Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

September 1, 2013

Tim Preston: Tackling The Tackle; country cooking; and a taste of Manila: 09/01/13

Tim Preston
The Independent

ASHLAND — I woke up early one day last week and began plotting my adventures for the day, which began with the annual hog show at the Greenup County Fair.

Even half awake, it only took a moment to realize I would be traveling a path that would take me (almost) right past Rams Dairy Bar, where they serve The T.J. and The Tackle, a pair of grilled-cheese-bacon-burger sandwiches I’ve been writing about for a few weeks.

Following what my wife calls my “Wrong-Way-Preston” instincts, I ended up in downtown Raceland and had to retrace my route a bit. After spotting a sign pointing me toward the nearby airport, I knew I was back on the right path and soon found myself in the parking lot of the former location of Crisp’s and Jeradan’s — at 100 Scott St., in Worthington, practically right across from Worthington Elementary.

Lisa Sargent, who owns the place alongside her husband, Mike, placed my order for The Tackle and a side of fries with a chocolate shake, and we got to sit down and talk business for a few minutes while the ladies on the restaurant side of the business (which is also a convenience store) assembled the monster sandwich. Sargent said she wasn’t sure how many order The Tackle per week, although she estimated “it’s quite a bit.” She said they likely sell more sub sandwiches (hot ham and cheese, as well as steak sandwiches) than anything else, noting they enjoy and appreciate the railroad workers who are loyal fans of everything made by their chief cook, Crystal McKenzie, whom she proclaimed to be “the best cook in the Tri-State.” Their customers tend to be “about 50/50” on ordering french fries or onion rings, she said, adding the kitchen crew shows up early every morning to cut and batter onions for their signature homemade onion rings.

“We also sell a lot of hot dogs,” she noted, before adding the peanut butter milkshakes are also quite popular.

So, back to that big burger. If you missed my previous description, The Tackle is made up of two hamburger patties between three grilled cheese sandwiches, with bacon in between and topped with a choice of lettuce, mayo and other goodies, all layered into a single magnificent creation. The Tackle arrived at my table and, despite the fact I arrived hungry, I knew I couldn’t manage to finish it in a single sitting. As you might imagine, this is a true “two-fisted” affair, and I had to stretch my big mouth extra wide to get that first bite in. To my delight, there was bacon in every bite and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Accompanied by perfectly fried fries (crispy on the outside yet still fluffy on the inside) and a smooth, creamy chocolate shake, it was a real experience.

 Sargent explained the sandwich was something her husband cooked up one night at home and decided to put on the menu, along with The T.J., which is a single-patty version of the same concept. For big eaters with a sense of adventure, the restaurant offers a challenge: if you can eat two Tackle Burgers and two fries and drink two shakes within 45 minutes, your meal is free and they’ll give you a T-shirt. We joked about me attempting the challenge, but the staff looked at my big belly and immediately decided I was too much of an amateur to even try.

“When you take the challenge you get two of everything, but you also get a bucket right here on the floor,” longtime employee Laura King said with a laugh.

Noting their devotion to the nearby high school, Sargent said they are thinking of adding a couple of new menu items, including The Hoof, (a Polish-sausage hot dog) in honor of Coach Randy Vanderhoof. She also joked about plans to serve up The Helton Burger, a single patty with no condiments, in honor of a “hopelessly single” teacher on staff there.

And, while I may have been dining on something that could easily be classified as not-especially healthy, I was pleased to note the menu board also offers four different types of salads - antipasto, chef, grilled or crispy chicken and garden, in large and small sizes.

The restaurant side of Rams Dairy Bar is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. For more information or to place an order, call (606) 836-6615.

Naomi’s Country Kitchen

 You could hear the excitement in Joy Griffith’s voice last week when she called to tell me about “the best place to eat in Ashland,” after enjoying a meal at a place called The Country Kitchen at 1901 Main St. in Westwood.

“It is the best country food I have ever put in my mouth,” she said, explaining she had enjoyed a couple of meals there and planned to return for salmon patties and greens during lunch the next day.

“It was like your grandma used to make,” she said, noting she had enjoyed classic foods including green beans, country-fried steak, mashed potatoes, green onions and tomatoes “fresh from the garden.”

Griffith offered to buy me lunch at The Country Kitchen (which research revealed to be Naomi’s Country Kitchen), although I haven’t had a chance to take her up on the offer. I did call the number I found for Naomi’s and enjoyed a quick conversation with owner Vaneesa Haney, who explained the place is named in honor of her mother-in-law. Haney confirmed they specialize in old-fashioned country-style foods, which includes husband Robert’s rendition of something I haven’t had in decades: cornmeal gravy. The meal gravy isn’t on the menu every day, she said, but is in demand when he decides to whip up a batch every other day or so.

And, giving me even more reason to make the place a personal destination, Haney said they also have an excellent burger named in honor of her husband’s dad, called The Big John Burger.

The restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information or to place an order, call (606) 420-4098.

Lunch at Maria’s

We are working on a special edition that will be focused on food, and the newsroom emptied last week when Maria Lemaster at Maria’s Manila Asian Market invited us to her shop for a lunch made of foods popular in the Philippine Islands.

I’ll be saving most of my notes for the upcoming Insight edition, although there are at least a couple of things I just have to mention in this space. First off, it was a rare moment when three journalists actually reached 100 percent agreement about anything (forgot those conspiracy theories in this newsroom as I doubt we would agree about the best way to make coffee or even boil water). Fellow reporters Ken Hart and Carrie Stambaugh joined my wife and me for this lunch/interview and we left that day in perfect harmony about the delicious meal we had just enjoyed.

One of the main things I enjoy about Maria’s market is simply surveying the items in her inventory (such as squid in a can, packed in natural ink). On this visit, I asked to sample something labeled Soursop Juice, knowing the soursop (guanabana) fruit is something foreign to these hills. She had a few cans chilled when we arrived and I have to say that is the best stuff I’ve ever drank from a can (a topic I’ve researched thoroughly). I can’t even describe the flavor of the juice, which is reputed to have near-miraculous healing powers, although I can say it is sort of like a melon flavor, with a component that reminds me of mixed berries, added to a tropical fruit. Refreshing and cold, I enjoyed two cans while there and have been daydreaming about another with each passing day.

Not limited to things of Asian origin, Maria also recently responded to a customer request for Louisiana Gold Pepper Sauce (a personal favorite) and now has small bottles in stock at a most reasonable price.

 The business is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For more information, visit the Facebook page or call (606) 388-4088.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at (606) 326-2651.