Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Picking Fist Fights in the Bluegrass State

Hall’s on the River
1225 Athens Boonesboro Rd.
Boonesborough, KY

I plead guilty.

I’ll be the first to admit it. I bear an anti-Kentucky prejudice.

Call me a bluegrass bigot.

The quickest way to pick a fist fight in these parts is to tell a Kentuckian that his state isn’t part of the South.

I understand the sensitivity. Who wouldn’t want to be a southerner?

We have nicer weather, tastier food, better music and hotter chicks.

Oh, and we don’t care how many or what types of guns you own. In fact, the more you have, the safer we feel.

So I get it.

But here’s the problem.

Kentucky is NOT a southern state.

Kentucky didn’t secede.

Or sure Kentuckians will whine that their politicians in Frankfort were forced to remain in the union at the point of federal firearms, but still…

…the fact remains, Kentucky never officially joined the Confederacy.

Therefore, Kentucky is NOT a southern state.
That and the fact that unlike every southern state, Kentucky still forces its workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

So I don’t care if the Wildcats play football in the SEC. Kentucky isn’t a southern state.

Case closed.

However, as you drive up and down the rolling hills of western Clark county, past the ancient stone walls and picket fences, through horse and cattle farms and by the old leaning red barns that dot the bluegrass fields south of Lexington, even an anti-Kentucky bigot like me has to admit, this sure FEELS like the South.

Tucked down in the bottom of a hollow at the bend of the Kentucky River, you’ll find Hall’s on the River, a quintessential Kentucky culinary landmark that has been serving up the best uniquely Kentucky dishes for decades.

Down here in this part of the Commonwealth, the Southern accents are thicker, the pickup trucks are muddier and the camo trucker caps are worn more sincerely than in vast swaths of Georgia, Alabama or Tennessee.

In fact, as I pulled into Hall’s parking lot I thought for sure I could hear Kentucky kickass-country-rocker Chris Knight singing “River Road” over the ripple of the water flowing by the pilings:

So drive til you can’t drive no more
Til the road runs out and the green water rolls
Think you’ve gone as far as you can go
Well the party’s just getting started on River Road

As if to testify to Kentucky’s southern authenticity, Hall’s menu is stocked with southern fried delicacies.

Frog legs. Catfish. Chicken fried steak. Fried green tomatoes. Sweet tea.

Hall’s is a taste of Old Kentucky.

My waiter said that in the summertime, the catfish on your plate sometimes comes straight out of the river flowing under the floorboards below the restaurant.

No meal at Hall’s can begin without a sample of the restaurant’s world famous beer cheese, a uniquely Kentucky concoction of sharp cheddar cheese, beer, garlic and cayenne pepper.

Spread on Saltine crackers, Hall’s beer cheese is a cheesy, flavorful condiment with a slight kick of spice, perfect to wash down with…

…what else?


Somewhat surprising for a rural southern-style joint straight out of a Chris Knight song, Hall’s has a pretty decent beer selection.

Of course you are not allowed to step foot in the Bluegrass State without sampling Kentucky’s famous Bourbon Barrel Ale.

Aged for months in real Kentucky bourbon barrels at a distillery in Lexington, the predominant flavors are oak and vanilla while the malt and hops fade into the background.

Bourbon Barrel Ale packs a hefty punch -- both to your blood stream and your wallet.

Usually served in a ten ounce snifter for close to ten bucks, this is sippin’ beer. But at over 8% alcohol, at least you get some bang for your ten bucks.

I don’t think this is the kind of beer Chris Knight was singing about though.

Well there’s a cinder block juke joint down by the riverside
It’s where I carry my cash from the working week
They got a waitress that will turn your head
Bring you catfish and cornbread
Beer bustin outa the keg like it’s springin a leak

No. But it could very well have been Falls City bustin out of those kegs, an old school Kentucky brew that went extinct for decades and is now making a comeback thanks to some enterprising entrepreneurs in Louisville.

This cloudy pale ale has a nice mildly hoppy flavor as I sipped it admiring the view of the river below.

Also on draft, was Old Man Winter, from one of my favorite breweries in America, Southern Tier.

This microbrewery from Lakewood, New York (Yankees are good at a few things) makes some of the most delicious stouts and hoppy ales that have ever graced my liver.

Both hoppy and malty at the same time, Southern Tier’s Old Man Winter is perhaps the single greatest reason to endure the dark days of winter.

Just to prove to my loyal readers that it is possible for Suit757 to eat fruits and vegetables (as long as they are fried), I ordered a combo of fried green tomatoes and fried banana peppers for an appetizer.

The tomatoes were firm and crisp with just a thin coat of batter and topped with honey mustard and everyone’s favorite condiment -- bacon bits.

Fried banana peppers are another one of those uniquely Kentucky novelties.

These peppers were huge!

Butterflied, battered and fried, they had nice peppery flavor without the sting from the seeds.

Somewhat inexplicably, the dipping sauce provided was a standard issue cocktail sauce. Yuck.

I managed to save room for my entrée, a southern fried combo of catfish and frog legs.

Yes, frog legs.

Meaty, juicy and tender, these appendages came from some mighty large amphibians. Kinda like really tender chicken wings.

Only more rednecky.


The catfish was pretty bland and dried out, but livened up a bit with a few splashes of Frank’s hot sauce.

On the side came a “tangy slaw” -- a vinegar-based cole slaw that yielded more sweet than tang.

The green beans were prepared just the way I like my vegetables -- spiked with bacon.

The southern-rooted cuisine was matched by the ambiance.

Perched high on stilts way above the Kentucky River, Hall’s has survived numerous floods, fires and other disasters through the generations. A high water mark just below the roof line -- and at least 40 feet above the current river level -- decorates the waiting area.

A cozy fireplace and friendly staff add to the southern hospitality.

So, yeah, I have to admit, Hall’s on the River in central Kentucky has its stilts firmly planted in the South.

Too bad you have to go to that damn Yankee Bluegrass State to get there.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt

Hall's on the River on Urbanspoon


  1. Of course it's not Southern. Well, maybe its divided in some places. I was born and raised in Kentucky, and I never even considered the idea that it was the South until I was in college and somebody tried to make fun of me for being a Southerner. I never saw a gun in person until I was in my twenties, and I recently had to google "grits" because apparently I am Southern and, therefore, must eat them (it? I don't know...). I thought grit was something to do with sandpaper.

    1. Well, apparently you are not from Boonesborough...or Bowling Green...or Muck Lick. But that's OK. It just proves my theory about the identity crisis afflicting a state that borders both Tennessee and Illinois: