Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Kentucky Food Tales

I am in the wilds of Kentucky obsessing about food. Now, this is not really a stretch for me, since I often obsess about food--wondering hours ahead of a meal about what I am intending to eat, studying menus prior to dining out, and doing everything I can to ensure that I have options for decent dining when traveling. So, prior to taking off to what I had deemed non-culinary Kentucky and West Virginia, I made sure to pack small packages of almonds and whole meal bars, just in case emergency hit and starvation lingered a stomach growl away. I don't honestly believe I will be foodless when traveling, but I draw the line at the ubiquitous fast food palaces dotting highways, refusing to eat fries from McDonalds, even when I pretend to remember them as delicious.

On our inaugural drive from the Louisville airport to our first destination, Morehead, Kentucky, Nan had scouted out a potential find--Erma's Diner in Owingsville. When we detoured off the interstate to scenic, windy Highway 60, alleged home of Erma's, we passed nothing. At one point, when we passed a small white house that seemed very closed, Nan remarked that it looked similar to the photos she had seen posted online. And so, we continued on the road, rather hungry, resigning ourselves to the possibility that dinner might be obtained from the local travel plaza or our stash of meal bars.

But, as we turned south onto 801 toward our cabin accommodations, I shrieked with glee, waving wildly, telling Nan to look in my pointed direction. She believed danger was near, perhaps an animal in the road, but when she turned, she realized I had spotted a real live eating place--Pop's BBQ. Pulled pork and baked beans hours later, I smiled, happily fed my first night in the wilds of Kentucky. When I went to sleep that evening, I did not not know that it would be my last delicious meal near Morehead.

Our cabin contained a small refrigerator and a microwave oven, limiting the possibilities for breakfast. Since we knew that breakfast places were not in the immediate vicinity, we headed to the local market, Dollar General, assured by the host of the cabins that they would have lots of choices for us. When we entered, I immediately went to the refrigerator section, dreaming that greek yogurt might appear on the shelf, even if it contained fruit. Not only was greek yogurt missing, but any type of yogurt or any fresh fruit (not even overripe bananas) was not to be procured. Instead, I had rows of tasty cake options, mystery meat in cans, and sugary cereal. Fortunately, I am an expert at hotel room breakfast cooking, and found a package of instant oatmeal and raisins, resigning myself to a couple of days of microwaved grub.

Fortified with a bland breakfast the next morning, we took off to Flemingsburg, Kentucky, wandering back roads in search of covered bridges and parcels of land owned by Nan's ancestors. As afternoon hit, the oatmeal had become a distant stomach memory, and I began to obsess about lunch. While we wandered a cemetery, the lawn mower man and keeper of cemetery knowledge stopped and asked us if he could be of assistance. After Nan inquired a bit about family history, I asked my most urgent question: "Where can we get something to eat around here?" When he answered McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, I asked, "Is there something locally owned?" He offered us up the Stockyard Restaurant, which he had not eaten at in years, but we had passed it on the road and were intrigued. When do you get a chance to eat where the cows, pigs, chicken, and other potential slaughter are hanging out? Of course I did not think this as I entered the doors, or I certainly would have turned to the whole meal bars.

When we entered the small dining area, we were greeted with the unfamiliar mix of cigarette smoke and diners. We saw the small buffet with its choice of lasagne, beef tips, or fried chicken along with a choice of sides (macaroni and cheese, very cooked green beans, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes) and desserts, and bellied up to the trays. I chose fried chicken, assuming I'd get a heaping pile with my sides, a grease delight waiting. Instead, I got a tiny piece of fried chicken while Nan got a heaping pile of beef tips. Scarred by being dissed, certain I was discriminated against because of my short spiky butchy hair, I sat picking at my miniscule piece of dried chicken, only able to recover slightly from the bruise with bites of a tart lemon meringue pie slice. We both quickly fled the Stockyard Restaurant, swearing that we would never eat in such a place again, even if it offered cultural fodder.

Did I starve? No. I didn't even have to dig into my meal bars. And the only fast food I ate in Kentucky was a pork bbq with slaw sandwich atop a biscuit (and I did get an odd look for ordering it that way rather than on the traditional bun) at Tudor's Biscuit World.

Oh Morehead Kentucky--I like your lakes, your hills, and your uber cool coffee shop Fuzzy Duck. And if I return, I'll take all my meals at Pop's.






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