That sign...stopped us in our tracks.
Here there! Welcome back!
We're still in Corbin, KY
Don't stare... at those red velvet chairs... as you leave the motel room. (If the chairs have you baffled, see the Day 2 blog.)
Just avert your eyes, grab your Samsonite and head with us to the motel office.
We asked the very nice - very colorful - young man behind the counter the following question.
Any place - besides the Waffle House across the street - to eat breakfast?
That's gonna be tough seeing it's Sunday...and a dry county.
Um, I get the Sunday part. But, dry county?
How's that affect breakfast? Whattya putting in those grits?
Well, there's the place across the street, that's good for breakfast, the Mexican place.
For breakfast, huh? (Hoping to hear about great huevos rancheros.)
Yep, they have beer there.
Beer. (I'm dumbfounded and need coffee.)
Yep. You see, even in a dry county, as long as the gross sales from wine and beer are less than 50% of the...
Kill... Me... Now.
It was a beautiful morning -
Not withstanding the lecture on local liquor legislation.
We headed towards Gravel Switch, KY.
Neither of us was starving and we had a lot of road to cover anyhow.
We took tiny roads and passed a funeral home that cracked me up.
There were all these folding chairs lined up along side this funeral home.
I just know my Dad woulda said,
"The chairs are for folks 'dying to get in.' "
Decrease in the caffeine level - increase in morbid humor.
The drive was really very nice.
Here are some lovely landscape shots.
Think of it as a little "scenic sorbet."
Past Time Cafe - Crab Orchard, KY
As we turned the corner Karen spotted a cafe with a sign in the window. They were open!
Quick u-turn later, we parked on the gravel out front.
Breakfast - here we come!
Too bad they were already on lunch.
Really? Still have any old gravy sitting in a pot? Old grits hanging around?
Yeah, lunch. I understand.
You know, it didn't dawn on me till this minute...how appropriate the name of that cafe was.
Our waitress was very nice and pointed out the lunch special written on the white board. Karen ordered the special which was pork steak, mashed potatoes, peas, corn, slaw and a roll. And, I think she got onion rings.
Karen was on a hand-dipped ring round-up the way I was taste-testing fried green tomatoes. And, sweet tea...but I digress.
The menu listed two kinds of onion rings: "hand dipped" and "regular." I ordered a cheeseburger, medium, with some mayo, lettuce and tomato. The waitress pointed out that they offered curly fries, steak fries and tater tots. I went with the...man, all I remember was the fantastic cheeseburger.
Let's check the replay.
Appears I ordered the rings.
You know, while I'm admitting things like my failing memory, I think I have something else to admit.
The night before, in Corbin, was only the second time in my life I had tasted sweet tea. The first was at a friend's house. He was from Georgia. Um, ok, that really wasn't the confession. Here goes nothing. The sweet tea I had the night before was...from...McDonald's. There I said it. Yes, McDonald's.
I know, I know, fer shame. But, I only went through the drive-up. And, I just couldn't resist the call of the bright yellow sign offering "Large sweet tea $1."
Her siren's song was just too tempting.
(But, it was good...)
Where were we...oh, Crab Orchard.
I think Karen liked the pork steak. I looked like it was breaded and then cooked on the flat top. Yum. She teased, offering me some, holding back the brown crunchy part for herself. Hey - can ya blame her? Not me. The peas seemed canned. Same for the corn. If I remember correctly, I think she enjoyed the mashed potatoes - real lumps.
Then there was the cheeseburger.
Where's a photo of the heavens opening with a choir of angels when I need one?
Heck, I'll just give you a close-up on the burger.
I loved this burger.
It was not overdone. Still juicy. The bun was toasted, again, flat top. It was just what I needed at that moment.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, while I had coffee, Karen had sweet tea. She loved the fact that it was just sitting in a Rubbermaid pitcher in a mini fridge by the register. Karen is quite the sweet tea connoisseur and says that the tea at this place was fresh brewed - that morning - and not overly sweet.
I took some tea to go, but all I can offer is it didn't taste like McDonald's. Hey, I'm new at the sweet tea thing. I'm learning.
A little girl a few tables over called out to the waitress, "Tina, can I have summore of suhweet tea puhlease?" I smiled. Seemed every child in Kentucky used their "please and thank you's." It was refreshing. (I actually thought she called our waitress "Dana" at first.)
Tina came by for our dessert order. Hmm. Nice pies written on the white board. I asked what she would recommend. She said the cream pies sell well.
Then I got the gumption to ask what I was truly wondering,
"Are any of them homemade?"
(Please say yes, please say yes....)
She hesitated. Not wanting to use the word no. Then it hit her and she smiled.
"Well the chocolate cake is made right here."
"Well then, I'd love a piece. To go, please."
She walked into the kitchen and brought out the cake platter, raised the lid and and carefully sliced off a hunk o' cake. Yum.
Before leaving, Karen and I snapped some last photos of the place. Tina was back chatting in the kitchen. She had been just so nice about allowing us to snap photos (we always asked first), and the food was just so good that I wanted to thank her again.
I walked to the open doorway and carefully stood at the line of demarcation - under the sign that said something like, "Absolutely no one beyond this point...except employees." I thanked her one more time and asked if I could take her photo. Sure, she said, while she was likely thinking I'm a real wierdo.
I took the picture - being sure to get the kitchen in the shot.
Now, that's Tina in pink. Babbie is in blue. (I hope I have that right - it didn't sound like Bobbie.) She's the talented cook.
And, er, yeah, that's the flat top.
It's an important part of the team.
I raved about the wonderful cheeseburger and told Babbie I had never had one quite that good in Chicago. She also thought I was a wierdo. And, I'm ok with that.
The ladies were very nice, the cheeseburger rocked, and the chocolate cake...well, I didn't eat it right away, so you're just gonna have to wait on that. For now, it went in the back seat of my car, into "Dana's Dessert Land."
Off we went.
Homemade cake at the ready.
Sure am glad Karen saw the "open" sign in the window.
About this time I was really beginning to enjoy the landscape.
No, I mean..."Bull!"
No, I have no idea why there is a giant fiberglass looking bull in the middle of a field.
But, he was cute.
On to Gravel Switch.
Turning south at Perryville - passing my first Confederate Cemetery,
Careening curved roads and straight-aways...
We passed lovely landscapes.
And, river ways.
Into the town and beyond a gigantic tin-sided building.
And, right through the other end of town. Over a creek, and then we finally saw...
Penn's Store - Gravel Switch, KY
Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, Penn's is the oldest country store in America -run continuously by the same family. It has been in the Penn family since 1850.
The store has no running water.
And, it had no bathroom until 1992.
What kind of bathroom do you get for a 150 year old general store?
I parked out of the way near the mailboxes on the brown dirt road (see photo above) and sat to play on the porch with the many cats and kitties and a sweet little girl. The little girl, handing me a kitten, explained that his name was Tiger Toes. Wanna see?
It didn't take long to figure out that the little girl was part of the family. Karen and I went inside and spoke with a very nice young woman named Dawn. She described how the store has been in the family for, I believe it was, 6 generations. Actually, I think the 6th was sitting on the front porch...or maybe she was the 7th.
We chatted and began to pick out souvenir shirts when a woman came in the screen door saying that someone outside had parked in the "middle of the road."
Now, I found that funny - seeing we were the only ones in the tiny building - and I really thought it was a joke.
I said, "Yeah, guess that'd be me."
She shrugged, and said, "Well, you might wanna move it or your gonna get hit."
And...I just laughed at her!
"Oh, absolutely, sure, I'll move it right now."
I had a t-shirt in my hand... and a scene in my head...where I was handcuffed while the nice lady told the sheriff how I had "run right out the store with her shirt."
I laid the shirt on top of the old freezer and headed out to move the car. Then I stopped.
I sincerely didn't know WHERE to park.
Being as gentle as I could, I stepped back through the screen door and asked where the best place to park was.
"Right out front."
OK, folks, here it is again.
So, where would YOU park?
So...I parked parallel to the porch.
(God I hope that's right. Please let it be right.
Oh, no! That's prolly Mom who I yelled at. Geesh, could I feel any smaller?)
Three generations were present. Mom, daughter and granddaughter, who is 8. Daughter and granddaughter live 30 minutes away in...shoot. See, now there's the rub. I can't say. I spoke for 30 minutes with Mom - yes, we got past the whole "parking incident", 15 with Daughter and a good 10 with granddaughter while playing with the cats.
But, much of what they shared I can't type in a blog.
Wouldn't be right.
These are amazing folks. Who have a legacy.
And, it's both a blessing and a burden.
We stood and talked with tears falling from our eyes - about honoring history, legal issues, stagnant towns after folks send their children away to get an education to "find a better life," (both Mom and Daughter have degrees), the impact of tobacco legislation, the current drought of 15 inches in Kentucky and the resultant need to take time to water-down the cattle as well as pay for the water itself, and just plain maliciousness. Seems the store has been broken into a few times.
The women are good hearted, hard-working, and very, very nice. And, through the struggles, they manage to smile. They have had to reduce the hours, just to keep life manageable. They want to keep the store open, maintain the legacy, but it's difficult.
Penn's Store is worth seeing - but it's definitely a "call first" destination and I guess "don't bet the farm on it's being open" sort of place. If you want to read more about the store and their legacy, Dawn and her music, or if you just want to buy a ball cap or t-shirt you can head to http://www.pennsstore.com/
Oh, since this is a food blog...they serve sandwiches.
Mom (I think it's Jeanne) and I got to talking about restaurants and she said she believed Cedarwood might be open on Sundays. Here's one last look back at Penn's Store.
Cedarwood Restaurant - West on US 68 - 10 miles down.
Take-out tea time. They were open on Sunday, had very sweet tea, and the pies looked HOMEMADE! But...I already had cake in the back seat. I was soooo tempted. I didn't. And, I should have. That was the last homemade pie I would see on this trip.
Our next stop...well, our numerous attempts to reach the Monks in Trappist, KY were to no avail. Yes, I now get the irony. Monks. Silence. But, come on! They have an answering machine. Anyway, we heard they support themselves selling homemade fruitcake, cheese and bourbon fudge.
Determined, we headed toward Trappist, KY and the monks.
Karen and I were apparently the only people to visit Kentucky without going on a bourbon tour. OK, almost made it. We had no intention of seeing how bourbon was made. But, we had time on our hands.
Interestingly enough, on the road to the bourbon fudge making monks is...a distillery. Now, THERE's some irony for ya. Hey, it's Sunday, let's get some beer for breakfast, hit the distillery, then stop at the Abbey for some fruitcake. I was beginning to think maybe we shoulda had that beer.
Maker's Mark Distillery - Loretto, KY
It was a record breaking day in Kentucky - something like 96 degrees in October - and we found ourselves taking a tour through a boiler room. Man, we gotta get a new travel agent. Actually the tour was quite interesting, considering I don't drink bourbon.
We were able to jump right in on a free tour which was just starting. Our tour guide was cheery, considering the heat, and she really wanted to be sure we understood the specificity of the originators, the recipe, the method, and the difference in the taste of their product. I'll let you surf the web for all the other answers but I will tell you these two things: they don't use rye and theirs is a "tip of the tongue" taste.
Our smiling, yet very wilted tour guide, encouraged us to stick a finger in each sour mash batch and taste it. They were different ages. One was sorta sweet and the other was very sour. The process reminded me of sourdough bread since they reserve part of the previous mash for the next batch. Interesting. The vats were 100 year old cypress and were 12 feet across. And, the floor was wooden and below us you could see all kinds of machinations going on.
My what nice copper pots. And, the skinniest Dana ever - in the reflection.
We passed through a huge warehouse of aging barrels and then had a taste of Maker's Mark bourbon... and bourbon chocolate.
Wait one second!
Bourbon chocolate? Bourbon fudge!
It took no time at all to get there.
Who woulda thunk that bourbon would be only 10 minutes down the Abbey road.
I'll just let it be.
Abbey of Gethsemani - Trappist, KY
Sadly, the gift store was closed.
Darn, I'll have to buy your Christmas fruitcakes online.
Yes, they have a website - the monks are masters at marketing - even with that whole vow of silence thing. Two loving dogs, one sleeping in the photo above, escorted us around the grounds. Karen and I stopped to look a very old cemetery. While the monastery was founded in 1848, I really think some of those headstones had dates preceding that.
Point of interest, Thomas Merton lived there for 27 years.
The dogs continued to follow us around until we had seen everything we could. Then a woman came from the parking lot asking if they were our dogs. We explained that we believed that they belonged there. The dogs seemed to know each other and be familiar with the place. She said they were probably dumped off. It happens regularly. Matter of fact, she had just placed a different dog the week before. She went inside, but I'm sure she knew that her two charges would be waiting for her to find them homes when she returned. This was a very sweet mangy mutt.
Seeing that we had reservations that night to "Sleep in a Wigwam," we needed to make some mileage. Perhaps in honor of the monks, we wanted to take the road less traveled, and boy we found it.
We took US 52 west then US 31E towards Hodgenville.
Till the road was closed.
I just stopped.
Nice man in a pickup truck pulled up to help with directions.
Right, left, left, right, blah, blah.
OK, I got it.
Didn't have it.
At least it was gorgeous out. We were in the middle of absolutely no where. I mean, we had no idea where we were - other than between two farms. We figured we had 2 compasses, and the sun. We sorta knew which direction to head. And, if we found ourselves literally on gravel, we would head back. Onward!
We thought maybe we knew where we were at one point - on McCubbins Road.
Good enough - McCubbins.
Till we hit an intersection, and the road was McCubbins.
We were at McCubbins Road & Harned-McCubbins Road.
Believe it or not...we found THAT on the map.
Aha! My super-duper down to the tiny roads atlas came in handy. So, THAT way back to 31E again so we could hit 84 and continue on. Score. I wish we took a picture of the crossroad - but we were just too dumbfounded to take one.
Someplace between the Abbey and the Interstate - on a small road was the "We Don't Rent Pigs" sign. I have asked around but the best I've received are guesses to the meaning. Apparently it was a line in Lonesome Dove. However, someone said her grandfather used to say it, so it precedes the movie. If you know, please post a comment.
We headed toward the Interstate since it was getting dark and headed towards Cave City. We saw a truck which made me smile.
Cave City, KY
I really enjoyed seeing all of the old neon signs around town - even though it felt a bit like a ghost town and creeped me out. Big time. Not just economically depressed...but void. Sorry Cave City. I'm sure you're a lovely town. I just wasn't feeling it that night. But, here are some great signs.
Wigwam Village No. 2 - Cave City, KY
In 1933, Frank Redford built a teepee shaped building in Horse City, KY. (Yes, their technically teepee, not wigwams.) Adding more buildings, this eventually became Wigwam Village No. 1.
Redford applied for a patent in 1935 and it was granted in 1936.
In 1937, Wigwam Village No. 2 was built Cave City, KY, near Mammoth Cave National Park. By the early 1950s, seven wigwam villages had been built in the south and southwestern United States.
Three Wigwams Villages still exist: No. 2 in Cave City, No. 6 in Holbrook, AZ and No. 7 in Rialto- San Bernardino, CA.
As you can see from our photo above - while the gas pumps are long gone - not much has changed. Some of these following photos were taken the next morning in better light.
Where possible, I have included an original postcard as a historical touchstone. Some postcards are from other locations, and have slight differences, e.g. the Cave City location doesn't have windows in their bathroom. But, for the most part, the locations are - or, since most are gone, I should say - were- quite similar.
The Lunch Room above is the largest teepee, which now houses the motel office. Unfortunately, I didn't snap any photos of the inside when we checked in. It's still in very nice condition - the brown wood semi-circle counter is still in place.
Sadly, the office was still closed at 9 am when we departed.
No chance for photos.
In the postcard above, you can barely catch a glimpse of the tile work in the bathroom. Notice our photos below show the original tile work, the pointy "up and down" wigwam pattern - just like the pattern painted on the outside of the wigwams.
The bathroom was still in wonderful condition, considering it's from the 193o's. I really loved that there is still a bottle opener behind the door - and, they haven't painted over it. If only we had a bottle of Ale 8.
The double room was pretty snug. The singles, which are the same size, obviously have more more walking area. I found the bed quite cozy and the air conditioner kept us plenty cool - and, it was on in preparation for our arrival. There was a TV with cable, but I don't think there was a phone. We had our cell phones and had good reception.
For those with a touch of claustrophobia, note that there are only two small windows in each teepee - and one is filled with the air conditioner. There are jalousie windows (glass slats) in the doors. However, our door had a painted board tacked to the inside. I didn't take note - perhaps some of the rooms still have working windows in the doors. You can always ask when making the reservation. It's worth a shot.
Now, we stopped for dinner at a local steakhouse. It wasn't enjoyable. It tasted as though the steak had been marinating in steak sauce. I suppose I wouldn't have been so bothered if that were disclosed on the menu, but I didn't remember reading that. I want my steak to taste like...meat. And, maybe butter.
We're still at dinner in our story, but I need to stop and get this out in the open.
Here's the thing about the Wigwams - they are isolated. There are businesses across the street, but they close at night. In back is a large field and an active train line. (The good news is I couldn't hear any trains from inside with the AC on.) However, once it gets dark, there are only dim lights outside of each room. Otherwise, it's pitch black out.
By the time we checked in it was dusk. The office closed at 7 or 8. Then, as far as I can tell, you are on your own. (Keep in mind, I don't think there was a phone in the room. That's how we knew we had cell phone reception. We checked.) And, the fact that when I waved to the bikers in the last teepee - and they didn't wave back - well, that didn't give me comfort.
I can't really describe why...but I felt uneasy. And, I really needed to get my bearings around town. To Karen's credit, she said she wanted me to drive until I felt better, or we would just leave the key, forgo the cost, and drive on into the night. We started exploring.
One light moment - a welcome relief - showed itself when we passed huge tourist stop selling rocks on the side of the road. It was closed. Large signs, still visible in the dark, proclaimed that rocks on this table were 5 for $5... and rocks on that table were 5 for $25. Karen said it seemed that after 7 p.m. they were all free. Cracked me up.
We headed out to look around near Mammoth Cave. I thought we might find some activity there. Instead we just found dark roads. We headed back and passed what looked little adorable old cottages from an old tourist court. I made note to check those out in the daylight.
Back at the Wigwams, we shot some photos in the dark. We unpacked our bags and for the first time in the trip I got out my 3 cell Maglight and loaded the large heavy batteries. Yes, I really was that unnerved. I wanted the assurance of a large heavy flashlight.
There were kids playing outside in what Karen joked was the "mutant human habitrail" and swingset. They seemed to be having a great time. And, there were adults outside gathered around a fire pit. Drawn to the fire - and still needing to get a feel for my surroundings - I grabbed the key and went out to meet people.
Things take a turn for the better.
Karen stayed inside to call her family. I headed to the fire pit. I asked if everyone knew each other already - I didn't want to invite myself into their party. (I knew that the entire motel was booked the night before with a high school reunion and there was a chance these folks were all from that group.) Nope. They all just met that night. They immediately welcomed me and introductions were made all around.
There was a couple from Calumet City near Chicago. Another couple from kinda-sorta the Owensboro, KY area. Another from Nashville. And, so it went. More kids came out to run and roughhouse on the playground equipment and each time a parent came out we invited them to join us at the fire. Our numbers grew.
It was soul filling. I felt better. We were laughing and joking, swapping stories and recipes. And, in no time I knew my neighbors from rooms 2, 3, 4, 5, and 10.
I'm not saying my guard was down. Matter of fact, when I mentioned the fact that we were on our own - seeing the office had closed down for the night- I witnessed that part processing in the eyes of the man sitting next to me. I saw it sink in. But for those around the campfire - he, his wife, and their 9 year old daughter were alone. We looked at each other and nodded knowingly.
More adults joined us until we pretty much knew the occupants of each of the 15 rooms. The adults who didn't join us sat on the bench outside of their teepee and enjoyed the fire from afar.
The couple from Calumet Park were originally going to camp out like they usually do. But, since it was in the 90's they just felt it was too hot to camp. Our luck! They had brought their own firewood and snackage and in no time we were toasting up some s'mores.
The couple from KY offered up some input on BBQ places. When I said we were heading to Owensboro the following day, they asked if we were headed to Moonlite. Yep.
Conversation continued. Seems a few of us had less than desirable experiences at dinner that evening - even though we ate in different restaurants. When I said I wanted my steak to taste like... meat...the KY husband looked up from the fire and nodded.
After a few minutes of BBQ banter, the wife looked at the husband and said, "Should we tell her?" Apparently they weren't fond of Moonlite. They preferred Old South. Now, I had heard good reports of Old Hickory and George's. But, Old South was a new name to me. They were good folks. We seemed to have similar interests in food. I noted their preference for the next day.
Conversations continued about cooking and coal mining, reclamation, and how Cairo is pronounced Ki-ro in Egypt and Ka-ro in Illinois. The Calumet couple were on a mission for a friend who was "quite the chef" to find yellow farina. We, the fire folks, looked around. Yellow? White, sure. The lady from Calumet said he wanted it for dumplings. The young lady from KY said she used the same ingredients for her biscuits as her dumplings. My ears perked up. She said, flour, oil and...well, to be honest, if she wanted the yellow dumplings...she added a drop or two of yellow food coloring. Really? We all got a chuckle out of that.
Back on the topics of yellow farina, I mentioned that perhaps yellow farina was like cow tipping. They laughed and nodded. Maybe.
I pressed on about the KY lady's biscuits - by way of her dumplings. So, these are drop biscuits...I mean dumplings? Yep, though, she pointed to her husband and said he prefers cut. So, sometimes she'll roll them out and cut them into strips and squares and sometimes he just has to eat them her way. He looked up from the fire to interject that either way, they're good.
So, about those biscuits, you said oil. "Yep," she said. Shortening? "No." Canola, whatever she has on hand. Any shortening or lard or anything in your biscuits? No, she uses self-rising flour, oil, and water, if it needs it. That's it. Buttermilk? Some folks do, but she doesn't see a need. Score. I just love hearing about what other people rely on. Boy, southern cooks sure do like their self-rising flour. Until a year ago, I had never heard of the stuff.
We chatted about Ale 8, some had heard of it, some not. And, I found out about another local soda - Ski - which was described by the southern IL person as a blend of Mountain Dew and orange. He said we should be able to find it all over the lower part of Illinois.
Hours later, I said goodnight to the group and headed back up the little grassy incline back to the room. I smelled like campfire and my throat was a little hoarse from laughing so much. I felt a bit better. Still had the flashlight within reach. And, slept soundly.
We hit the ground running the next morning, dropped off the key with the maid, and snapped a few sunrise shots of the motel. We said so long to the adults I met the night before and saw kids heading to the "habitrail." And, then we waved goodbye to the Wigwams.
I am glad we stayed.
To be fair, I would rate the motel:
A for price.
A for authenticity.
B for cleanliness.
Yet, for safety's sake - I would only suggest staying there when the place is booked to capacity.
For those who are actually still reading...
Day 3, in retrospect, wasn't about cheeseburgers, general stores or vintage wigwams.
It was about the people.
People who served our food and invited us back. The heritage holding Penn family and their dedication to their local community and to a landmark. The folks around a fire pit whose roaring laughter and roasted marshmallows made the niggling night a bit more bearable.
Those moment touched me in a way I can't bring to life in a blog.
But, hopefully you at least felt part of their uniqueness in my notes.
Day 4 - our last day - will include some of my very favorite pictures.
We found a couple of vintage Tourist Courts and snapped some adorable shots of cottages - some still in use and others occupied only by kudzu.
Past Time Cafe
306 Stanford St
Crab Orchard, KY
Gravel Switch, KY
859-332-7706/7715 (Call Ahead)
Maker's Mark Distillery
3350 Burks Spring Road
Abbey of Gethsemani
3642 Monks Road
Wigwam Village #2
601 North Dixie Hwy
Cave City, KY
Read the whole Feasting on Americana! series:
Day 1 - Drive-In Owner Shares a Secret
Day 2 - My First Fried Green Tomatoes!
Day 3 - Confusion, Confession, and Reading Between the Lines
Day 4 - What's a good Northern girl to do?