Fried Green Tomatoes from Bobby Flay

You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food—Paul Prudhomme

Have you ever fixed a dish and, not exactly wanting it to fail, but just not wanting it to be as good as your traditional way of cooking the particular dish so you could say to the uppity chef, “See our way is better.”?

Well, this happened last night.

I love fried green tomatoes and nothing says “southern cooking” to me like a good plate of fried green tomatoes. The love being doled out by the operator of the iron skillet in preparing this delicacy would fill up a number two wash tub.

Usually there is some combination of eggs, flour, and cornmeal for the coating and of course the thinly-sliced green tomatoes have to be in just the right place in the space-time continuum on its way to ripeness. I have been frying these up for years, sometimes using only the frothed egg white for adhesion or the whole egg. Sometimes I use only cornmeal for coating but never just flour. Most folks in the south have their traditional way of serving up this dish, but no matter which way you fry your green tomatoes, you always felt it was the best way…because of tradition. Your mom did it this way or your grandma, or even your great-grandma, or just a kindly neighbor.

But along comes Bobby Flay, that brash New York chef who grew up in Manhattan. What would he know about frying green tomatoes? Well evidently, a lot. I really hate to say it but these are the best fried green tomatoes I have ever eaten.

I want to apologize for that last statement to all the southern cooks who have lovingly fed me fried green tomatoes over the years and have helped guide me into maturity at your tables, of course Mrs. Big Surf is saying that is still a work in progress.

Mr. Flay uses flour, BUTTERMILK???(not any part of the egg), and PANKO???(no cornmeal…someone help me I’m feeling infirmed). The combination of flour, buttermilk, and especially the Panko elevated these fried green tomatoes to a level of Southernness, like no other.

Sorry Marita. (Who served me the first fried green tomatoes I ever ate as a young lad and until last night, the best I had ever eaten.)

Okay Bobby, just work on losing that New York attitude and accent and I will feel better when I fix these fried green tomatoes again.

Ode to the Insalata Caprese

Twas on the isle of Capri that I found her, beneath the shade of an old walnut tree—Jimmy Kennedy from Isle of Capri,1934

Nothing embodies summer for the tummer (sorry I was in a lyricist frame of mind) like the Caprese Salad.

My first sign of summer in eastern Kentucky was not the oppressive heat, or the air that felt like you were wearing a wet dog, or the flowers blooming in everyone’s small gardens, or the neat rows of tobacco in the field…it was the first bite of the “garden tomato”. Nothing tastes as good as the tomatoes grown in an eastern Kentucky garden.

Now I know some may take issue with this last statement, especially the good folks I have met here in my new home in southeastern Indiana, for the tomatoes are very tasty here also. And those who grow tomatoes in southern Italy, but c’mon will any of them actually read this blog?

In the hills and hollers of eastern Kentucky, the first tomatoes were usually eaten on a bologna sandwich, or just on a plate with salt and pepper, or as my dad would just make a tomato sandwich with mayo. But for me, it’s the celebration of the first locally grown tomatoes in a Caprese Salad.

This wonderful, simple salad is believed to have originated on the beautiful island of Capri, off the Amalfi coast in southern Italy. It is probably the closest most of us will ever get to this heavenly place and as far as the taste buds are concerned that is ok.

The salad is traditionally made with only five ingredients…tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, salt, and olive oil. Thankfully it can still be called a Caprese salad with variations of ingredients. I usually add olives, sometimes cucumbers and onions. I usually top it with red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar mixed with the olive oil and add pepper. I hope the Italian chefs don’t take issue with my liberties for it still has the red, green, and white colors of the Italian flag (well, other than the balsamic and kalamata olives and occasionally the purple onions and yellow tomatoes I will use).

I know this last salad is pushing the Italian envelope here with the hard boiled egg, so if you see “insalata caprese con uovo sodo” on the menu when you are in Capri, just remember where you saw it first.

Ode to West Liberty

The nice thing about living in a small town is that when you don’t know what you are doing, someone else does.—Immanuel Kant

I never knew Immanuel Kant grew up in West Liberty, KY.

The above photo is of West Liberty, KY, my hometown. I was born there. I lived there till college, graduate school, work, marriage, and parenthood…then moved back again for the next twenty-eight years…until last month.

I retired from my profession of thirty-eight years and moved to Indiana to be closer to my daughter’s family and of course, grandchildren. When I moved back to West Liberty twenty-eight years ago, I never thought I would leave again.

I had a professor in graduate school in Houston, TX that was from Sandy Hook, KY about twenty miles from West Liberty. He told me a man needs to live where his roots are. It took me a long time to figure out what he meant, but he was right.

I never understood the folks that left the Kentucky mountains for work and lived in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois for thirty or forty years and then moved back home, leaving their children and grandchildren. But I think I will understand a little better in a few years.

I loved being from West Liberty, KY. Yes, it’s small. Yes, there isn’t a lot of opportunities for young people. Yes, stores don’t stock many international foods. Yes, people always know your business (see above quote). Yes, it is physically isolated somewhat from larger cities. But it is and will always be home.

The residents of West Liberty, past and present, understand this.

Growing up in West Liberty was magical for me. I wanted my children to have the same experience and I had to convince my wife to move from her hometown to let our children grow up in West Liberty. I will always thank her deeply for allowing that to happen. I feel if you grow up in a small town, you learn to get along with people because you can’t hide from them. You will see them or their relatives at every turn. It is easier to make the transition from a small town to a city than from a city to a small town.

As mentioned earlier, I never thought I would leave again. But alas, after over two hundred years of someone in my family tree living in that community, I was the last remaining leaf to be a resident of West Liberty. But don’t get me wrong here, the people of West Liberty would have been enough to keep me there, for they are wonderful people. The beauty of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains would have been enough to keep me there also. However, we missed our family and Indiana had what Kentucky didn’t have…my daughter and grandchildren.

So West Liberty, I am sorry to leave you. You will always be my home and my love…my roots.

Big Surf’s Breakfast Bowl

Instead of thinking outside the box, get rid of the box–Deepak Chopra

Here in the Appalachians, when it comes to take out outside the box, most of us would rather eat in the box.

We eastern Kentuckians are very particular about what we eat for breakfast. If we get anything other than biscuits and gravy, eggs and bacon, or sausage, or pancakes, or waffles, or cereal…well that just puts us in a tizzy of epic proportions. In the historical context, we have just recently embraced bagels and yogurt to our start to the day.

So for me to eat a breakfast bowl that is not filled with the above mentioned ingredients was akin to dining al fresco outside the comfortable inside dining area of the box.

Saturdays are the days Big Surf goes aforagin’ through the fridge in search of ingredients to create a magical start to the day for the blue-eye darlin’. Now some of these mornings are more poof than PRESTO! However this one was quite a PRESTO! We loved it.

I sautéed some onions, Brussel sprouts (yes that’s right, so when the hairs on the back of your neck come back down hear me out), mushrooms, pork steak leftovers, and spinach. I added to the sautéed veggies salt, pepper, and Everything but the Bagel.

After the saute’, I topped with tomatoes, avocado and a fried egg. I’m sure you could add your favorite shredded cheese and I was going to add some cheddar, but honestly I forgot. I guess I was too focused on “OH MY GOSH! I’VE JUST DECIDED TO EAT BRUSSEL SPROUTS FOR BREAKFAST!”

In the end, it was tasty, healthy, and Mrs. Big Surf’s blue eyes were still sparkling.

Mokka and the Sunset Bar and Grill in Newport, KY

Goetta is somewhat of a mystery—Paul Tenkotee

Somedays turn into wonderful days when you aren’t expecting it, when the Almighty Creator gives us a glimpse of His Mercy in the midst of chaos and angst.

Today was one of those days and it came as a revelation to me at Mokka in Newport, KY on a revitalized Monmouth Street across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, over a delicious goetta frittata.

Let’s go back a few days. Cue the harp glissando…

Mrs. Big Surf and I have been in the midst of selling a house in one state and remodeling a house in another state. I am counting down to retirement, she will begin a new job. We have just been through losing parents, cleaning out houses of memories, trying to get someone to take over my business, and just recently dealing with a beloved family member going through a medical crisis, which brought us unexpectedly to Cincinnati.

My lovely missus spent a sleepless night to be with this loved one in a busy hospital room. We were both exhausted from the previous weeks, she much more than I.

We left the hospital late in the morning to eat breakfast before heading out on the two and a half hour drive home. We settled in a booth in the above mentioned Mokka in Newport.

We started with a spicy Newport Bloody Mary for me and a raspberry Mimosa for the sleep-deprived darlin’. Now I don’t advocate any alcoholic beverage before noon but we were celebrating the incredible answered prayers on behalf of our loved one and her improved condition overnight.

Our meal was so good.

The goetta frittata was just what I needed. She had a platter of French toast topped with creme brûlée cream, a biscuit and gravy, and cheesy scrambled eggs, and to my surprise she consumed it all…who’s the big girl?!

Now I realize most folks who aren’t from the Cincinnati/Northern KY area haven’t a clue about goetta.

Goetta came from peasant German immigrants who settled in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. It was a way to make meat, usually pork sausage, last longer by mixing it with oats, onion, and spices. It is cooked and dried and formed into a loaf for slicing. It has the consistency of sausage and is usually fried crispy.

This morning as I sat in that charming cafe, across from my lovely wife of 36 years, both of us in the same clothes we put on yesterday, neither one of us had showered, me unshaven, and her without makeup, I knew what Sheldon Cooper meant when he said,”The Germans are such a comforting people.”

This spicy Newport Bloody Mary is one of the best I have ever had.

This plate of a Goetta Frittata with breakfast potatoes reminded me of the comforting pleasures God allows on this earth.

Mrs. Big Surf in a rare eating frenzy consumed this plate of delicious breakfasness.

Greek-Style Eggplant

When my baby cooks her eggplant, about nineteen different ways, sometimes I just like it raw with mayonnaise—From “Eggplant” by Michael Franks

Mrs. Big Surf and I are contemplating going “full boar” or “whole hog” into the Mediterranean Diet. Oopsie, I guess since pork is not a staple of this diet, please forgive the above phrases.

On our first date, my lovely wife told me she “never dove headlong into something, instead she would stick her big toe in to test the waters.” That has held true for 36+ years. So our foray into the Mediterranean Diet has been a slow one.

I made the above delicious meal with a recipe from It is only one way to fix eggplant, now there are only eighteen more ways to go.

I know we will have to give up pizza, French fries, fried potatoes, fried chicken, fried pork chops, sausages, salty snacks, donuts, and anything fried in a mixture of flour and eggs…unless we can get a mapmaker to prove that eastern Kentucky borders the Mediterranean Sea.

Honeywood…Lexington, KY

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Cooking is like painting or writing a song.  Just as there are only so many colors or notes, there are just so many flavors—it’s how you combine them that sets you apart—Wolfgang Puck


We have been enjoying watching this season’s episodes of  Top Chef Kentucky.

In honor of this week’s episode that featured Kentucky chef, Ouita Michel, as a guest judge, we decided to drive to Lexington, KY and eat in one of her many establishments.  Mrs. Big Surf and I have eaten at Holly Hill Inn in Midway, KY and Wallace Station in Versailles, KY and Smithtown Seafood in Lexington.

Ouita Michel is a native Kentuckian and like all good chefs, she uses ingredients that are local and makes food that tastes wonderful.  We really enjoyed our food at Honeywood.

We ate here for lunch with a friend.  All of our dishes were happy-making (to use a phrase our friend likes) and the staff was very friendly and the restaurant is nicely decorated. I can’t say enough good things about this lunch experience.

I am not a food critic, so I can’t break down the meal and analyze it like a professional critic.  But as my enzymes were breaking down this meal, they were making me happy.  This is really good food.

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For starters, we shared the FOUR O’CLOCK, a plate of wonderful Midway Bakery buttermilk biscuits with shaved Browning’s ham and apple butter, cheese salad, salt and pepper almonds, carrots, pickled vegetables, and cheese wafers.  This would be plenty of appetizer for a group of four and will get you started on the right track…good food makes for good conversation.

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We had a hard time deciding what to order for our main dish, as all the dishes on the menu sounded inviting.  I chose the most interesting item, Chef Josh’s famous BEETLOAF, a vegetarian loaf made with beets, parsnip puree, topped with tomato gravy and served on bed of mashed potatoes along with fresh Kentucky greens.  I enjoyed eating this dish so much.

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My wife had the WHITESBURG SOUP BEANS, with a rich ham broth, onions, and served with a Weisenburger Mill hoecake.  This traditional eastern Kentucky comfort dish was elevated so much and may be the best soup beans we have eaten. Incidentally, the photo above shows a reflection from the table lamp on the surface of the soup beans, so don’t try to figure out what it is.

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Our friend ordered the SHADY LANE SALAD.  It is composed of local lettuces, shaved Browning’s ham, candied Kentucky pecans, mustard vinaigrette, topped with a local deviled egg and served with Weisenburger Mill hoecakes. Our dining companion, who has the most discerning palate of the three, was very happy with his choice also.

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Chef Ouita Michel elevates Kentucky cooking to a level that is world-class.  I will return to Honeywood and try to eat my way through the rest of the menu.

Tomatoes and Flames…Mt. Sterling, KY



You better cut the pizza into four pieces because I am not hungry enough to eat six—Yogi Berra


I love pizza.

I know many of the few who read this blog will say the same thing.

Lately the lovely missus and I have been trying to make good pizzas at home.  So inevitably we go out to find good pizzas.  Not that we are totally incompetent in the kitchen, we just haven’t gotten the final result we want just yet. The only way I can get the pizza dough to cook at 800 degrees is to stick it in a pile of burning leaves and that just leaves it a little too smokey.

So we decided to go to the old country to find good pizza.

Now for us the “old country” turns out to be Mt. Sterling, KY. This picturesque small city was established in 1792 and if you know your Kentucky history, you will remember that this was the same year Kentucky became a state.  Mt. Sterling is one of the oldest towns in Kentucky.

A friend of mine told me about the pizza he and his wife had eaten at Tomatoes and Flames in Mt. Sterling.  Since I valued his opinion very much, we decided the hour drive would be worth it for good pizza.

 Tomatoes and Flames  is in a small intimate setting in an old building with bright yellow paint.  Most of downtown Mt. Sterling buildings are old, or historic if you prefer that term.  Just like the “old country”.

We had the Pizza Margherita.  We loved our pizza.  The Margherita pizza is simple in its ingredients and complex in its flavor.  It is so good when done right.  Let me tell you, this was done right.  It looked like the same thing we ate in Rome and it’s taste was the closest to the pizza in Italy we have had anywhere in the US.

The dough was wonderfully thin and crusty and the sauce was so good.  So simple, yet so remarkably delicious.




The Pizza Margherita is a classic Neopolitan pizza and prepared to perfection at Tomatoes and Flames.

The bonus was being able to eat Crank and Boom ice cream that was sold in the restaurant…the icing on the pizza.

Pizza Margherita has a history that dates back to 1889 when King Umberto I and his Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples shortly after the unification and formation of Italy.  Legend has it they were tired of hoity-toity French cuisine and asked the most famous pizza maker for some common street food.  He provided a pizza made from tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil leaves, which just happened to be the colors of the newly formed Italian flag (red, white and green).

The alternative theory is it was named after the Italian word for “daisy” which is margherita.  Evidently the shape of the pizza with the toppings resembled a daisy.  I’m going with the first theory.  That is what was told to us in Rome when we had our first Margherita pizza.

I am so thankful that we can get old world pizza within an hour drive at Tomatoes and Flames.

Mt. Sterling’s downtown is very picturesque and I enjoyed strolling through the streets.


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The brick oven at Tomatoes and Flames.


You order at the counter.


Cool door with windows.


We never pass up Crank and Boom ice cream.


I had a wonderful chocolate latte here at Spoonful of Sugar.



Louisville,KY…A Good Eatin’ Weekend

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A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty, has wasted thirty years of his life.—Muhammad Ali

This quote, from one of my favorite Louisvillians, sums up my approach to food over the past few years.  All my life, I was eating good food…I just didn’t know it.

My wife was developing into a superb cook, my mom fixed delicious food all my life and my mother-in-law fed me like a king. My two grandmothers were really good cooks but in different ways. I didn’t appreciate what all they did in the kitchen until lately when I started enjoying cooking.

I didn’t appreciate restaurant food until the last twenty years or so.  It was more about eating out at for a reasonable price than dining for enjoyment.

As I started my journey in the kitchen, I started paying attention more to restaurant food.  Now I tell my friends “food and cooking have become my new sport” since my knees don’t allow me to participate in a lot of sports anymore.

Well if sports have become my new metaphor for cooking, then Louisville, KY is the playing field.  Louisville has become a food destination in the culinary scene.  It has been this way for many years but is now starting to get recognized for the many fine restaurants in this wonderful city on the Ohio River.

My wife and I spent a rainy weekend in Louisville recently.  I was limited in my time, as I was in classes for two days, and it was too wet for outdoor activities, but we still got to eat.  We took every opportunity to visit some really good restaurants, some of them are not particularly well-known, but very good nonetheless.

This blog is all about the food…

First up was Whiskey Dry on a Thursday night.  This is Chef Ed Lee’s newest Louisville restaurant.  He has 610 Magnolia and Milkwood. Incidentally my wife and I agree that our favorite dish we have eaten in Louisville over the years has been Chef Lee’s pork shoulder with black barbecue sauce over coconut rice, with edamame and curry oil.  This is a staple at Milkwood.

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Whiskey Dry is the only locally owned restaurant on 4th Street Live in downtown Louisville.  It specializes in burgers paired with bourbon, very Kentucky.

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I had the Big Ed burger, a take-off of the Big Mac.  Instead of a middle bun, there is a fried green tomato.  I can’t impart the degree of deliciousness I experienced with this burger and fries.

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Our very tasty appetizer at Whiskey Dry was Pimento Cheese Curds with Chile Romesco sauce.

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This adult chocolate milkshake may have had a little bourbon in it.  This was dessert.

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Cool bar at Whiskey Dry.


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Friday afternoon lunch at NamNam Cafe for wonderful Vietnamese cuisine.

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Very cool table top at NamNam Cafe.

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My new culinary romance is pho. The NamNam Cafe pho is real real good.



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We had a Friday dinner at Louvino on Bardstown Road.  This is a small plate eatery in the heart of Louisville’s restaurant and hipster section.   You can literally walk up and down Bardstown Road and find a great place to eat. We met my cousin and her husband for a lively and enjoyable meal.  Lots of good dishes were enjoyed here.

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The bacon-wrapped dates are a must for a starter at Louvino.

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The Port wine brisket with zucchini cornbread was so tender and delicious at Louvino.


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Lee’s Korean Restaurant was our choice for a Saturday lunch. Lee’s is on the first floor of what looks like an office building, so don’t give up looking if you drive by it the first time.  If you have a hankering for Korean, this is the place.

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Deep fried won ton was a great choice for our starter.

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Mrs. Big Surf and I shared the beef bibimbap with the Korean vegetables.  Our waitress/hostess was so nice and pleasant as she demonstrated the way to eat this Korean traditional dish.  She was happy to show us a little of her home country.  I was glad she did.


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The Come Back Inn was recommended to us for our Saturday night meal.  Word of mouth is a wonderful thing for we had a wonderful meal.  This is a small neighborhood Italian eatery in a humble building in the Smoketown/Germantown/Highlands area.  I really don’t know my neighborhoods in Louisville.

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We started with a chef’s special appetizer for the night of Smoked Salmon Crostini. This was pretty special.  Capers are one of God’s little blessings that let me know He knew what He was doing.

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The waiter told us the specialty at Come Back Inn is the Bolognese.  I was going to get something else, but he said this would bring me back.  He was right.  I will come back (now I get it).  My wife had the chef special of the evening of lobster ravioli in a saffron cream sauce.  This dish was very tasty but the lobster may have been lost in the sauce.  The sauce was so good, we didn’t mind too much not to get all of the lobster taste.


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Our last meal was breakfast on Sunday morning before heading home.  After some research, I found Gralehaus.  This is actually a bed and breakfast with rooms upstairs.  I loved this place.  It is very small and was hard to find.  It is on Baxter Avenue right behind the Holy Grale that is on Bardstown Road.  Our GPS took us to the Holy Grale.

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The coffee alone was worth braving the rain and not having room service, also we got to drink out of these nifty mugs.

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This was the best dish I ate all weekend, Biscuit & Duck Gravy, made with a black pepper biscuit in duck sausage gravy with a maple sauce drizzle and duck cracklin’.  I will be thinking about this for a long time.  I may take up duck hunting just to try to duplicate this.

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My wife had Lamb & Grits, a sausage of Middle Eastern origin with lamb and pork. The grits were very good, topped with an egg and cilantro and mint.  This was very enjoyable also.



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I mentioned earlier my favorite dish I have ever eaten in Louisville. This is Milkwood’s Pork Shoulder with black barbeque sauce from Chef Ed Lee.


They say the most exciting two minutes in sports is the Kentucky Derby (also in Louisville). But set one of these dishes from a Louisville restaurant in front of me and I will give this phrase a run for the money.







Blaze BBQ and Wings… Fannin’s Market

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Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start—Anthony Bourdain

I love good barbecue.

In the past few years I have associated good barbecue with going on vacation.  I would seek out the best barbecue joints on the way to the beach or wherever we were going.  Sometimes this took a lot of research and extra drive time, much to the exasperation of Mrs. Big Surf.

Now I just have to cross the bridge from West Liberty into Index, for the barbecue gods have looked down on Morgan County, KY with big messy, saucy grins.

Larry Lewis and his wife Julie have opened Blaze BBQ & Wings.  This is a small food trailer.  They will be set up at Fannin’s Market in Index..The days of operation will be Saturdays. I think the menu may vary from week to week.  This past Saturday was the opening of this new venture. There hasn’t been this much buzz about town since the Freezer Fresh reopened after the tornado. Consequently, so many folks came to Index that the food was consumed too quickly.  This was a great testament to Larry’s reputation in our small community.

We joined the line on Saturday for a later lunch, hoping the line would not be as long.  This strategy back-fired because the wings had already been eaten up.  However, those of us in line did get a sample.  Larry sent what was left of the wings out into the line for a sample. It was a good gesture on his part.  The wing I ate was soooo good.  The barbecue sauce was thick and sweet.  I can’t wait for the full order next time.

My other strategy was for my wife and I to order meals that came with two meats and two sides.  We would each get a pork portion and one of the three choices of wings and we could sample all four sides (this looks like one of those statistical probability problems I had in college). Since the wings were gone, we could not do that, so we split up the sides.  She got home fries and regular cole slaw.  I got the Cajun slaw and Nannie Mae’s baked beans.  All sides were really good, but I highly recommend the Cajun slaw. The pulled pork and pork loin was delicious and the sauce was sweet and tasty.

I am so glad Larry and Julie are starting out on this endeavor, boosting the food presence here in Morgan County.  I hope I can eat this wonderful food for many years.  My only advice for Larry and Julie is get a bigger trailer to hold more food, they will need it.

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Pulled pork, pork tenderloin, Cajun slaw, and Nannie Mae’s baked beans.

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Same meats with home fries and regular slaw.

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Larry Lewis served up some really good food. As David Letterman use to say, “It was a good kind of tired.”


I mentioned Fannin’s Market earlier.  Sarah Fannin has owned and operated Fannin’s vegetable market in Index, Ky since 1995.  She has a large vegetable farm and sells the produce in the market, she also sells vegetables from a grower in another county.  The produce is always fresh and tasty.  And it always looks appealing, which is important for me when I look for produce.

Fannin’s Market has provided a really nice place for folks to settle in and eat or mingle in a beautiful location overlooking the farm.

I stopped growing my own veggies a few years ago.  The deer and groundhogs were better fed than me.  So I let Sarah grow my vegetables for me.  I still grow some herbs and a few banana peppers, for some reason the varmints don’t like them.

We have been fortunate to have Fannin’s Market for a number of years.  So before you get in line for some good barbecue, stock up on veggies, fruits, and melons at Fannin’s Market.

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Always great produce at Fannin’s Market.

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Nicely decorated gathering area at Fannin’s, for eating or just good conversation.

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Cozy tables overlooking the farm.