Courthouses and Cafes

Early in my career, I worked as an auditor of local government officials all over the Commonwealth. I would spend a week in the courthouse going over the tax collection records of the county Sheriff or combing through bail bond monies at the Circuit Court Clerk's office.

I understand that most people would find this an incredibly boring and tedious job. Sometimes, it was just that. Other times, though, those weeks served as my opportunity to explore a new part of Kentucky. I worked from Pikeville to Paducah, Whitley City to Covington and lots of places in between. I didn’t quite make it to all 120 counties, but I saw more than my fair share!

This was the era just before counties started getting monstrous new buildings called Justice Centers – financed by the Administrative Office of the Courts and designed to bring the judicial system in Kentucky into the high-tech modern world. At the time, working in a broom closet or in a back office whose exposed brick walls had crumbling mortar enough to see the outside world, I would never have admitted to feeling lucky. I was, though, I got to work in the old-style courthouses. The buildings were lined with historical markers, and it was cool for a history buff like me to imagine the events that had transpired in each building.

One (of many) unfulfilled ideas I’ve had was to create a cookbook featuring pictures of the old Kentucky courthouses and recipes from the local, hometown restaurants found near the courthouse square. Ok, so I know the idea of crumble old buildings might not get you going, but the little restaurants should! Some of these places are amazing! My coworkers and I tried to always opt for local eateries over national chains.

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Not the prettiest courthouse, but a tasty cafe!
Photo via Kentucky Court of Justice.
There was Dooley’s Purple Cow Restaurant in Beattyville, Kentucky. We patronized that establishment for two reasons: 1) it had been featured in Southern Living, and 2) it was pretty much the only game in town besides the IGA deli counter.

Photo via Shelby County Facebook Page
Shelby County had more than your average number of city-center restaurants, but McKinley's Bread Shop and Deli was my very favorite. This little gem has decor that's pleasing to customers of all ages, but I think the kids really loved the model train that circles the room every so often. Adults are probably too busy noshing on the flavorful sandwiches, salads and soups. Hands down, my favorite was the bacon ranch potato salad. In fact, I made my mom and sister go try it so we could recreate it for my wedding reception.

Photo via Kentucky Court of Justice
While I haven't visited many of these places in recent years, I still find myself craving a trip to Oldham County and the quaint downtown of LaGrange. Complete with a railroad running through the central business district, fantastic antiques and curiosities shops, LaGrange also boasts one of my all-time favorite restaurants: The Red Pepper Deli. I remember the food as fresh, flavorful and going beyond the typical cold-cut sandwiches fare. My colleagues and I kept meaning to try the other restaurants within walking distance of the courthouse, but we found ourselves at The Red Pepper every single day. It was not monotonous at all!

From the Hickman County Courthouse, where the Clerk showed us filming locations for the Tommy Lee Jones film U.S. Marshals, to the Bell County Courthouse, nestled in Pineville among the mountains, there are some amazing small towns, old buildings, and awesome eateries in this state. I was afforded the opportunity to see and spend some time in these towns, and I encourage you to explore them, too. Not all the Kentucky gems are found in Louisville or Lexington. Some of the best hometown hospitality and charm just might be off the beaten path in the local courthouse square.

Do you have a favorite courthouse or cafe? Share it with us in the comments!

My Kentucky–Downtown Frankfort

I live in our Commonwealth’s capital city, only about four blocks from the Capitol. (That’s the first lesson you learn in my town – the difference between “capital” and “capitol.”)
Y’all. My town is beautiful. Your capital city is beautiful! I love it more than any place in the world. I hope you like it, too. Here are some of my favorite places in the old parts of town – South Frankfort and Downtown Frankfort.
I sat on the wall along the South Frankfort Presbyterian Church’s and ate lunch nearly everyday when I was a Freshman in high school. My alma mater didn’t have a cafeteria back then.
This building housed the first YMCA in town. It’s been vacant for as long as I can remember. I’ve never thought it was a very beautiful building, but a group of preservationists are working to turn it into our town’s first boutique hotel. It sits right on the Kentucky river next to what we affectionately name The Singing Bridge. This bridge, now the site of an open-grate roadbed steel bridge originally had an old-fashioned covered bridge to serve folks coming from Louisville to the Old Capitol Building.
This building was originally a post office. I know it best as the library. It’s currently owned by Kentucky State University and is being remodeled. I’d love to go up into that turret.
There is always a renovation or restoration project in progress in our downtown. I’d not noticed that this one was in the midst of one until I shot this photo and realized that the column is only partially painted. I’m not sure if this is an active renovation or if it got stalled along the way and the plans have been abandoned for exterior work. The building houses businesses and apartments.
This portion of St. Clair street used to be a pedestrian-only mall paved with bricks and lined with trees. About 10 years ago, the city revamped the mall to allow for mixed traffic use. I was devastated at the thought of it, but I have to admit that they did it well. The bars and restaurants have ample room for outdoor seating. Pedestrians have room to walk. People have room to gather and traffic flows in a single-lane, one-way pattern. The jeweler’s clock has been standing sentry over this part of town for many years (the jeweler’s been in business since 1872).
This little guy was tied to a lamp post outside the coffee shop while his owners ordered their coffee. That’s one of the great things about my town – no one will bother this dog unless it’s with scratches behind the ear. If it were a hot day, the shop owner would offer up a bowl of water for him. People care around here.
I love the paint scheme on these buildings on Broadway – the only street in town divided by railroad tracks. If I had a wide-angle lens you’d see that the buildings continue on to the left of this picture. The entire city block is filled with locally-owned businesses including a specialty wine and liquor shop, an antique store, a book store owned by a former Kentucky Poet Laureate, a café, a Kentucky artisan shop and an upscale dining spot.
Directly across from those shops stands the Old State Capitol building. It’s surrounded by a walled park featuring brick-laid walkways and a fountain and is a beautiful spot. While it was once the site of political machinations and even a gubernatorial assassination in 1900, today, the building serves as part of the state’s Historical Society and the grounds are the site of summer concerts and many picnics and playdates.
Our town, like any small town you’ll find in the South is home to a great number of churches. The ones downtown are the oldest and, to me, most beautiful. These two, in particular, remind me of England and cottage gardens (not that I’ve ever been there!). Fittingly, one of them is the Anglican church!
As a town first settled in the 1780s, Frankfort has its fair share of historic homes. These are two of my favorites.
I found this front gate decoration in front of the historic Liberty Hall. Legend has it that the house is haunted and that you can sometimes see The Gray Lady at one of the upstairs windows.
The grounds of the historic homes are open to the public. In elementary school, we would often walk to them in the spring time and spend an afternoon reading or exploring. Can’t you just imagine a garden party in this spot?
Finally, crossing back over to my side of the river, you can see where the painter Paul Sawyier was so inspired by the area.
It won’t be long until the Capitol grounds crew has these guys out and ready for photographing, again. The tulips in bloom signal spring’s arrival and prompt lots of family photo opportunities.
Just a few short weeks after the tulips, it’s Derby time!

Hometown Pride?

We spend a lot of time on her Kentucky professing our love for the Bluegrass state and our respective hometowns/adopted homes/regions. I thought I'd mix things up and republish a post from my blog Salt + Nectar that deals with the other end of the emotional spectrum.


I love Paducah. I was born here. I grew up here. I got married here. I love seeing familiar faces on my daily errands and driving the same tree-lined streets every day. I love it so much I uprooted my entire existence to move back here and start a family.

So, imagine my surprise when I recently realized a shocking truth.

I'm also a little bit insecure about living here.

There was a certain cache to living in DC. People's eyes would light up when I told them where I lived. It was a total ego stroke to be asked questions about the best restaurants or how to get around on the metro. It was a beautiful city so full of excitement. Even if my life there wasn't always exciting, it sure seemed that way to other people.

No one gets excited when you tell them you live in Paducah, KY. If they know where it is, there are no questions about upcoming visits. In fact, we have a difficult time getting anyone to visit at all. To those who do come, I feel like I'm always in the midst of a sales pitch. "See, we have good food!" "Isn't downtown charming?!?" "We're the quilt capital of the world!"

I'm not sure why I care. What does it matter what anyone else thinks? I guess there's a little part of me—a little part of all of us—that wants to belong to something exclusive. And there's definitely something exclusive about living in a big city, even if it's with hundreds of thousands of other people.

But the truth is it shouldn't matter. My family and I are happy here. Paducah gave me a safe, loving community in which to grow and now it is providing the same space for my two boys.

Plus, we do have great food and charming streets and a shit ton of quilts.

~ Sarah Stewart Holland