Nov 01, 2016
There was a time when Kentucky cuisine was pretty similar no matter where you went in the state. Not that it was a bad thing to have perfectly fried chicken and catfish, baked whole country ham, char-grilled locally raised beef and fresh sliced vegetables and salads in abundance. Such is the stuff on which many of our 4 million residents were raised.
But with greater exposure to culinary trends via television and the Internet, Kentucky chefs have diversified their menus substantially over the past two decades. Those changes aren’t exclusive to restaurants in the Commonwealth’s large cities either. Towns like Bowling Green and Corbin are places where young chefs are making their mark with unique creations that would pique the interest of big city restaurant patrons. Add to that the state’s fanaticism over bourbon, craft beer and cocktails, and you have a recipe for a real dining revolution.
Now don’t think the old standards have been abandoned, especially in the smallest Kentucky towns. There, you might even hear the old saying that, “If it’s not fried, it’s not food,” and upon tasting it, you won’t struggle to agree. Old habits die hard, especially when there’s no sense in seeing them go away.
Here’s a short list of the fantastic bites we found while driving through the very center of the state.
Steamer Seafood, 801 State St., Bowling Green, 270-783-2637. Founded in Hilton Head, S.C., a Bowling Green native brought this fresh seafood restaurant to Kentucky and set it inside an impressive space featuring a massive metal fish skeleton hanging from the ceiling. But if you’re at the raw bar—and you should be—you’ll be more interested in the fresh oysters shucked to order. There’s cooked seafood here, such as Frogmore stew and blackened scallops if you like it hot.
White Squirrel Brewery, 871 Broadway Ave., Bowling Green, 270-904-1573. There’s no pun intended when we write that the city is all abuzz over its first craft brewery. But the dinner menu here is equally strong and worth pursuing on its own. The nut brown braised pork sliders are topped with savory kimchee, and chili-rubbed smoked brisket tacos are served with blue corn tortillas, chimichurri, and jalapeño mayo. And how do you go wrong with those?
Home Café, 2440 Nashville Road, Suite 108, Bowling Green, 270-846-1272. The menu here lists lots of sandwiches, salads and pizzas, but those in the know look for its list of daily specials, which includes at least five offerings. The deck oven pizza here is delicious, thin, crisp and flavorful; the clever fried green tomato pizza was one of our favorites.
The Dixie Café, 208 S. Main St., Corbin, 606-523-6270. It’s hard not to love a place where the décor shouts 1970s and Lover Boy and Marvin Gaye tunes play over the sound system. Breakfast is straightforward, but delicious, and the griddle-cooked, white bread French toast, showered with confectioner’s sugar, is about as good as breakfast gets.
The Wrigley Taproom & Eatery, 207 Main St., Corbin, 606-261-5666. It would be wrong to call the Wrigley a hidden jewel despite its location in a modest town like Corbin. Locals know all about it and pack the joint to get a seat at its community tables and around its well-stocked bar. Start by nibbling on an artisan cheese and salami board or dive into the fun stuff like the loaded tots with Monterey Jack cheese, spicy peppers and barbecue sauce. If you’re lucky enough to hit Tuesday taco night, expect proteins like bourbon smoked salmon, smoked pork shoulder and fried oysters tucked into tortillas.