Ever since visiting The Courthouse in Independence, Ky., a couple of nights ago, I've been scared to open my refrigerator. I've eaten out every night since, scouring my neighborhood for new dining options. And when I'm home, the fridge just sits there solidly in the corner of the kitchen, staring at me accusatorially.
You see, hidden in the sulking fridge, right next to the apples and the overripe cantaloupe, in front of the organic polenta and the skimmed milk, is a Styrofoam box containing the remnants of my Kentucky Hot Brown ($7.25) from The Courthouse.
And it is, without doubt, the scariest looking entrée I've ever seen.
When my server first brought it out and laid it steaming on the table, I joked to my dining companion that perhaps Jackson Pollack was working in the kitchen tonight. Before me sat a swiftly-congealing mound of different colors: red sliced tomato, laid over white cream sauce and melted yellow cheddar cheese, under which hid turkey, bacon, ham and bread. Jackson Pollack! In the kitchen! How we laughed. But now I don't know whether to reheat the leftovers and eat them for lunch or to find somewhere with appropriate lighting to display them.
The Courthouse sits on the apron of a large Kroger grocery store parking lot on Declaration Drive in rural Independence, nestled modestly among oil-change establishments and fast-food outlets. On arriving, my dining companion and I are led immediately to a table, stepping carefully over mounds of Cheerios and french fries that have gathered in drifts around its legs. We are offered menus by our friendly and attentive server. The restaurant is reasonably busy for 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night, with the smoking and non-smoking sections equally well-attended.
We begin with a couple of cold beers and take our server up on her suggestion of a fried dill pickle appetizer ($5.25) while we look over the menu options. The pickles are delicious, lightly battered in a beer batter mix, and served with a side of ranch dressing.
Owned, as it is, by a team of local lawyers, The Courthouse is decked out in a courtroom theme from top to bottom. The conceit extends to the menu, and diners can select from Deliberations (appetizers), Plea Bargains (salads), the Bill of Particulars (entrées) and Punitive Awards (desserts).
"I have a question for you?" our server says to the people seated at the booth behind us. "You could sit in the jail cell if you like, rather than all try to squeeze in here." She points over to the corner of the restaurant. And there, indeed, is a jail cell with bars that stretch from the floor to the ceiling. On weekends, local musicians perform inside the cell.
Vegetarians visiting The Courthouse will find the menu a little meat-centric. Most will choose not to dine here at all or otherwise nibble on onion rings and mashed potatoes without the gravy. As a result, it has to be said, The Courthouse does meat extremely well and is very well-priced, offering good value meals for carnivores. The grilled 10-ounce rib eye steak ($11.95) is a delicious cut of meat, cooked to perfection, well-seasoned and very tasty. The baby back ribs (half-slab, $13.95) selected by my dining companion also are very good, smothered with a sweet and tangy honey bourbon barbeque sauce, and almost falling off the bone.
"By the way," my dining companion says, "the mac and cheese is not good." She gives it an exploratory prod with her fork. "And neither is that," she says, jabbing her knife toward her loaded baked potato.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Hot Brown sits near the edge of the table, slowly cooling. Some postprandial research has revealed that the Kentucky Hot Brown was invented not by Jackson Pollack after all, but by chef Fred Schmidt at Louisville's Brown Hotel in 1923. This explains a lot, because my Kentucky Hot Brown is not brown: It's red, yellow and white, and pinkish in some places, and a little bit grey in a few others. But it's not brown.
I'm starting to think the jail cell might not be a bad place for Fred Schmidt or the Kentucky Hot Brown.
The Courthouse redeems itself with its desserts. The chocolate cake ($4.95) is a huge, 6-inch-by-6-inch square slab of chocolate cake that sits in a pool of hot fudge sauce, its surface hidden by whipped cream. In other parts of the world, a family would live off it for a week. The same is true of the banana split ($4.95): two bananas, three scoops of vanilla ice cream, pineapple, strawberries, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry.
Four days later and my Kentucky Hot Brown is still in the refrigerator, slowly settling in its Styrofoam container, slowly becoming something else, something other. I think maybe in a few days, I'm going to give it another try. ©
Go: 2015 Declaration Drive, Independence, Ky.
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Sunday
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: A couple of fish dishes