Pa­d­u­cah’s top spots

‘Top Chef’ con­tes­tant dishes on where to dine and drink in her Ken­tucky home

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FORK IN THE ROAD - By Lori Rackl lrackl@chicagotri­ Twit­ter @lorirackl

former Chicago chef Sara Bradley heard “Top Chef ” would be film­ing its new sea­son in her na­tive Ken­tucky, she wanted a piece of the ac­tion.

Bradley, a tire­less cham­pion of Ken­tucky cui­sine, got what she wanted.

The 36-year-old chef is the sole con­tes­tant from the Blue­grass State, one of 15 com­peti­tors duk­ing it out on Sea­son 16 of tele­vi­sion’s Emmy Award-win­ning cook­ing com­pe­ti­tion, de­but­ing Dec. 6 on Bravo.

“I wanted to rep­re­sent the en­ergy and the cul­ture that’s hap­pen­ing in the food scene in Ken­tucky right now,” said Bradley, who opened Freight House, her ac­claimed farm-to-ta­ble restau­rant, in Pa­d­u­cah, Ky., three years ago.

Be­fore launch­ing Freight House, Bradley honed her skills work­ing for the likes of John Fraser at Dove­tail in New York and Chicago’s pro­lific chef-restau­ra­teur Paul Ka­han at Avec, Black­bird, Nico Os­te­ria and Pub­li­can Qual­ity Meats. Like other so-called boomerangs, Bradley took what she learned toil­ing in the kitchens of bigc­ity, Miche­lin-starred restau­rants and poured that knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence into her own busi­ness back home, in the far western reaches of Ken­tucky.

The re­sult is Freight House, a din­neronly eatery housed in an old veg­etable de­pot. The pine rafters, brick walls and ex­posed duct­work make a lofty set­ting for the 140-seat restau­rant, where the corner bar is stocked with more than 300 bour­bons, whiskeys and ryes. The cre­ative menu fo­cuses on fresh, sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents all sourced within a day’s drive of Pa­d­u­cah (pah-DOO-kah), an artsy, river­front town of 25,000, just be­low the south­ern tip of Illi­nois.

“I re­ally wanted to be on (“Top Chef ”) to show­case my end of the state,” Bradley said, throw­ing a tiny bit of shade in the di­rec­tion of Louisville and Lex­ing­ton. “Western Ken­tucky some­times doesn’t get the love that cen­tral Ken­tucky does.”

One of the most pop­u­lar dishes at Freight House is Ken­tucky sil­ver carp, aka Asian carp, an in­va­sive species that Bradley is proud to serve, both from an en­vi­ron­men­tal and a gas­tro­nomic stand­point. She gussies up the mild white fish with stewed sweet to­ma­toes, lima beans, corn­bread crou­tons and fresh herbs ($21).

Five bucks will get you a bowl of ad­dic­tively crunchy pork rinds beg­ging to take a bath in the ac­com­pa­ny­ing lemon-thyme aioli. Other starters in­clude sin­fully good dev­iled eggs ($5) and spicy beer cheese ($9), a Ken­tucky sta­ple.

“My style of cook­ing is South­ern but also has a lot of Mid­west in­flu­ence,” Brad­plan ley said. “That’s one of the amaz­ing parts about Pa­d­u­cah. I could be in Illi­nois in five min­utes. I can be in Mis­souri in 25. I’m close to Ten­nessee. I can draw from all over the place. Our farm­ers mar­ket isn’t just a Ken­tucky farm­ers mar­ket. We have four, some­times five states rep­re­sented.”

Freight House is all about so­phis­ti­cated spins on com­fort food, from coun­try fried steak with “whooped” cau­li­flower, sawmill gravy, golden raisins and ca­pers ($10) to braised pork shoul­der with black-eyed peas, sweet greens, fen­nel aioli and corn­bread ($28).

Bradley’s mom, Bebe, dou­bles as the pas­try chef, “whooping” up maple sorghum wal­nut pie and vanilla-frosted Freight House birth­day cake to cel­e­brate three busy years in busi­ness.

Freight House is bound to get even busier, thanks to the “Top Chef ” ef­fect.

If you’re plan­ning a trip down to Pa­d­u­cah — pretty much a straight shot from Chicago, 375 miles mostly down In­ter­state 57 — make a reser­va­tion in ad­vance, ei­ther on­line at freight­house­ or by cal­lWhen ing 270-908-0006.

The restau­rant, 330 S. Third St., opens at 5 p.m. Tues­day through Satur­day.

Bradley said she isn’t sure where she’ll be when the new sea­son pre­mieres at 8 p.m. Dec. 6.

“I haven’t de­cided if I’m go­ing to watch it with my staff,” she said, “or go home and watch it on the couch with a big glass of bourbon.”

In­spired to check out Pa­d­u­cah? Here are Bradley’s rec­om­men­da­tions for half a dozen other places to eat and drink in and around town:

Ju­niper Room

533 Madi­son St.

Tucked away in one of Pa­d­u­cah’s old­est homes, the Greek Re­vival-style Smed­leyYeiser House, this cozy lounge gets cre­ative with its craft cock­tails. Sip on a smoked­sage mo­jito made with mez­cal or one of sev­eral gin-based con­coc­tions. Like a lot of the newer es­tab­lish­ments in town, this one is a la­bor of love from a hus­band-and-wife team who sal­vaged an old, de­cay­ing prop­erty and rein­vented it into a mod­ern, ex­cit­ing space — one that still pays homage to its past.

Knoth’s Bar-B-Que

728 U.S. High­way 62, Grand Rivers, Ky.

“It’s just a few min­utes’ drive from Pa­d­u­cah, and it’s some of the best bar­be­cue around,” Bradley said about this friendly, no-frills joint that takes only cash and checks; no credit cards. Known for its pulled pork (Bradley also digs the brisket), Knoth’s has been around for more than half a cen­tury. The pop­u­lar, fam­ily-run busi­ness was about to call it quits last year when, at the last minute, Pa­d­u­c­a­hans Ed Mus­sel­man and Andy Wig­gins hatched a to save it and carry on the culi­nary tra­di­tion. As in years past, Knoth’s will take the win­ter off. Af­ter Dec. 23, it won’t open again un­til March.

Pipers Tea and Cof­fee

3121 Broad­way St.

This tea-blend­ing and cof­fee-roast­ing op­er­a­tion is one of sev­eral busi­nesses in an old Coca-Cola bot­tling fa­cil­ity known around town as the Coke Plant. Pipers was started in 2012 by a cou­ple whose first sig­na­ture tea blend, Pipers Earl Grey, led the way for a col­lec­tion of more than 20 hand-blended teas and spe­cialty cof­fees. The cou­ple launched their shop in 2015 in the Coke Plant, where they more re­cently have opened a lab to blend tea and roast sin­gle-ori­gin cof­fee beans on-site. Dec. 13-24 is Pipers’ third an­nual 12 Days of Hot Choco­late, where a unique fla­vor is fea­tured daily. This year’s theme: desserts.

Dry Ground Brew­ing Co.

3121 Broad­way St.

An­other in­hab­i­tant of the Coke Plant, Pa­d­u­cah’s first craft brew­ery got off the ground in 2014. It has nearly 30 craft beers on tap, in­clud­ing 10 brewed in-house. Don’t miss the Preacher Pils, whose aroma is de­scribed as “fresh poured Ken­tucky le­mon­ade with hints of fresh cut can­taloupe.”

Just Ham­burg­ers

2532 Jack­son St.

This off­shoot of the orig­i­nal, which opened in 1965 in Pax­ton, Ill., is known for its weekly spe­cials, like the Guak­ing Dead, a dou­ble burger topped with pep­per jack cheese, house-made gua­camole, sour cream sauce and Ta­p­a­tio hot sauce. “You go in, and there’s heavy metal mu­sic play­ing,” Bradley said. “It’s a bunch of young guys who make the best ham­burg­ers. They’ve al­ways got some burger-ofthe-week that’s just to die for. And they’ve got great T-shirts.”

Kirch­hoff’s Bak­ery and Deli

118 Mar­ket House Square

“They do a lot of our fresh breads,” Bradley said about this Freight House sup­plier. The bak­ery and deli is a beloved in­sti­tu­tion that dates to 1873. That’s when Franz Kirch­hoff, a Prus­sian im­mi­grant, put his fam­ily’s Old World recipes to work in a wood-fired oven, sell­ing baked goods to res­i­dents and river­boat trav­el­ers alike. The busi­ness went dor­mant for a few decades but is back in the ca­pa­ble hands of the Kirch­hoffs, who crank out a wide range of breads, pas­tries, sand­wiches, soups and sal­ads.


“Top Chef ” con­tes­tant Sara Bradley owns Freight House, a pop­u­lar farm-to-ta­ble restau­rant in Pa­d­u­cah, Ky. The town has a grow­ing ros­ter of worth­while places to dine and drink.


Co-owner Andy Wig­gins, above, kept Knoth’s Bar-B-Que alive when he and his friend Ed Mus­sel­man pur­chased the long­time fam­ily-owned busi­ness last year.


Pipers Tea and Cof­fee of­fers a col­lec­tion of more than 20 hand-blended teas and spe­cialty cof­fees.


The Ju­niper Room drink “It Takes a Vil­lage” is a smoked­sage mo­jito vari­a­tion that uses mez­cal.


Dry Ground Brew­ing is one of sev­eral busi­nesses in­side an old Coca-Cola bot­tling plant in Pa­d­u­cah, Ky.


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