My mother and grandmother were both skilled at making pot roast, and it was a staple of my youth. However, I’ve not found a consistent pot roast in area restaurants.
But a recent visit to Bardstown, the bourbon capital of the world, changed all that for me. My girlfriend Cynthia and I decided to have lunch at the Old Talbott Tavern, a place that has been around since the late 1700s.
As I perused the Talbott menu, my eyes darting between Southern mainstays like Kentucky burgoo, Kentucky hot brown, bourbon ribeye and more, I kept coming back to the slow-cooked pot roast. The description was simple, so it wasn’t like I was playing victim to a hard sell: “Slow cooked roast beef simmered with carrots, celery, onions and potatoes served with pan gravy.”
But the thought of maybe, just maybe, finding a really good pot roast in a restaurant finally caused me to cave. And holy cow, I’m glad I did.
My mom’s pot roast tended to have a thinner broth. The meat was fork-tender to the point that slivers of it would shear off and be found stuck to the potatoes and sliced carrots. My grandmother’s version was thicker, with a base that was like gravy. Both were delicious.
Interestingly, the Talbott Tavern’s version was somewhere in between the two; the pan gravy appeared to be added after the fact, which added some density to the flavorful broth. And whereas my mom and grandma focused on the tender roast, potatoes and carrots, the Talbott Tavern added onions and celery for extra layers of flavor.
But that’s not what sold me about the Talbott pot roast. What sold me was the fact that this was the only restaurant pot roast I’ve had that was absolutely, completely and totally dominated by the tender, delicious beef. (My mouth is watering just from typing this. I am not joking.) I mean, it was literally a pile of cow, an absolute vegan nightmare. As in, if I ever wanted to convert to Hinduism, that meal alone would instantly disqualify me.
In all seriousness, I’d have to guess there was two-thirds of a pound of roast in that dish. I counted four medium-sized new potatoes, the equivalent of probably one medium-sized carrot cut into slices, a single stalk of celery sliced, and maybe a quarter of an onion — about what you’d expect. But the pile of fresh, lean beef was gi-normous.
At one point, as I fought my way through one of the most delicious Southern-style meals I’ve ever eaten, Cynthia said, motioning toward the pile of cow, “Is that all meat?” My mouth full and jaws preoccupied with the task at hand, I nodded silently but enthusiastically.
“I figured there were potatoes under there to make it look like there was more meat,” she said.
Nope. It was a full-on roast-gasm.
And unlike pot roast I’ve had at some restaurants, this truly tasted like homemade. It was no-nonsense, American suburbia, straight-from-Mom’s-kitchen pot roast. The price was $9.95, and it was worth every penny for the quality and portion.
Talbott was a good experience all the way around and highly recommended, although Cynthia was none too amused on the drive home when we saw cows in a pasture alongside the road and I shouted at them, “I just ate one of your relatives!”
Cynthia does eat meat. She just doesn’t like to be reminded that it used to have a face.
Good service, bad service
My friend Amy recently told me about taking a friend to a high-end Highlands establishment for a birthday lunch, and receiving, well, terrible service. Oops. Make that no service at all. After being promptly seated, she and her friend were ignored, and they eventually left.
The good news? She and her friend went to Ditto’s immediately afterward, and Amy — who is in the food service industry herself (by way of Manny & Merle) — gave the service and total experience a glowing review. My point here is that even great food won’t keep a customer if the customer doesn’t believe you care about them. Well done, Ditto’s.
Note: Amy emailed the establishment where she received the poor service and four days later received an apologetic response.