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Ky. trip introduces classic dish

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - I'm a big believer in the "eat like a local" philosophy.

Whether supporting restaurants and markets that value locally produced food or seeking out local specialties when I travel, that's how I roll.

So when a family spring break trip took me to Kentucky last week - and to a throwback restaurant at Mammoth Cave National Park - it was the perfect time to expand my culinary horizons.

With chicken-fried steak.

I'm 43 years young and, until this past week, was proud to say I'd never tasted the stuff.

It's not that I'm all high and mighty when it comes to food. Far from it, actually, given my proclivity to consume copious amounts of biscuits and sausage gravy, especially when no one's looking.

It's just that it never really looked or sounded the least bit appealing to me. A slab of not-so-great-quality steak dipped in batter, fried like chicken and then smothered in gravy?!

No thanks, I would say, with disgusted look and eye-rolling in full effect.

But I was wrong. This stuff rocks.

The thin steak inside was tender. The coating was crispy deliciousness. And the gravy was, well, gravy. Can't go wrong there.

Served alongside oven-roasted potatoes and green beans cooked with salt pork, it was a soul-satisfying supper.

***

If you find yourself in the mood to go out for a drink or bite to eat at a nice local restaurant on a Sunday evening in Charleston, here's my advice to you ...

Don't.

You'll starve.

I'm exaggerating, of course, but just a little.

On the way out to Sunday night's hilarious "Capitol Steps" performance at the Clay Center, the missus and I wanted to stop someplace for cocktails and conversation along the way. Who knew it would end up being such an ordeal?

Bridge Road Bistro, closed for a private party.

Vandalia Grille, closed.

Soho's, closed.

Paterno's, closed.

Bruno's, Timothy's and Bar 101 ... closed, closed and closed.

We finally landed at Adelphia, where we enjoyed drinks with a nice Greek salad before the show. (Side note: Kudos to Adelphia for continuing to do so well in a previously tough location for a restaurant to make a go of it.)

To be fair, Bridge Road Bistro is usually open to the public on Sunday evenings, as are a few other non-chain places in town. We drove right past lovely Lola's and should have stopped there.

So what's my point? I don't know.

I do know the restaurant business is tough, and the smaller pool of diners on a typically slow night may make it seem like shuttering the doors on Sunday is a smart business decision. And maybe it is.

But there are still a lot of people who like to dine out on Sunday nights. And maybe the reason they all congregate at the area's chain restaurants is because those are the only ones opening their doors for them.

Food for thought.

Contact writer Steven Keith at dailymailfoodguy@aol.com or 304-348-1721. You can also follow him on Facebook and Pinterest as "DailyMail FoodGuy," on Twitter as "DMFoodGuy" or read his blog at http://blogs.dailymail.com/foodguy/.


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