” You witnessed American Pharoah soar into history amidst a picturesque backdrop and throngs of cheering fans, and said to yourself, “I have got to see this in person.”

Indulging at Keeneland. (Eclipse Sportswire)

And so you’re on your way, eager to experience one of the world’s true jewel racetracks. If you are heading to Keeneland for the spring meet or planning something in the near future, there are many things to prepare for. Perhaps the most important of those (well, after deciding which horses to bet on) is sampling the track’s top-notch dining and drinking options.

Keeneland is famous through the years for having some of the best racetrack food in North America, spanning the gamut from formal dining rooms all they way down to grandstand options. The Keeneland Association took over food services from longtime vendor Turf Catering a few years ago, but the quality hasn’t diminished one whit. Here are five food and drink options and locations for first-time visitors. These are staple selections, recommended especially for on-foot, adventurous types who have not reserved a seat in advance at one of Keeneland’s several fine dining rooms.

Find a map of the Keeneland grounds, including all their dining options, click here.

1. Corned Beef Sandwich

1. Corned Beef Sandwich

Keeneland’s carved corned beef may not receive quite as many kudos from local foodies as do their burgoo and bread pudding, but it is tender and delicious, served piled high on rye or wheat bread. Of course, Reubens are also available. You can get this at a walk-up carvery stand, on the first floor next to the paddock.
2. Burgoo

2. Burgoo

This is Keeneland’s signature stew, and for good reason. Savory meats, potatoes, peas, carrots, and just about everything else in a rib-sticking mélange … it’s best enjoyed on one of those days when the wind brings a chill and the temperature dips into the 50s, which can occur during both meets. Available at multiple locations throughout the track. (Keeneland makes a fine chili, too.)
3. Soft-Serve Ice Cream

3. Soft-Serve Ice Cream

But then there are also the days at Keeneland with sun and seasonable warmth, and when that happens there’s almost always a line at the ice cream stand. Classic soft-serve ice cream may appear easy to make, but anyone who’s tried enough of them at ballparks and county fairs knows that the range in quality is vast. Keeneland simply makes some of the best soft-serve around, and the staff always lets the ice cream churn for a couple of extra swirls, too. Available indoors on the second and third floor grandstand.
4. Mezzanine Bar and Sports Bar

4. Mezzanine Bar and Sports Bar

On weekends, especially Saturdays, these second-floor bars can be swarmed with people. But they are still the best places to order Kentucky’s signature whiskey, bourbon, and this is because of one simple reason: the staff. The bartenders at both spots are Keeneland veterans, folks who keep coming back meet after meet because the place is so popular, and that pays off to patrons in excellent service. (This is true for Keeneland’s seasonal employees in general.) Both the Mezz Bar and the Sports Bar offer several bourbons; recommended are Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace as both of their distilleries are less than 25 miles away from Keeneland.
5. Track Kitchen

5. Track Kitchen

A must-visit for those coming in for a few days, Keeneland’s track kitchen offers up hearty breakfast fare and a smorgasbord of racing memories. The dining room walls are covered with photos of some of Keeneland’s biggest stars – both human and equine – and the food is plentiful, inexpensive, and several notches above what you get at the usual cafeteria-style breakfast place. The $5 special includes scrambled eggs, sausage or bacon, a biscuit and gravy, and either fried potatoes or apples. Located on the north end of the grounds past the barns, get there just before dawn so you can take a follow-up driving tour around Keeneland’s gorgeous landscape as the sun rises. The track kitchen opens at 6 a.m. for most of the year, and at 5 a.m. during live race meet days.

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