I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that part of our enjoyment in travelling is finding great local places to eat. Although we didn’t have a lot of time in Kentucky, here are some great local finds from our snowy week in the state.
Turtlelini’s | Horse Cave, Kentucky
When you’re driving from Lexington to Bowling Green the day after a marathon, and all you want is cheese and carbs because you’re still hungry/recovering from the marathon, and your spouse checks Yelp for “pizza” and finds a little place called “Turtlelini’s” located in a town called “Horse Cave” you have, in my opinion, a moral obligation to detour 10 miles off the highway to try it. And when you do detour, finding yourself in a typical small country town, you’ll be very grateful that you followed your internal compass to come here.
For one thing, you weren’t alone in making the journey. Mike Rowe’s been here. Sally Struther’s been here. The guys from American Pickers have been here. My husband and I have been here (and we are kind of big deals). And now you will have been here.
I really want to know how Turtlelini’s got its name – I know that it’s a new iteration of the former Snappy’s (which also featured turtles in its decor and branding, but WHY?!?), but I’m dying to know if turtles swarm in the area or something. Anyway, who cares? What you do care about is that they make all of their pizza from scratch. The ingredients are fresh. The flavor is great. The staff is friendly and super nice.
We wished we could have had the buffet, but it was only offered at lunch. Instead we ordered a regular supreme pizza. It was the perfect size for 2 people to share – 8 slices, but not super huge. More like the equivalent of 2 normal slices of pizza. The toppings were plentiful. The sauce was applied lightly – tasting more like freshly topped tomatoes than a heavy sauce. Soooo good.
You’ll be eating with the town regulars. It feels both like the best small town pizza you could ever have and a place where everyone knows your name.
Smokey Pig Bar-B Q | Bowling Green, Kentucky
There’s no question you have to stop at a restaurant offering the “best bar-b-q around.” Knowing that every state offers a variation on barbecue, we were curious to learn what made Kentucky’s worth eating.
Driving up to a very small, dive-ish joint is always a great sign – they surely are cooking something great inside.
The order window is just that: A window. There’s not a ton on the menu. In our opinion, that’s a good sign. Focus on doing what you do well and leave the fancy cooking to the other restaurants. You’re a barbecue joint.
I ordered the pulled pig sandwich with slaw and mac and cheese. The pork was tender and slightly vinegary – the same was true for the slaw. The mac was basic and unfancy. Good all around.
Kelly ordered the ribs with a side of beans and potato salad. The sides were standard – nothing special to report there. The ribs, however, were WOW. He hit the barbecue jackpot – tender rib meat, tasty sauce. Winner, winner, winner.
The Old Talbott Tavern | Bardstown, Kentucky
There’s a special place in my heart for the Old Talbott Tavern. Yes, it’s super old – built in 1779 – and I’m a sucker for historic properties. But what makes it all the more memorable for me is 1) they were the only Bardstown restaurant open on a very snowy bitterly cold day in Kentucky, 2) they opened with just 3 people to staff the restaurant and kitchen and still did an amazing job, and 3) our server/bartender/new friend in Bardstown went out of her way to be kind to two downhearted snow-bound travellers.
Maybe that’s why the Old Talbott Tavern has been open for 237 years. Quality service is ingrained.
First – you have to love a place that’s been around forever, hosting not-yet-presidents (Jackson, Harrison and Lincoln), historical figures of note (Boone, Audubon and Patton) and survived a shoot up from a drunk Jesse James that left bullet holes in the wall.
You can ask the staff to give you access to the hotel’s upstairs so you can explore the rooms used by these – and many other – guests, see the bullet holes for yourself, as well as the remains of historic murals. They’ve done a great job of posting historic information signs throughout the property, allowing you to read and learn as you walk around.
Now – for the food. As I mentioned, we were depressed (plus we hadn’t eaten all day). And when depressed, it’s best to order carbs and cheese and bacon. Trust me on this. The loaded cheese fries hit the spot.
Next we tried the Burgoo. We’d never heard of burgoo, but our helpful server/bartender/friend told us it was a traditional Kentucky stew, found only in Kentucky. Apparently it was first made by a cook at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. It contains a variety of meat (chicken, pork, beef) and vegetables and usually has a fairly spicy flavor. What exactly it contains and how exactly it’s made vary from cook to cook and, like a good barbecue, is the source of much family pride and state debate. In any case, we enjoyed the Old Talbott Tavern’s version. It hit the spot on a cold day and was a perfect serving size as an appetizer.
For our main dishes – again, please note that we hadn’t eaten all day – Kelly stuck with a basic burger. It was good.
I was more adventurous and tried the Hot Brown, another Kentucky dish. It’s an open-faced sandwich (Talbott’s was turkey), topped with a Parmesan-cheese based sauce, more cheese, a tomato slice and bacon. I had no idea what to expect when I ordered the Hot Brown, only that I needed to try Kentucky’s signature sandwich. Now that I’ve had it, I don’t ever have to have it again. While I do like cheese and I like open faced sandwiches, I found the Hot Brown to be far too rich for my taste.
We ended our meal with a bourbon flight. If you can’t get to any distilleries for tastings because of a snowstorm, this is the way to redeem the day.
Mammy’s Kitchen | Bardstown, Kentucky
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And one of our favorite meals to eat while travelling is breakfast – it’s a great time for “local spotting” because we’re early birds and usually hit local joints when old men are just arriving for a cup of coffee and conversation. Mammy’s in Bardstown is that kind of place.
It’s also the kind of place that serves wayyyyyy too much food. Like a side pancake that’s as big as a plate.
And two sausage patties with your eggs that alone would feed a small hungry army.
Particularly if you consider the size of the sausage chunks in your biscuits and gravy. (Which is delicious, by the way.)
And then you realize how dumb you were for ordering two breakfasts instead of just one to share. Not to mention the regret you feel that you can’t possibly eat everything because it just tastes so darn good. #breakfastgoals