Review: Does Lexington’s Tolly-Ho Make Kentucky’s Best Burger?

Tolly Ho burger rings

Founded in 1971, Lexington’s Tolly-Ho Restaurant has long been a burger and shake mecca for University of Kentucky students. I went there myself as a UK student a couple of decades ago back at the old location on the corner of Euclid and Limestone.

Tolly-Ho recently received some great press when The Chive ranked the best burgers in each state, crowning Tolly-Ho as maker of Kentucky’s best hamburger. I figured it was time to revisit Tolly-Ho, after all these years, at its new location on South Broadway.

Tolly Ho door

I ordered the flagship burger, a Tolly-Ho with cheese. With fond memories of their onion rings, I chose rings rather than fries. It’s a good thing that Tolly-Ho makes great shakes because they carry Pepsi products, and, well, nobody wants that (they do have Ale-8-One readily available). I tacked on a strawberry shake.

There certainly is no complaining about the quality of the burger. It’s tasty and moist with the right “burger” taste. I ordered mine with cheddar cheese, and I will say it didn’t have that cheddar bite to it. That quibble aside, it was a solid burger experience. The Tolly Ho is, indeed, a great burger.

Tolly Ho Burger bitten

I am also a big fan of the onion rings. They were as good as I remembered. The serving size was generous (maybe too generous considering how badly I don’t need to eat onion rings). The batter was crisp and not crumbly, avoiding frequent onion ring failings.

My wife ordered the cheddar tots as her side, tater tots with cheddar cheese inside. They were good, but I’m not a big tater tot fan so I’m not the best judge. I think if they’re the sort of thing you like, you will like them.

Tolly Ho shakeI don’t want to fail to mention my strawberry shake. It was rich and thick with real strawberry flavor, not the dreaded Strawberry Quick taste. Some strawberry chunks would be nice, as would a dedicated shake glass or mug rather than the standard plastic Pepsi cups. But get the shake.

It was great being back at Tolly-Ho, although I miss the old location across the street from UK’s Student Center and north dorms, not that those dorms are there anymore. If you’re in Lexington and want to try a classic, stop by Tolly-Ho. Tolly-Ho has a great burger with excellent sides, but for the best burger in Kentucky I’m going to keep looking.

Tolly Ho Restaurant
606 South Broadway
Lexington, Kentucky 40508
Open 24 Hours

Tolly Ho sign fern

Tolly Ho counter


Review: Hattie B’s Hot Chicken of Nashville

Hattie B line

Expecting we would need plenty of energy for the night’s Nickel Creek and Secret Sister performances, dinner in Nashville was a high priority. We wanted somewhere local. I suggested hot chicken to my visiting friends from Kansas City. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken was (relatively) close to the Ryman, so off we went.

Hattie B’s rates well on the food sites, and I was eager to compare it to my earlier brush with Nashville’s hot chicken, Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish. Hattie B’s is a much more respectable place than either Prince’s, which I had to drive around a ‘Road Closed’ sign to access, or Bolton’s, in a painted cinderblock shack. Hattie B’s is in the same building as a GiGi’s cupcake shop.

Hattie B menu Hattie B order

The line to order was out the door, which I took as a positive sign. While I had gone full-on hot at Bolton’s, I knew I had the rest of this evening to spend at the Ryman, so I opted to notch the heat back a little at Hattie B’s. There are five levels of heat at Hattie B’s, starting with no heat with “Southern.” I stepped past Mild/Medium up to “Hot!”for my small white meat order. It was the right choice.

The heat doesn’t register at first, but then it sinks in. As I discovered at Bolton’s, the key to handling the hot breading is to get plenty of meat in the same bite. The taste was good, the heat level was about right. According to the young lady when I ordered “Hot” is supposed to be 3X hotter than Mild/Medium. I would be willing to go up another heat level on another visit.

Hattie B chicken

My hot chicken compatriots tried the “Southern” (no heat) and Mild/Medium. The Southern still has a spicy taste, and I was told the Mild/Medium had kick without distracting with too much heat.

Hattie B banana puddingI chose standard sides, beans and fries. Both were fine, no complaints about either. The banana pudding was creamy and tasty, which lived up to the billing. I wish the sweat tea was a bit sweeter. My eating companions tell me that I missed out by not having the pimento mac and cheese. I won’t make that mistake next time.

I admit it’s tough for me to compare Bolton’s with Hattie B’s. I chose a much higher heat level at Bolton’s. Location and facilities makes Hattie B’s more accessible and eater friendly. I think if you like hot chicken you would be happy with either one.

If you’re new to  Nashville hot chicken, Hattie B’s is good place to start. The chicken is tasty, the sides solid, and the banana pudding excellent.

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
112 19th Ave South
Nashville, TN
Monday – Thursday: 10 am – 11 pm
Friday – Saturday: 11 am – 12 am | Sunday 11 am – 4 pm

Lexington BBQ: Blue Door Smokehouse

Blue Door frontAlways on the hunt for good barbecue, I was game when my lunch appointment suggested a newer place in Lexington called Blue Door Smokehouse. Now “smokehouse” makes a positive assertion that I appreciate. A growing number of places are using gas on their meat, and it’s just not the same. I commend Blue Door for putting the smoke on display.

Blue Door Smoke

Central Kentucky is a tough place for barbecue. There hasn’t been a strong barbecue culture here, a fact confirmed by signs like “Texas BBQ” in the window. One wouldn’t go to a place in Memphis that said “Kansas City BBQ.” I recognize the marketing aspect (many places do this), but I suppose my gripe is that if you’re going to do barbecue, take a stand that it’s your barbecue.

Blue Door is a friendly place, with patient, but prompt, service. They have a nice offering of meats and sides. I chose brisket and baby back pork ribs. I added sides of ranch beans and potato salad.

The meat at Blue Door is good, well cooked and flavorful. It has a nice crust, but isn’t tough. I liked the brisket a little better than the ribs. I would be glad to have either again.

Blue Door plate

I have to admit I was disappointed with my side choices. I was warned the ranch beans wouldn’t be sweet like standard baked beans, which I was fine with. My beau ideal barbecue shack Oklahoma Joe’s serves a version of ranch beans, in fact. I found these just a little too harsh, however.

The potato salad just wasn’t to my taste at all. While I found the beans too harsh, the potato salad was bland. It needed some flavor kick. My friend let me try her collard greens, and they were quite tasty. I would recommend trying those. I almost ordered the vinegar slaw, and wish I had. I think it would have been more to my liking. If worse comes to worse, they do have Grippo’s chips.

Blue Door offers three sauces on the table: sweet, spicy, and tangy. I always try the meat first without sauce, but then I like to test out whatever they have. It wasn’t long before I found that my sauce of choice was the tangy, which is a vinegar based sauce of the same style as Alabama’s Dreamland Bar-B-Que. Blue Door’s tangy doesn’t have quite the flavor depth as Dreamland, but it’s quite good if you like a vinegar based sauce. The other sauces were also good, but I mostly stuck with tangy after I found it.

Blue Door sauces

So as my Lexington barbecue adventure begins, Blue Door Smokehouse was a good start. It’s solid barbecue, that doesn’t reach the level of greatness. Still, I hope to return and recommend you stop by.

Blue Door BBQ
226 Walton Avenue
Lexington, KY 40502
Monday-Thursday 11 am – 3 pm
Friday-Saturday 11 am – 9 pm
Closed Sunday


Some of Huntsville’s Best: New Market BBQ

New Market JeffersonOne of the barbecue spots in my sights has been the north of Huntsville joint, New Market BBQ. I was set to go a few months ago but discovered its limited hours, only open each week Friday-Sunday. With my time remaining in Alabama short, I put a trip to the small village of New Market high on my list of things to do before I left. My friend Sean, who had been once before, was a willing accomplice. New Market white church The trip to New Market is a pleasant one, and the town has more than its share of interest. There are lovely churches and old homes. The Presbyterians and Methodists have done well in maintaining their historic buildings. (And it looks like New Market architecture is well prepared if Thomas Jefferson ever comes to visit.) The very small downtown row is ripe for renovation. Perhaps New Market BBQ will help lead to a renaissance there. New Market woodArriving at New Market BBQ, wood was piled high outside, always an encouraging sign. The fire inside confirmed real wood smoke is used at New Market. Accept no substitutes for your barbecue. New Market fire

New Market menu board

The menu options are wide, but I opted for a standard sampler for me, ribs and chicken with beans. Brunswick stew is a common offering locally, and with a chill in the air I was happy to try it as my second side. Both turned out to be reliable choices. New Market chow

The smoked meat was very good, the ribs were flavorful and meaty, tender, but firm enough to stay on the bone. Likewise, the chicken was spot on, not dry, which can often happen. I always try the meat without any sauce. It’s only then you really know what you’re getting.

New Market offers three sauces, a vinegar sauce, a thicker red sauce, and Alabama white sauce (for chicken). I rank their sauces highly, although a notch below my Alabama favorites (Dreamland for vinegar, Saw’s for red, and Big Bob Gibson for white). This is by no means a knock. Across the board New Market is doing barbecue the right way, the best I’ve had in Madison County.

New Market meat New Market pb pieIt was hard to resist the dessert offerings at New Market. Most places will offer banana pudding, and it’s usually very good. New Market BBQ clearly prides itself in going above and beyond with a rotating offering of different pies. I opted for a slice of the day’s peanut butter pie, and was surprised to find a very light pie rather than the often dense and heavy peanut butter pie one frequently encounters. And it was good, clearly homemade, a satisfying ending to a rewarding visit.

This weekend if you find yourself hungry, and with a little time for a drive, head on up to New Market BBQ. Drive around town a little to see the sites. You’ll enjoy the barbecue. New Market home

New Market BBQ
5601 Winchester Rd
New Market, AL 35761
Hours: Friday-Saturday, 11 AM – 7 PM; Sunday 11 AM – 4 PM

A Visit to Birmingham’s The Alabama Biscuit Company

Alabama Biscuit front

Since I first read of the impending opening of Birmingham’s The Alabama Biscuit Company I couldn’t imagine a better name for a business. I was eager to visit, and the opportunity finally came for me to stop by.

Alabama Biscuit is nestled in a row of shops in Cahaba Heights over the hill behind The Summit from 280. I admit, it was tough to ignore the smell of barbecue from the joint a few doors down. But biscuits were my goal, and biscuits I would have.

The restaurant is a minimalist mix of wood and steel industrialism. Old Try prints decorate the walls. There were only a couple of other customers when I arrived around 11:30, but the hours are geared toward the breakfast crowd. A young lady was by the window working on her MacBook, and I can see how Alabama Biscuit could be a welcome alternative to the standard Starbucks.

Alabama Biscuit CubanI was prepared to order The Alabama, and was particularly encouraged when told that I could only eat it in (they won’t package it to go), when another customer’s Cuban biscuit was just coming out of the kitchen. As a known lover of Cuban sandwiches, I couldn’t pass up such a concoction–brilliant, I thought.

The Cuban was an off-menu special that came with sweet tea and a bag of chips for $10. The tea was not quite as sweet as I might have liked, but I understand they are going for a more subtle taste.

There was a several minute wait for the sandwich, but I had no complaints when it arrived. It was a well chosen option for a light lunch. The special came together as a restrained, but filling meal.

The biscuit sandwich certainly wouldn’t be confused with a Tampa pressed Cuban, but it was a well done variation on the theme. Quibbling, I might say it was a little too heavy on the mustard. And Alabama Biscuit has chosen to go with a more crumbly biscuit than I make myself, but it’s clearly what they’ve decided is best for their purposes.

I left somewhat sorry that I didn’t try one of the sweet biscuit options like The Alabama of my original intent, but I was not disappointed at all with the Cuban. It only means I need to go back again.

Give The Alabama Biscuit Company a try if you’re in Birmingham. The well appointed shop comes with plenty of Southern hospitality. It seems to me that these are folks who are trying to do good work, and they ought to be supported.

Review: Decatur’s The Brick Deli & Tavern

Brick signMy friend Seth wanted to meet for lunch this week and suggested Decatur as a meet-up point. Locally based food guru Christy Jordan plugged Decatur’s The Brick, particularly its Banjo Picker sandwich, awhile back on her Southern Plate website. Our destination was set.

Downtown Decatur is a pleasant place with old brick buildings and clean streets. The Brick occupies one of the–yes, you guessed it–brick buildings, with exposed brick and ductwork on the interior. A stage sat idle in the corner awaiting their live music nights. For early lunch it was already busy; we grabbed a table by the large windows.

I went with Jordan’s recommended Five Finger Banjo Picker sandwich with Polish sausage, Swiss cheese, and kraut on toasted rye. At Seth’s suggestion I substituted the standard side for a cup of their Wisconsin beer cheese soup. We also couldn’t resist trying the banana pudding.

Brick Banjo Picker

They were all solid choices. The sandwich was flavorful and tangy, the soup creamy and tasty–an excellent choice on a cooler day. Banana pudding is a standard for the area. The Brick’s version, although not spectacular, won’t leave you disappointed. The serving is not large so is a nice dessert option when you don’t want anything too heavy.

If you find yourself in Decatur give The Brick a try. Their menu offers plenty of options for explorations. It will be worth your time.

Review: Wallace Station & the Inside Out Hot Brown

WS building

There’s no drive more enjoyable than Old Frankfort Pike, which connects Lexington and Frankfort, Kentucky. The rolling hills, horse farms, and stone fences are quintessentially Bluegrass. But I had a new destination on this trip: Wallace Station.

WS stepsWallace Station is a sandwich shop in an old former country store in essentially the middle of nowhere (it seems that way, but it’s actually quite accessible, and a joy to drive to). I had come in search of their Inside Out Hot Brown, a sandwich take on the Kentucky classic. I have documented my favorite hot brown from Ramsey’s in Lexington. Would Wallace Station live up to high expectations?

I arrived a little past peak lunch time on a Saturday, but the line was still out the door and down the stairs. The line moved quickly, though, and I spotted my target on the menu board.

WS menu board

Also calling to me was the pie and pastry display. Wallace Station brings in baked goods from its nearby sister shop the Midway School Bakery. I resisted as much as I could, but allowed myself a Woodford cookie, named after the county the restaurant is in. As a former resident of Woodford County myself I couldn’t really pass that up. And while I’m still not exactly sure what the Woodford cookie is, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

WS pies

Cookie collage

After placing your order at the counter, you can find your seat and wait for the food to be brought out to you. Inside seating is limited; most dining is on the back deck and at picnic tables in the yard. The weather was wonderful that day, the scene idyllic, so I didn’t mind the wait for my Inside Out Hot Brown.

WS backyard

And, indeed, it was worth the wait. The Inside Out Hot Brown is just that. While a traditional hot brown is a baked open faced sandwich with bread, turkey, ham, tomato, bacon, and mornay sauce that you need to eat with a fork, the Wallace Station version puts everything inside the bread like a traditional sandwich. The fresh Wallace Station bread from their Midway bakery really takes the sandwich to the next level. This is a serious sandwich that competes on its own terms with the best traditional hot browns. The size is large enough to split with a friend. I ate half and packed up the other for later.

Hot Brown

While the menu at Wallace Station is deep, it will be hard to order anything else. And there’s that pie and cookie display to explore. I look forward to driving down Old Frankfort Pike again.

Back to Lexington: Parkette Drive-In

Parkette signFor my entire life I have been in and out of Lexington, Kentucky. I went to college there. I worked there. During all those decades I have driven by Lexington landmark Parkette Drive In innumerable times. And I never once stopped despite the classic sign beckoning me in.

This trip, I decided, would be different. Vowing to break out of my ritualistic visit to Ramsey’s Diner (don’t get me wrong, you should go to Ramsey’s), I decided to spread my culinary wings. Parkette Drive In it was.

Parkette is a true 1950s era drive in straight out of American Graffiti (yes, I know it was set in 1962, but you get the point). It’s the kind of place after which a modern chain like Sonic is modeled. Parkette plugged along for over 50 years before finally closing, only to be purchased and reopened a decade ago.

Parkette garageThe newly revitalized Parkette has proved to be so popular a new Eat-In Garage was added. An open air building with garage doors all around and ceiling fans to keep things cool, it blends well with the traditional drive-in vibe. They’ve played on the garage theme with old signs (and replicas) covering the walls.

I arrived right at lunch time, and the Parkette was busy but without wait. I decided to go for their Big Lex Burger with onion rings. Faced with Pepsi products, I chose the strawberry shake, a drive-in staple.

Water arrived, then the milkshake, both in Pepsi cups. (A nice touch would be for Parkette to have their own cups, particularly for non-Pepsi items.) The burger basket followed after a reasonable wait.

The Big Lex is a bacon cheeseburger with barbecue sauce on Texas toast. It is a great burger, a definite step up from chain fare. The meat was juicy, the toast gave it a different spin from the standard bun. My regret was not springing for the extra bacon.

Parkette Big Lex

The onion rings were good, about what you would expect them to be. And that strawberry shake was quite tasty, although not out of the ballpark good. There is room for improvement with both, but don’t hesitate to order either one. And while I’m at it, a switch to Coke products would be nice, but unlikely to happen.

Authentic drive-ins are few and far between these days, and the ones that remain deserve our support. I’ll do my part to help keep the Parkette going when I can.

Back to Florence: Billy Reid Warehouse Sale & Trowbridge’s Ice Cream

BR Warehouse SaleThe semi-annual Billy Reid sale heralds the change of seasons and also draws my friend Sean and me off to Florence. I love Billy Reid’s goods, but at full price it’s too dear for my budget. The warehouse sale is a great way to pick up a few odds and ends and still be able to eat at the end of the day.

Past sales have been in the back room behind the regular Billy Reid store. This year the sale goods were in a separate storefront next door. The sale seemed to have more items available than in the past.

BR sale door

Racks, boxes, & piles of sale clothes:

BR row

BR shirt boxes

BR t-shirts

Possibly my favorite item was this quilted vest, which wasn’t available in my size or I would have left with one.

BR vest

There were many ties, both four-in-hand and bows (confession: Billy Reid bow ties are my favorite, and at sale price I can indulge):

BR ties

BR bows

And some shoes. I like them, but the elongated toe box is just too much for me:

BR Savannah

Restraint and budget limited me to these two purchases, both of which I like very much, an indigo sweatshirt and batwing wool bow tie:

Billy Reid sale purchases

Next door, the new fall Billy Reid gear was out, and browsing is always fun.

BR window

BR hats

The Billy Reid ‘James Bond’ peacoat was available (note leather detailing):

BR Bond coat

BR Bond detail

There is a large display of Billy Reid K-Swiss models:

BR K-Swiss

And the Billy Reid double-monk with asymmetrical toe cap:

BR double monks

Billy Reid excels with his tote and bag designs:

BR tote

BR bags

BR bag

We moved down Court Street and stopped by another favorite destination in Florence, one more in keeping with my budget.

Salvation Army

I was not disappointed, as I left with a Brooks Brothers button down (USA made), ties from Zegna (wool blend), Ben Silver, and H. Stockton Atlanta. Oh, and a vintage LP.

SA haul

Fatigued from shopping, Sean and I moseyed down to historic diner Trowbridge’s.

Trowbridge's sign

Trowbridge’s is a genuine throwback, maintaining an unselfconscious mid-20th century vibe. The food is standard, but tasty, diner fare. Prices are low.

Trowbridge's menu

The ice cream is the highlight. Don’t leave without trying one of their flavors like the signature orange pineapple. That day I went with the red velvet–again, restraint: only one scoop.

Trowbridges - Red Velvet ice cream


Atlanta Road Trip: Hankook Taqueria Korean Tacos

Hankook front

Korean tacos was my suggestion, and my family–in Atlanta for a long weekend–actually embraced the idea, or at least didn’t refuse. So to Hankook Taqueria we went, because nothing says Atlanta like Korean barbecue tacos.

Andrew Zimmern was there before us.

Andrew Zimmern was there before us.

I had heard of Hankook through either a feature on TV or perhaps an online reference a couple of years ago. But from the strong recommendation they received, I knew I wanted to eat there. With our trip to Atlanta I finally had the chance.

Hankook is located in an industrial area. You’re somewhat surprised when you find it. We arrived after the lunch rush, so there was no wait to order. But while there was no crowd, even off-peak there was a steady stream of customers, from hipsters to businessmen to blue collar guys. Korean tacos have widespread appeal, apparently, and after I tried the food I understood why.

The pork tacos were calling me (I’m always drawn to barbecue pork), but since I wanted the pork sliders I opted for the beef instead. My lovely wife did go for the pork taco and added the Man-doo pork dumplings. We shared an order of sesame fries (the serving was generous), and I recommend doing just this.

Sesame Fries

Hankook is not for the non-adventurous palate. The flavors are strong, both spicy and hot. The pork, particularly, is also mildly sweet. If you’re new to it the tastes can be overwhelming. But, oh, is it good.

The beef taco.

The beef taco.

Their tacos serve as the anchor for the meal, and both the beef and the pork tacos are excellent. My seven year old ordered the fish taco, and clamored for a second one after she scarfed it down. That’s a pretty strong endorsement, although I didn’t get a chance to try it myself. Next time the fish taco is certainly on my list.

The pork sliders are also wonderful. An order comes with two, but the sliders are big, so you may want to get an order to split with someone so you can try other things. My favorite, though, were the pork dumplings that my wife ordered. She wasn’t as enthusiastic about them as I was, but I say absolutely give them a try.

Sliders pork

There’s nothing negative to say about Hankook. The staff was friendly and attentive. Bubbly college girls took our order. And on the way out, I enjoyed a chat with one of the cooks (the owner?) who has relatives in Kentucky (well, Louisville, but that’s close). He said we had missed Drew Barrymore by a few days. Apparently there is a movie studio nearby, which brings Hollywood types in from time to time. I guess they know good food when they find it.

If you find yourself in Atlanta run, don’t walk, to Hankook Taqueria. That’s my plan next time I’m in Atlanta. It’s Asian street fusion at its finest.