I first met Travis Warf a couple of years ago. I had only been at SOAR a few months and I had read about some of the great things happening in Harlan County. From mom-and-pop shops to one of the nation’s best-kept adventure tourism destinations, Harlan County is protected by mountains in every direction, from the breathtaking overlooks on Pine Mountain, Black Mountain (Kentucky’s tallest peak), Kingdom Come, and the list goes on and on.
When I first arrived in the Tri Cities, it was a step back in time. I grew up in southern West Virginia, and I remember traveling the winding rounds of Logan County, from the coal camps of Rum Creek, Madison Creek, and Taplan, the old coal camps of Cumberland, Benham, and Lynch just felt like home.
Well, it is home.
Ok, enough reminiscing… Back to Travis.
Travis had just taken over the management of the Benham Schoolhouse Inn. The Harlan County Fiscal Court, in a final effort to keep the former Benham High School turned hotel, attempted a public-private partnership to keep the Inn alive.
An attempt to simply keep a building open has turned into one of our region’s most remarkable comeback stories. The Inn didn’t survive because of this.
Fast forward a few years later it is thriving.
Travis is the owner of Appalachian Hospitality Group, and his interest in the Benham Schoolhouse Inn was personal.
“What made you want to do this?” I asked Travis when we first met.
His answer was simple: “My first job was a dishwasher here, and I know what this building, the Inn, and the memories of this school mean to this community. I know what it means to me.”
It was in at that moment in time I knew Travis would be successful. You see, when passion collides purpose, it is a recipe for success.
Ok, enough about Travis and the Inn.
Let’s get to the real story.
Last Friday, I dropped by the Dinner Bucket Restaurant at the Inn. It is just beautiful and full of old artifacts. Your drinks are served is large canning jars. And the menu… oh, the menu.
One-pound baked potatoes, homemade soups (I love the chili), momma’s fired bologna sandwich, pineapple upside down cake, and the dinner bucket. Your choice of fried fish or chicken served in an old dinner bucket (seethe photo of my fish dinner).
When I thought about this blog, I thought about the many memories I have made throughout Appalachia Kentucky throughout my career. Most of those memories involve, in some way, shape, or form, food.
There’s Opals in Jackson County – actually two locations.
There’s Amons in Somerset.
There’s Miguels in the Red River Gorge
There’s the Chocolat Inn in Beattyville.
There’s Billy Rays in Prestonsburg.
There’s Martha’s Pizza in Ivel.
There’s Pizza Stop in Inez.
And, yes, a double or triple shot in Martin County (that’s where I am from) with the Dairy Bar (in Warfield and Inez) and the Monte Crisco at Cloud 9 Café at the Big Sandy Regional Airport.
I ain’t done yet.
Dee’s Drive In in Louisa.
Thatcher’s Downtown in Jackson (the brisket chili alone is worth the drive.)
Suplex Tacos in Ashland.
Angie’s Cast Iron Skillet in Paintsville.
And Sauced (craft pizza and pasta) in Pineville and now London.
There’s so much to see and so much to eat across the mountains and valleys we are so fortunate to call home.
And I plan to share the food, the stories, and all that is good in Appalachia Kentucky.
For now, though, take another glimpse at that Dinner Bucket.
And go to Benham, say hi to Travis and his team, and tell them I sent ya.