We hit the road for Kentucky and Indiana again two years later to see another significant Lincoln-related sight, visit our Bloomington friends, and, of course, sample more regional food specialties.
Rather than driving straight through, as we did in 2010, we stopped in Pittsburgh for the night. One of my closest friends lives there with his family, and he lined up dinner that evening at a downtown Pittsburgh Italian restaurant; Joe Mama’s, which was forced out of business when that section of town was redeveloped.
After sharing a fried calamari appetizer and slicing off a chunk from a humongous meatball, I enjoyed shrimp-topped linguini.
Before hopping back on the turnpike heading west the following morning, we stopped for breakfast at a small Pittsburgh chain that I’ve grown very fond of over the years; Pamela’s. Whenever the latest list of the nation’s best pancakes hits the Internet, you can bet Pamela’s will be on there. They are thin enough to pass for European style; perhaps just a tad thicker than crepes, and with delightfully crispy edges. My wife ordered them filled with strawberries, while I went for plain cakes with Pamela’s homemade corned beef hash on the side. The hash could have used more meat, but there was no improvement needed or desired for the pancakes.
Our next stop as we made our way out to Bloomington, Indiana, was a big one for me. I wrote about Henry’s of West Jefferson, Ohio in a past post. They were a former gas station that was converted into an eye-sore diner that just happened to serve some of the best pie to be found anywhere in the United States; that is until they tragically closed a few years ago.
The first thing to look for when entering Henry’s was their pie board, which let you know the available flavors. The day’s pies were also laid out for viewing on a table behind the counter.
There was not a huge selection left by Henry’s standards, but we were more than satisfied to share slices of meringue-topped coconut-cream, blackberry and custard pies.
While the custard was disappointing, the crust for the blackberry pie was otherworldly in terms of both texture and flavor. I hadn’t had a better pie crust before then and haven’t had any since. Yet that wasn’t the highlight of our pie trio. That honor belonged to the coconut-cream. I had never had such good cream pie of any flavor before this stop at Henry’s. The coconut filling was fresh-baked custard; not the instant pudding you get from some places. The difference it made was obvious from the first bite.
We left Henry’s on a pie high and drove straight through to Bloomington, Indiana, where we stayed at the home of close friends.
The next day, we returned to Gray Bros. Cafeteria in Mooresville, Indiana, for another crowd-beating early lunch. This time around, I went with the fried chicken that I enjoyed so much the first time we visited Gray Bros. in 2006. I love their porky green beans, which I had on the side with gravy-covered mashed potatoes and another wonderful yeast roll. My wife and her friend shared an absolutely massive breaded pork tenderloin. They usually are served in sandwich form, but this one came sans the roll and topped with gravy. There was more than enough for me to sample it.
For dessert, I opted for Indiana’s state pie, sugar-cream, which is as simple as it sounds. Yet what it lacks in complexity, it more than makes up for in flavor. I also sampled my wife’s slice of stellar butterscotch-cream pie, which I would come to appreciate even more keenly during a 2019 visit to Gray Bros..
Our visit to Bloomington was a short one this time around, as we had an agenda to fill in Kentucky.
I wrote about our stop at Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home in part one of this report. In 2012, we visited the Great Man’s birthplace, which is roughly an hour south of Louisville, in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Although the cabin in which he was born and lived his first few years no longer exists, there is a symbolic log cabin inside a fairly spectacular memorial building, which sits high atop a flight of steps, overlooking the complex. Seeing it was a very moving experience for me, as Lincoln is one of my favorite historical figures.
Sightseeing makes me hungry. There weren’t a lot of good options in the vicinity of Lincoln’s birthplace, but I did find an interesting-looking restaurant a relatively short drive from there while doing my pre-trip research. The Whistle Stop of Glendale, Kentucky, features a nice array of regional specialties.
My wife opted for a Hot Brown sandwich, which sets a high standard in terms of richness, while I went with a healthy portion of genuine country ham with biscuits and red-eye gravy; the primary ingredient of which is coffee. I also tried what was billed as Kentucky-style sugar cream pie for dessert, but the photo I took of it didn’t turn out well.
This was hardcore country ham. It had an extra rugged texture and was extremely salty. That combination can be heaven for those who love this Southern delicacy. I had idealized this style of ham after reading Jane and Michael Stern, the gurus of roadfood, wax poetic about it a number of times over the years. But the version served at The Whistle Stop was a bit too intense for me. I would find country ham that was more to my liking at our next major stop.
And that next stop was the Beaumont Inn of Harrodsburg, Kentucky, which is a little ways southwest of Lexington. I had initially discovered the Beaumont Inn on the late Holly Moore’s food-travel site, hollyeats.com. He called their country ham the best he ever had, and he sampled a lot of country ham in his day. That was all the inspiration I needed to make arrangements for us to spend a night there. The Inn itself is a stately, beautiful old building that sits on a large, scenic property, which my wife and I explored during our stay. There is both a casual tavern and a more formal dining room at the Beaumont. We had a light dinner that I neglected to photograph at the tavern after arriving during the evening. The main event was lunch in the formal dining room the following day.
And to start that lunch, we were served light and flavorful yeast rolls, which I only seem to see when we visit Kentucky and southern Indiana. I wish they were more easily available in the Philly region.
My wife opted for bourbon corn chowder and had no complaints. I knew what I would order months before arriving in Harrodsburg; the classic Beaumont Inn combination of country ham and fried chicken. The portion was a bit smaller than what they serve at dinner, but there was more than enough to eat with the green beans and wonderful corn pudding I had on the side.
As one would expect in Kentucky, the fried chicken was excellent. But the highlight of this meal was the country ham. Holly Moore was right. This was unlike any other country ham I’ve had before or since. It is aged for two years before being served to the Inn’s guests and was more tender and less salty than any I had tried previously; which was a very good thing in my estimation. Its flavor was nothing short of heavenly.
The Beaumont Inn, by the way, received a James Beard Foundation America’s Classic award in 2015. I would love to visit there again for another sample of that wonderful ham.
It was time to head home after checking out of the Inn. And this time, I can confirm that we stopped at my beloved Summit Diner in Somerset, Pennsylvania along the way. I have the photos to prove it.
My wife had a breakfast plate, sans meat, while I went with one of my Summit stand-bys, an egg, cheese and meat – ham this time – sandwich on an English muffin. I followed that up with coconut-cream pie, which was not in the same league as the slice I had at Henry’s, but was still a great way to finish off another enjoyable vacation.
We would return to Indiana the following year. I’ll report on that tomorrow.