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Food Photo Extravaganza: Ramsey’s, Lexington, KY

26.April 2010

Please pardon the inclusion of approximately forty-two photos in this post.  It may seem excessive, but just assume that the number of photos is directly proportional to the absurd happiness this restaurant made me feel.

Fig. 1. Very, very happy.
 

Last week, I had to travel to Lexington, KY for an academic conference (Riveting! Thrilling! Hold on to your hats!) and had the distinct pleasure of my mom’s and sister’s company on the trip.  On our first evening in town, we debated whether we ought to try one of the yuppie/hippie/foodie restaurants in the area, but all of us agreed something slightly less fussy was in order.  So we looked around and found Ramsey’s Diner, near the university.  (It turns out there are four locations of this restaurant in and around Lexington, but I’d bet good money this one was the original.)

Now, before you start thinking this was a diner diner, just hold your horses.  Ramsey’s is more tenderloin sandwiches and $5 bourbon than burgers and shakes.  This was a diner specializing in Kentucky Cuisine – a.k.a. The Food of My People (nods to Blue Jean Gourmet, whose series of this name is a joy to read).  No, I didn’t grow up in Kentucky, but most of my family comes from the Hills of Eastern Kentucky (a phrase so often-repeated in my youth that I sometime hear it in my sleep) and my blood runs UK blue (thanks to my grandpa for instilling in me a true and deep respect for Wildcats Basketball).  I grew up with the smell of ham hocks melting into pots of green beans, cornbread puffing up (but not sweet, Yankee style) in the oven, and fried green tomatoes dredged in cornmeal hitting pans of sizzling oil.

Fig. 2. Clockwise from Mac & Cheese: Pinto Beans, Green Beans, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Cornbread.
 

It’s these tastes that I remember and crave when I’ve gone just a little too long between visits home.  So, imagine my delight when Ramsey’s served up all my favorites (Green beans like my mom makes and her mom before her!) just like I like them!

Fig. 3. Clockwise from pinto beans: fried okra, collard greens, stewed tomatoes, and cornbread.

They also served me another favorite of my childhood – the great, the legendary, the incomparable, irreplaceable, so-rich-you-might-keel-over Kentucky Hot Brown.  When I was little, I occasionally went over to Henderson, just across the Ohio River from our hometown to have lunch with my dad, who was working over there in those days and we’d mostly go to Wolf’s Tavern, a semi-dingy tavern whose walls were lined with portraits of the great racehorses (Secretariat, Man-O-War, Citation).  Every time I ever ate there I ordered the Hot Brown, an open-faced ‘sandwich’ that involved bread, ham, turkey, tomatoes, and a seriously delicious Mornay sauce.  Oh, and BACON – how could I forget?  I don’t want to blow this all out of proportion, but it might just be the most delicious thing in the entire world.

Fig. 4. Kentucky Hot Brown.
 

Well, I ordered up one of these for dinner at Ramsey’s and it blew precious Wolf’s attempt clear out of the water.  It brought tears to my eyes, something that food does to me on occasion – the most memorable of which involved Blood Orange Gelato at a really sweet gelateria in Trastevere.

Fig. 5. Clockwise from Green Beans: Cornbread, Corn Oyster, Apple Fritter, Mac & Cheese.
 

This was almost a two-hanky situation, but I calmed myself down enough to enjoy tastes of my sister’s “veggie plate” (Ramsey’s is the kind of place that counts Mac & Cheese as a vegetable), which featured these ridiculously delicious apple fritters – I don’t know how in the world they made the batter stick or managed to cook them so that they were crisp on the outside and the apple cooked through, but with a little crunch and not burned.  Amazing.

Fig. 6. Chicken & Dumplings, Creamed Corn, Green Beans, Cornbread.
 

Anyway, I could go on and on.  Suffice it to say that we went back for lunch the next day.  Chicken and Dumplings.  Creamed corn.

Fig. 7. Lemonade that was squeezed to order at the bar.  

Utterly amazing, this place.  If you find yourself in Lexington in the near future, you know what to do.  I’ll be envious.

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