This time of year, people in search of a place to eat often look for somewhere that will fill them with the magic of the holidays, a place where the smells and tastes remind you of sitting around Grandmother’s table — where second helpings are practically required and no one ever, ever gets up without having to adjust his or her belt buckle.
For me, such a place is Trustees’ Table at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. In this historic landmark restaurant, a feeling of warmth and comfort always prevails; the menu is devoted to Kentucky and Southern specialties, and it’s a given that no one will ever leave the table hungry.
Even before you order your entree, a large communal bowl of what I consider the best cole slaw on the planet, accompanied by a basket of corn sticks, is passed around during lunch, with a similar offering of seasonal relish, vegetables and hot bread at dinner.
I’ve eaten here so often that I should have been able to get through the entire menu (which admittedly is not large) multiple times. Call me a creature of habit, but some dishes are just so good I can’t resist ordering them every time I visit.
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My usual starter is the creamy tomato celery soup (on both the lunch and dinner menus, $2.95 for a cup; $4.95 for a bowl), a puréed delight that whets the appetite rather than quenching it.
An alternate suggestion, if you’re there for dinner, is the homemade pimento cheese ($6.95). It’s zesty and piquant without being overpowering, and unless you’re a large party, one order is usually enough for the table.
The fried green tomatoes served with Sue’s sweet pepper jelly and Tabasco ranch dressing ($6.95) is another dish where flavors manage to individually pop and complement each other.
As for entrees, I usually opt for one of the fish dishes. At dinner, you won’t go wrong with the catfish, dredged in flour and cornmeal, pan fried and served with homemade tartar sauce ($18.95).
The salmon croquettes on the lunch menu ($13.95) are advertised “just as you remember them,” referring to their popularity as a comfort food. Indeed, they are comforting in the extreme, although they could be a bit less heavy-handed with the cream sauce. It’s served with sides of green beans and corn pudding as delicate as a souffle.
While I had the croquettes on a recent visit, one of my dining companions ordered smoked beef brisket ($13.95) and the other chose Shaker Village’s version of the perennially popular Kentucky hot Brown ($12.95.) All three of us got a gold star for cleaning our plates.
If you are looking for lighter fare, a new addition is Dylan’s winter garden sald ($11.95), a combination of tender kale, roasted acorn squash, walnuts, bleu cheese and dried cranberries tossed in apple cider vinaigrette. Dylan is Dylan Kennedy, Shaker Village’s gardener, who is responsible for the bountiful farm-to-table produce.
When David Larson, former chef-in-residence at Woodford Reserve Distillery, took over food operations here in 2011, he put his imprimatur on many of the traditional dishes. One thing he didn’t touch, however, was Mrs. Kremer’s fried chicken ($20.95).
If you’re wondering who Mrs. Kremer is, she developed the concept for the restaurant in the 1960s and authored two cookbooks on Shaker fare. The dish named in her honor is half of a chicken brined in salt water, then tossed in seasoned flour and pan-fried to a golden brown.
The Shakers were known for their desserts, and most diners choose one of the two staples – the traditional Shaker lemon pie and a “so rich and gooey it’s sinful” brown sugar Chess pie ($4.95.)
A recent — and welcome — addition is a selection of bourbons; domestic and imported beers; and red, white and sparkling wines to accompany your meal.
So, if you are hankering for a meal like your grandmother cooked, take the drive to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. Just remember to unbuckle your belt a notch or two before you go.
Patti Nickell: firstname.lastname@example.org
Trustees’ Table at Shaker Village
Address: 3501 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg
Hours: Open daily, except Dec. 24 and Dec. 25, for breakfast (7:30-10 a.m.); lunch (11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.) and dinner (5-8:30 p.m.)
Payment: Major credit cards accepted