Monday, June 27, 2016

Cattleman’s Roadhouse, Mt. Sterling, Kentucky

At first I was skeptical: It looked like one of those chain restaurants that orbit the motels at highway exits. And maybe it kind of is. But as a chain, Cattleman’s Roadhouse is blessedly small and local. Five restaurants, all in Kentucky. Scarcely an “engulf and devour” multinational corporation.

So we were spending the night of June 15, 2016, at one of those motels on the highway exit, dog-tired and fried from driving through thunderstorms on the West Virginia turnpike. And after shlepping our bags into the hotel, it was marvelous to walk (not drive!) over to this restaurant. We had our choice of indoor or outdoor seating—the latter with a nice view of . . . our hotel (well?)—but with it hot and humid, we elected to collapse into a booth inside. It was fairly dark in there, but the tables were well lit. Lots of wood on the walls, tables, booths, chairs. Some corrugated galvanized metal on the walls, too. Posters of old western movies and their star cowboys. (Tom Mix was in my sightline!)

The menu had plenty of good choices. It’s a steakhouse, so obviously they have steaks, potatoes, and so on. If you’re a vegetarian, you won’t find much, but what do you expect? At least they have a big salad bar, and the vegetable side dishes were good.

We always look for local specialties, and this place gave us some interesting choices, things we don’t see much in Missouri: Several of the fried appetizers, including fried green tomatoes (y’all, we’re in the South!), came with a “petal sauce” (that was new to me), and the “tower of onion rings” is truly a sight to behold. Another distinctive thing was steaks served with a house-made bourbon glaze (because Kentucky) and/or “tobacco onions”; and there are a nice variety of sides, including three (three!) options for sweet potatoes (baked, french fried, or casserole, complete with marshmallows on top). Other entrĂ©es include “moonshine chicken” (yes, made with moonshine) and “grandma’s fried pork chops.” Of course, they’re proud of their steaks and burgers.

The restaurant has a website, so visit it and look at the menu. Also realize they have specials; the night we were there, beer cheese (another local specialty) was an optional topping for hamburgers. You must try the beer cheese! Variety is the spice of life.

Finally, beverages. Yes, yes, there were local craft beers. But, Glory! —They had 25 Kentucky bourbons to try! The waiters were cheerful and helpful about them; if you ask questions, as I did, and they don’t know, they will ask one of their colleagues for details. I ended up trying a local-distribution single malt from a large distiller, and another whiskey from a distillery I’d never heard of.

When the waiter brought me that second bar glass of ice and “happy water,” she smiled sheepishly and shrugged: “The bartender poured a double by mistake.” A nice little reward after that long, rainy drive through the mountains! And I didn’t have to drive back to the motel!

Sorry, but I didn’t take any photos because we were exhausted, and I didn’t think I’d get very good pictures anyway, what with the bourbon and my nerves after the drive. You’ll have to imagine what a steak looks like! Unfortunately, I do wish I could show you a picture of our waiters’ smiling faces. The servers were cordial and helpful, which of course is really refreshing, especially at a highway exit.

(They really are friendly in Kentucky; everybody seems to call you “honey” as a matter of course.)

So next time you’re driving through Kentucky on I-64 and you’re feeling peckish, check out the Cattleman’s Roadhouse. The one we went to was in Mt. Sterling, just north of the highway next to the cluster of motels, the Cracker Barrel, and the golf course. The other locations are in Frankfort, Louisville, Shelbyville, and Shepherdsville.