Exploring Paducah's Outstanding Food & Drink Scene
When we think of important hubs for artists and creative culture, big cities like New York or Los Angeles come to mind. But certain small towns, such as Paducah, Kentucky, are also meccas for innovative thinkers, and in 2013 Paducah was recognized as a UNESCO Creative City.
When you dine in Paducah, or drop into a tap room for a tasty drink, you’ll discover that the town’s innovation and artistry extend to its restaurants, breweries and other eateries. Throughout the city, you’ll not only find a diverse collection of barbecue joints, but also contemporary cafes, such as Highwater Fresh Bar, serving fresh, locally sourced food. From Midtown to Downtown, you’ll encounter craft breweries, fine Italian cuisine and inventive creations. Whether you’re a casual traveler or a foodie, you’ll find plenty to please your palate in Paducah.
No small town can claim to be part of “the South” without a solid barbecue tradition. In Paducah there are several local barbecue joints, and each offers the classics plus unique innovations, like pulled pork on toast at Harned’s Drive-In, the hash brown casserole at Backwoods BBQ, and the blend of barbecue and soul food at Big Ed's. When you’re in town, try the pit-style pork at Starnes Barbeque, which often tops the lists of “best BBQ in Kentucky.” In addition to its barbecue, Starnes is known for its vinegar-based sauce, which has a little kick thanks to a touch of black pepper, cayenne, and other spices.
Barbeque is so beloved in Paducah that for three days in September, the aroma of smoking meat fills the air as more than 50 teams cook about 60 tons of chicken and pork at the annual BBQ on the River Tournament & Pig Out. Every team sponsors a favorite charity, and the event involves copious amount of eating for serious foodies. Don’t miss it!
While barbecue is a big deal in Paducah, catfish is also popular, especially at the family-owned Strickland’s Seafood Restaurant, located about 30 miles from Kentucky and Barkley lakes. As you’re waiting for your catfish to arrive at the table, try the fried alligator appetizer.
If you’re going to celebrate The Year of Kentucky food, you should definitely try some of western Kentucky’s classics, including country ham, Silver Queen white sweetcorn and Kentucky Wonder green beans, which are beans cooked with bacon, olive oil and garlic on the menu at Kentucky Dam Village. You’ll find takes on classic local ingredients throughout Paducah!
For an iconic Paducah culinary experience head to Kirchhoff’s Bakery, one of many locally-owned restaurants in Historic Downtown that have been popular for ages. For five generations Kirchhoff’s has been delighting loyal customers with classic bread recipes and modern innovations such as cranberry walnut and sun-dried tomato and basil breads.
Walk two minutes from Kirchoff’s and you’ll reach Cynthia’s California Tuscan Ristorante, which not only serves tasty Italian cuisine, but also crafts its own pastas and breads.
New on the Scene
While Paducah has food traditions that span generations, the artistic vibe that permeates town culture has inspired a fresh, innovative culinary scene. This is especially evident at the Freight House farm-to-table restaurant and the re-imagined historic Coca-Cola Plant, which has been transformed into a hub for food, the arts and unique businesses.
The Freight House proudly honors area farmers and producers by sourcing the bulk of its ingredients within a day’s drive of the restaurant. Plus, it rotates the menu based on what’s in season. While it’s hard to pin down what’s being served at any given time, there are a couple of Kentucky classics you should try to order, such as the spicy beer cheese and the Kentucky silver carp, which is served with local mushrooms and warm bacon onion jam. And, to top off the experience, diners are surrounded by a collection of artwork produced by local and national artists.
Built in 1939, Paducah’s Coca-Cola plant was once a showcase facility for the company, but it eventually closed and the historic building sat vacant for about seven years. New owners restored this essential element of the town’s past and breathed new life into it by turning it into a vibrant community hub. In addition to a Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurant, The Coke Plant now houses a variety of other commercial and artistic ventures, including a yoga studio, a string music lesson studio, Piper's Tea & Coffee and the Dry Ground Brewing Company.
Another great new addition to Paducah’s food scene is Branch Out Foods, which focuses on plant-based and gluten-free foods. It’s perfect if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, or if you have food allergies. If you're in the mood for Italian food, check out Pizza Warehouse, where you can enjoy a relaxed setting and homemade breads, pastas and desserts.
In Paducah you can also take advantage of new fine-dining options, such as Grill 211, which gets rave reviews for its fresh beef and seafood (try the firecracker shrimp).
As the first craft brewery in Paducah, Dry Ground Brewing Company has been a lynch pin in the town’s culinary scene. Priding themselves on their superb craftsmanship, the Dry Ground brewers offer 10 in-house brews and 25 other craft favorites on tap. As part of its community building role in the inspirational Coke building, Dry Ground also hosts entertainment several nights each week, so check out the schedule while in town to see what’s happening.
A new bourbon bar has opened up in historic downtown, Barrel & Bond, which features bourbon selections from over 1,000 different distilleries.
Another great spot to try local craft brew is Paducah Beer Werks, which produces crowd-pleasing small batches such as Vanilla Bean Porter, a cherry chocolate stout, Irvin Cobb’s Rooster Rye, and Blueberry Ale. Stop in an enjoy a flight and a delectable casual meal in the dining room, a local favorite.
All types of artisan drinks have joined Paducah’s creative scene, including legal moonshines and, of course, bourbon. If you’re an aficionado of American whisky, the Silent Brigade Distillery should be on your itinerary. Silent Brigade hand-crafts bourbon the old fashioned way in specially designed copper pot stills and offers an innovative line of spirits, including the tantalizingly named Apple Pie and Peach and Apple Moonshine.
Honoring the long tradition of Kentucky moonshine makers, Paducah Distilled Spirits (formerly known as The Moonshine Company) has stormed onto the scene of craft beverages. In the four years since opening its doors, the distiller has won nine medals for its moonshine and two consumer choice awards. In addition to a fine selection of more traditional flavors, The Moonshine Company also offers some charming options, such as Loaded Lemonade, the buttery pecan flavor of Blind Squirrel and the Quilter’s Special, which is made with real yellow and white peaches.
Paducah's award-winning Purple Toad Winery is the ideal place to finish off a day of sightseeing and adventure. The largest and most medaled of Kentucky’s wineries, Purple Toad has a reputation of pleasing all types of folks, including people who don’t normally drink. Just a handful of its innovative flavors include Chocolate Strawberry, Cranberry, Lauren's Blackberry, and Paducah Peach.
Throughout The Year of Kentucky Food and beyond, you’ll find no shortage of events and special occasions to explore the state’s fine traditions, from fine wines to bourbons and beers, and new and traditional takes on iconic dishes. If you’re planning a culinary tour, be sure to include a stop in Paducah, where the food and drink scene is yet another prized work of art.
Originally written by Lisa Collard for RootsRated Media in partnership with Kentucky Tourism.