For the past eleven years we had the “Best Derby Day Gala Ever” right here in the Star City of the South, Roanoke Virginia. Sadly, the Covid-19 caused the cancellation of the 2020 Derby Day Gala at Rockledge, but we still have lots of very happy memories. I had the honor of serving on our Derby Day Gala at Rockledge Committee. Each year we would say it would be the BEST Derby Day Gala EVER (and it was!) and here’s why:
Our gala was known as one of the “Best Kentucky Derby Galas Outside Louisville Kentucky”. We had the most spectacular venue – Rockledge – the magnificent home of Drs. Nancy and Kevin Dye – on Mill Mountain in Roanoke, Virginia. The Dyes graciously opened up their home to us and the party spilled out onto the lawn where we would enjoy the “most exciting two minutes in sports” (horse race) and end the evening dancing to live music under the stars. Magical!
The ladies arrived at the Derby Gala wearing the most fabulous hats! Rockledge overlooks the Roanoke Valley with a beautiful panoramic view, so the lawn looked like flowers in bloom with the rainbow of colorful hats decorating the pretty ladies heads.
Our Gala was known for the fabulous food served at the event. A portion of the proceeds from the Gala went to the Southwest Chapter of the American Culinary Federation who prepared delicious and delightful Derby themed food. Specialties included Shrimp and Grits, Beef Tenderloin Rolls, Hot Browns, Ham Biscuits, Bourbon Pecan Derby Pie, Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilee.
Lucky Bar! Hunter Johnson and his team provided a fabulous bar offering specialty cocktails (traditional Mint Juleps were also served). Hunter owns the fabulous restaurant Lucky in downtown Roanoke.
Hunter’s French 95 Cocktail Recipe
1 oz. Evan Williams Black Bourbon (I used my new favorite bourbon Ragged Branch Signature Bourbon for this recipe. It’s local!)
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
3 oz. Cava Sparkling Wine
Combine the bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup and orange bitters in a shaker with crushed ice and shake well. Now strain into a champagne coupe, then finish by pouring the champagne or sparkling wine on top and adding a cherry.
I added a jumbo fresh mint ice cube (pack chopped fresh spearmint into jumbo ice cube trays and fill with water/freeze) to my French 95 cocktails.
Cheers to all of the hard-working committee members and generous people in our community members who always made our Derby Day Galas – THE BEST EVER! Thank you!