WORTH THE TRIP
Great food at hidden, unexpected places across Kentucky
Whether it’s fried catfish or made-from-scratch pastas or pies, some of Kentucky’s best food is being served up in unexpected places—in small towns and along two-lane byways—proving when the food’s good enough, no one minds the drive to get there.
At The Lighthouse Restaurant in tiny Sulphur Well, folks come from miles around to feast on the restaurant’s famous all-you-can-eat country ham, chicken, and catfish dinners served family-style.
“People tell us whenever they’re anywhere near Kentucky during their travels, they make a point of coming here to eat,” says manager Tammy Deckard. The iconic restaurant, which is served by Farmers RECC, has been a landmark in Metcalfe County since 1968; Deckard’s family has owned it since the mid-1980s.
The Deckard family’s “secret” breading recipe leaves many first-time customers raving that their catfish is the best they’ve ever tasted. But their down-home, country-style sides like lima beans, boiled potatoes, and homemade cole slaw, as well as the made-fresh-daily coconut, butterscotch, and chocolate cream pies, are just as much of a draw for repeat customers.
In far western Kentucky, in Mayfield, chef Mark Madrey has transformed an unassuming little white house on Highway 45 into Chow 45—a unique, contemporary American restaurant that, since its opening in May 2010, has made a name for itself serving innovative dishes like bacon-wrapped sea scallops and Dijon-encrusted rack of lamb.
“I’ve been in fine dining for more than 20 years,” says Madrey, a Mayfield native who decided to return home to open his first restaurant after working in others’ establishments for decades. “I wanted to incorporate some of the types of foods that I’d been doing, but make it more accessible to everyday eating. We want to take the words ‘fine dining’ away and replace them with ‘good food.’”
Patrons routinely drive from as far as Murray and Paducah to enjoy Madrey’s famous crab cakes as well as the restaurant’s signature desserts (there are always 10-20 to choose from), including crème brûlée, Chocolate Eruption Cheesecake, and Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding.
Chef Matt Buschle’s Virgils Café in quaint Bellevue was featured on an episode of The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives show. (Show host Guy Fieri gave his ettouffee major props.) Buschle feeds some 1,200-1,800 people in his 45-seat restaurant every week. From sausage to pastrami, to breads, pastas, dressings, and rubs, nearly everything is made fresh.
But if you plan to go to Virgils, be sure to make reservations—and don’t expect a “quiet table.”
“There are no quiet tables here,” Buschle jokes. “This is not the library. We’re a high-energy, tiny little restaurant. It’s all about being connected, enjoying good food, and good conversation.”
If it’s finger-licking good barbecue you’re after, make the trek to The B B Que Shack, located right outside of Hopkinsville, near the industrial parks.
Owner Cheryl Blake bought the business in April 2007, but The B B Que Shack, served by Pennyrile Electric cooperative, has been a beacon for barbecue lovers in the area for three decades. Their mutton, pulled pork, and huge, 1-inch-thick pork chops draw dine-in and take-out customers from all over western Kentucky.
About 40 miles to the east, in Russellville, also served by Pennyrile Electric, you’ll find another great barbecue joint called Roy’s Pit Bar-B-Q. Also in business for nearly three decades, patrons praise the smokiness of Roy’s meats and delicious beans.
But if you’ve got a hankering for a great hamburger or classic po-boy sandwich that comes with a sweeping, panoramic view of central Kentucky horse farms that can’t be beat, make the drive out Paris Pike to Windy Corner Market in rural Fayette County.
Windy Corner’s owner Ouita Michel keeps Kentucky Proud products front and center on its menu. (Michel’s acclaimed Wallace Station restaurant near Midway has also been featured on an episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.)
The market offers several seafood selections, an oyster basket and catfish and shrimp po-boys, that are among their biggest sellers. And for breakfast, Windy Corner’s general manager Frank Bickel swears by their breakfast burrito, made from local, farm-fresh eggs, local sausage, and Kentucky-produced Kenny’s Farmhouse cheeses.
“It’s local flavor that just blows you away,” Bickel says.
And at the end of the day, it’s great local flavor that keeps patrons coming back—no matter how far the trip.
Other great spots featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives include: Rick’s White Light Diner, located in Frankfort, specializing in local, organic beef burgers, oyster and shrimp po-boys, and Rick’s famous crawfish pie; Smokey Valley Truck Stop in Olive Hill, where locals love to go for home-cooked favorites like fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and fresh-made coconut cream pie; and J.J. McBrewster’s—which serves up authentic western Kentucky style barbecue—and the 1950s-era Parkette Drive-In—famous for its chicken, fish, and shrimp boxes—both in Lexington.
There’s no way we can list all the great eateries in Kentucky, but we invite you to complete the list by e-mailing us your favorites (see below).
For great eats that are worth the drive, stop by one of these celebrated, locally owned Kentucky restaurants. Several have gained national attention on the popular Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.
Still, we know this featured list below doesn’t begin to cover all the great diners across the state. That’s why we’re encouraging readers to write in with your suggestions of other great spots to eat in Kentucky. (No chain restaurants, please.) E-mail the restaurant’s name, address, phone number, and your name and favorite dish there to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll add your suggestions to this story as posted online at KentuckyLiving.com; just type “Destinations Diners” (use quote marks) in the Article Search box to locate the entire list.
DDD indicates the restaurant has been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.
The B B Que Shack
4687 Pembroke Road
Hopkinsville, KY 42240
1102 Paducah Road (Hwy. 45)
Mayfield, KY 42066
DDD J.J. McBrewster’s
3101 Clays Mill Road #301
Lexington, KY 40503
The Lighthouse Restaurant
1500 Sulphur Well-Knob Lick Road (Hwy. 70)
Edmonton, KY 42129
DDD Parkette Drive-In
1230 E. New Circle Road
Lexington, KY 40505
DDD Rick’s White Light Diner
114 Bridge Street
Frankfort, KY 40601
Roy’s Pit Bar-B-Q
101 Sara Lane
Russellville, KY 42276
DDD Smokey Valley Truck Stop
60 Bond Court
Olive Hill, KY 41164
DDD Virgils Café
710 Fairfield Ave.
Bellevue, KY 41073
DDD Wallace Station
3854 Old Frankfort Pike
Versailles, KY 40383
Windy Corner Market
4595 Bryan Station Road
Lexington, KY 40516
Diners recommended by readers
The Gathering Place
My favorite diner is The Gathering Place in Elkton. The friendly atmosphere makes it a favorite where friends gather to enjoy homestyle cooking. My favorite is their southern fried chicken, cold slaw and fries. Top that off with their famous sugar-free cheesecake, which is so smooth it almost melts in your mouth. The Gathering Place is located at 107 N. Main Street, just off the Square in Elkton, owned and operated by a local person, Pam Markham. Their phone number is (270) 265-9144. Don't take my word for it, come and see for yourself.—Alma M.
Rincon's Mexican Restaurant
Our favorite place to eat is Rincon's Mexican Restaurant in Bardstown, KY, (502) 349-0049,204 N 3rd St. Bardstown, KY 40004.
A favorite meal is hard to say. Flatas Verdes is the spinach meal I like to eat. My husband favors the fish tacos. They have a great Wellness Menu I eat from too. We also love their Seafood Fajitas for two.—Deb M.
216 E Main St (P.O. Box 158)
Glendale, KY 42740
Favorite for lunch: Bean Soup with Hot Ham and Cheese. Favorite for dinner: Prime Pork Steak. Favorite side: Fried Green Tomatoes. Favorite dessert: every single one!—Robert H.
My favorite dish here is the pulled pork bbq (It comes on cornbread! Yumm!) with escalloped apples as the side.—Julie P.
Da Vinci Little Italian Restaurant
Da Vinci Little Italian Restaurant, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Da-Vinci-Little-Italian-Restaurant/189300081081586?sk=info,
is very good. We don’t eat out much since we’re very choosy diners but their chef can rock an Italian dish. We always start with the Calamari Fritti and Mussels a la Diavola with garlic red sauce. Then we split a entrée (there are so many we haven’t tried yet).—Carol M.
Dorsie's Dairy Bar
667 South Mayo Trail
Pikeville, Ky. 41501
Dorsie's Dairy Bar has been a Pikeville tradition for over 50 years! It is locally owned and operated by the Reynolds family. Irene Reynolds Fields is the current owner and she continues to work there on a six day a week basis. Favorites? So many...."Best in the Valleys" hot dogs with homemade chili and coleslaw, hamburgers, especially the "Dorsie" burgers with grilled onions and pickles, milk shakes, and so much more! Consistent quality at a fair price with great service!—Amy D.
Mingles Out by the Lake
Our new favorite restaurant is Mingles Out by the Lake (formerly Double D's) by Barren Lake. The owner and chef Keith Mingle does wonderful catfish and Southern cooking. We have started
eating there once or twice a week.
Mingles Out by the Lake
2348 Barren River Dam Rd. (HWY 252)
Scottsville, KY 42164
Jewell's on Main
I would like to give the name of the best diner in Warsaw. It is Jewell’s on Main, 100 East Main Street, Warsaw, KY 41095, telephone number is (859) 567-1793. My favorite dish is the Bourbon Chicken. It comes with red potatoes sautéed with caramelized onions and Southern-style green beans. It is awesome, but I have never had anything at Jewell’s that has not been delicious.—Martha S.
We go to a live country music show in Edmonton two Saturday nights of every month. This requires us to pass through Lebanon. We are ADDICTED to Henning's Restaurant there. It is a restaurant located in the clubhouse of the golf course. They have wonderful food and great service. They serve the absolute best homemade onion rings we have ever eaten. We always think we will try a new restaurant, but we just can't pull ourselves away from that good food and "to-die-for" onion rings! Their address: Henning's Restauran, 520 Fairway Drive, Lebanon, KY 40033, (270-692-6843)—Marylou C.
I am a resident of Franklin, KY, where we haven't had many choices of good places to eat outside of fast food. Due to the economy, more than a few sit-down restaurants have come and gone through our little town in just a matter of months. Just last weekend my family and I had a birthday celebration for my brother. My sister-in-law suggested one of his favorite places, Townhouse Restaurant, 110 South Main St., Franklin, KY 42134, (270) 586-7447. It has changed hands a few times but this time around they got it right for a small-town diner. The homestyle food is delicious! The service is excellent and prices are extremely reasonable. I had the pulled pork sandwich. Both my brother and my friend Miriam recommend the omelet for me to try on my next visit. I am definately going back!—Pam G.
2Kates Cafe, L&R
The 2 Kates Cafe in downtown Elkton is a Kentucky Proud business that should definitely be a Kentucky eating destination. A Reuben sandwich with their homemade special sauce, the 2 Kates salad, chicken almond casserole, fruit tea, Gran's chocolate cake, various homemade pies, and cake are just a few of the delicious items available for the unique dining experience. The cafe is in a restored historic building on the square. Along with the cafe are antiques, Kentucky-made artisan and food products, as well as original art for purchase. The owner, K. Michelle Johns, has appeared numerous times on the Nashville, Tennessee, television show Talk of the Town showcasing some of her recipes.
Across the square is L&R ice cream and soda shop with a retro interior. Also one cannot miss Hampton's Dairy Mart, it is a real drive-in restaurant that provides that flashback to your youth. The banana milkshakes are made with real bananas.—S.G.
Mingles Out by the Lake
We have been to Mingles Out by the Lake in Scottsville several times. Each time the food was great. They have a variety of food from burger's to roast beef. Stop by sometime and enjoy yourself.—Doris A.
Earl G Dumplin's
1707 Old Gallatin Rd.
Scottsville, KY 42164
My favorite dish is the catfish followed up with homemade coconut cream pie. Great food, friendly service, and you never leave hungry.—Rick C.
Green Valley Restaurant
Newly reopened by Dan & Angie McGrew Jr., they have live music and a family enviroment. Located 503 East Highway 60, Irvington, KY 40146.