Damaris Phillips captured the spotlight of a food-obsessed nation when she won season nine of Food Network Star, but before finding fame, Damaris graduated from Louisville’s Jefferson Community & Technical College with a Culinary Arts degree. An alum of well-loved 610 Magnolia, Harvest, and Wiltshire as well as Highland Coffee, she now teaches Advanced Baking and Cost and Control at her alma mater.
We caught her between travels and celebrations and got the vivacious chef to dish on her hometown favorites.
Judge Bobby Flay told the Food Network, "I love that Damaris is from the South. She has that Kentucky flavor, so hopefully there will be lots of bourbon in the food." So that’s where we started.
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Best Bourbons: Feast BBQ has an amazing bourbon selection. It’s over in New Albany, which is hilarious because it’s [across the Ohio River] in Indiana. The chef, Ryan Rogers, has one of the most beautiful bourbon collections. You gotta love Ryan. He has some really expensive bourbons, and some you’ve never heard of. And it doesn’t hurt that the barbecue is fantastic!
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Best Brews: If I’m going to drink beer I go to Holy Grale—they are so knowledgeable. There’s so much talent in that little bitty kitchen. I usually get their specials. They are so exciting, just because of the amount of talent, that I can’t resist. And I love their beer garden.
Best Breakfast: If I’m up early, I start every single day at Highland Coffee. I can even skip breakfast, but the thing I cannot skip is a cup of coffee. Because I worked there for a decade, I cannot make coffee at home that tastes as good. I tried every single thing on the menu when I worked there, and I still just order coffee. They change it every day, so it’s always a different roast.
Best All-Around Restaurant: My absolute favorite restaurant is Queen of Sheba. I go at least once a week. I always get the vegetarian combo. It’s a great date place because it feels kind of sexy and interesting, and it’s super affordable.
Best Fancy Dinner Restaurant: I love Mayan Cafe. I’ve loved Bruce Ucan’s food since I was in my early 20s. I think of it as fancy because this used to be my really fancy dinner place, and it’s stuck with me. So when I feel like I want a treat, that’s where I go—it’s the lima beans, they’re insane. I got six orders in a carryout once. They’re amazing, I’ve tried to recreate them—I don’t know what he puts in them. It must be magic. He just has the touch.
Don’t-Miss Dish: If you want a Southern dish, the grits are amazing at Proof. They’ve done a good job of featuring regional dishes that are done really well. If I’m sending someone from out of town to dinner, I send them to Proof. For those who are a bit adventurous and want really, really good food that’s less upscale, I recommend this little hole-in-the-wall place called Hammerheads.
Best Karaoke: Patrick’s on Frankfort Avenue has karaoke on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. It is my all-time favorite karaoke place to go on Saturday night. I try to bring something new each time. I have a list on my phone of potential karaoke songs—I have a whole lot, this is pretty funny: "Getting Jiggy With It" by Will Smith, "Forbidden Fruit," "Hells Bells" by AC/DC, and in all capital letters, "TAYLOR SWIFT SONGS."
Best for Boogying: I love to go on Thursday night to Jim Porter’s for swing dancing. They do a free class from 7-8 pm, and then they do open dance for $2 and you call it night—drinks for $2!
A Meal with a View: We had the Food Network Star viewing parties at Molly Malone’s. They have that beautiful rooftop deck; it was the perfect spot. They’re so gracious about their space and the bartenders are so nice. My gentleman is a vegetarian and the chef there is a vegetarian, so the menu reflects that. I almost always tell vegetarians to go to Molly’s.
Hippest Hood: I grew up in Old Louisville, but I went to high school in the Highlands and I worked there for 10 years. It’s a good walking neighborhood with lots of little shops—you can start walking and for two miles you’ll see places that you can go and find things you wouldn’t find anywhere else. It has an arty feel, with bars, restaurants, bookstores, and tattoo parlors all in one spot. It feels pretty young and hip, but it’s not too sterile. You’re going to see a little bit of grit, which I appreciate.
Chill Spots: I like to have a bottle of wine on the patio at Seviche on Sunday night. And I love that summer concert series in Willow Park on Sunday nights where you can dance. I look forward to it all year.
I go to scullhouse for CrossFit and indoor rowing. For me, rowing is low impact and such a great workout. As an added bonus, they do the CrossFit. When I exercise on my own, I go to Cherokee Park and run the loop or walk the loop. Every time I do this I think, "How can this be free? How did we get so lucky that this is here for our enjoyment?"
Follow Damaris on Twitter @chefdphillips.
Photo credits: Feast BBQ courtesy of Feast BBQ; Mayan Cafe courtesy of Mayan Cafe; Proof on Main courtesy of Proof on Main