Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Breaks Interstate Park…

is full of wild rhododendrons, so it isn’t a surprise that the park’s lodge restaurant is named for this flowering plant.

Time now for one of my semi-famous digressions. I hate rhododendrons. I like the flowers, but I think that the down drooping leaves make the plant itself look as though it is in its final death spiral. When we bought our house in Wycombe, there was huge rhododendron along one side of the house. I kept wanting to cut it down and tear out the roots but Chuck liked the plant, and since he would be doing all of the removal work, the plant stayed. Can I tell you how ecstatic I was when we had a massive ice storm one winter and I thought that it killed off that plant? The joke was on me. The rhododendron lived even through the ice storm.

Following our walking/drive tour of the park, we stopped into the
Rhododendron restaurant for lunch. Even though it was mid-week, we still were surprised at how empty the restaurant was as was the park’s lodging. Except for a couple of occupied tables, we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

The décor of the dining room was surprisingly spare, and we conjectured that the designers wanted to draw our attention to the breathtaking views of the gorge from the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Since Breaks spans the states of Kentucky and Virginia, the menu features specialties from both states. And Chuck selected the iconic sandwich of Kentucky as his lunch choice—the Hot Brown.

“…In the 1920's, The Brown Hotel (Ed. Note: in Louisville, KY) drew over 1,200 guests each evening for its dinner dance. In the wee hours of the morning, the guests would grow tired of dancing and retire to the restaurant for a bite to eat. Diners were growing rapidly bored with the traditional ham and eggs, so Chef Fred Schmidt set out to create something new to tempt his guests' palates. His unique creation was an open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon and a delicate Mornay sauce…” ( (This story is reminiscent of the birth of chicken and waffles at Wells Supper Club in Harlem.)

Numerous TV food programs have featured the hotel and its namesake sandwich. I remember one where a group of judges evaluated cheerleaders lauding the Hot Brown. The judging panel featured some food/travel star who could have been Adam Richman, Bobby Flay, Alton Brown, or Guy Fieri. I don’t remember who.

As you can tell from the following photo, Rhododendron’s version of the Hot Brown has taken liberties with tradition. Where did that brown gravy come from and what was it doing there? The sandwich
did contain thick slices of house-roasted turkey, bacon, and tomatoes like the original, but instead of the mornay (cheese sauce) it was topped with slices of cheese before the gravy was applied. Chuck did rave about the tasty gravy and I’ll admit that it was quite good. I just wish that we would have been served a “real” Hot Brown.

Sticking with the Kentucky theme, I ordered a small cup of Kentucky Burgoo, which I had never eaten but had seen being prepared on an episode of Paula Deen’s program. “Traditionally, burgoo was made using whatever meats and vegetables were available—typically, venison, squirrel, opossum, raccoon or game birds, giving it its mocking name ‘roadkill soup.’ Today, local Kentucky barbecue restaurants use a specific meat in their recipes, usually pork, chicken, or mutton, which, along with the spices used, creates a distinct flavor unique to each restaurant….No standardized recipe exists…Today, the meat is usually one of, or a combination of, beef, pork, chicken, and mutton, often hickory-smoked, but other meats are seen occasionally. Vegetables such as lima beans, corn, okra, and potatoes have always been popular” (

A good burgoo is supposed to be so thick that a spoon will stand up in it. This did not disappoint. This was a thick and hearty mélange of beef and chicken cubes, potato slices, carrots, peas, pearl onions, and just a bit of tomato in a savory gravy. It wasn’t something that
I would want to eat often—too thick and hearty for my taste—but I am glad that I tried it.

With the burgoo, I ordered the fried green tomatoes appetizer. They were pathetic. Enough said.

Had it not been for the dreadful fried green tomatoes, Rhododendron would have received a 3.5 Addie rating—even though the Hot Brown wasn’t authentic. Instead, it only merits 2.5 Addies.

Before getting back into the car and heading back to Big Stone Gap, we did take a moment to wander onto the patio adjacent to the dining room for one last look at the Grand Canyon of the East.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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