When In Paducah…

Before I left on this once in a lifetime trip, my Paducah born and breed friend Lynn told me that the one place I had to visit when I was here was Starnes Barbecue. When I met up with my Paducah born and breed friend Jan, who is acting as my tour guide, she said we absolutely had to eat at Starnes Barbecue. When two people tell you there is one place to go you go there.

Today was Mary Jo’s last day here since she had to go back to Nashville for the impending birth of her daughter’s sixth child so we went to Starnes so she could also enjoy it. Jan’s good high school friend Judy met up with us and the four of us were lucky enough to nab one of the two tables available at the mostly counter seat eatery.

Before we even stepped foot in the door, the smell of the hickory smoke emanating from the institution green building was enticing. Jan tried to prepare me for what barbecue means in Western Kentucky. “It’s pork, but it’s not like North Carolina barbecue. It’s chopped, and has a vinegar and spices sauce, but it’s not like Eastern North Carolina.” I was more confused about what I was about to enjoy than I was before. It didn’t matter because the tasting was eminent.

Not moments after we slid ourselves into the tiny table a friendly young girl leaned in from the servers side of the counter and asked us what we wanted to drink. Of course Jan and I ordered tea and the server asked us if we needed Sweet ‘n Low and lemon with that. I knew right then this was my kind of place, that offers lemon and Sweet ‘n Low as the default.

The only menu was up on the wall behind Jan and within moments I had it memorized. It was not as simple as my favorite movie menu in “ My Cousin Vinnie,” but it was not far off from, “I guess I’ll have lunch.”

We all ordered the same sandwich from the choice of five, going with the pork barbecue for $2.75. We splurged and went for the potato salad for a buck which is clearly where Starnes is making their profit margin, but that tiny cup of potato salad was good. In less than the shake of a possum’s tail our server was back with a toasted sandwich wrapped in wax paper with just the right amount of pork and a smear of well chopped slaw on top. At Jan’s suggestion I added a few drops of the sauce that was in the squeeze bottle on the table.

Lynn and Jan were right as usual. Starnes barbecue was worth the trip. Jan was also correct in that it was indescribable in comparison to North Carolina barbecue. It was slightly less fatty and had a distinct smokey flavor. The sauce gave it just enough spice, but I must admit the toasted white bread made it.

We had many refills of tea and monopolized fifty percent of the tables for a good long time learning more of the salacious history of Paducah. It was better than any Shondra Rhimes script.

After such a good time, I leaned into the servers walkway and asked for the bill. Lunch for four was $18.25. A better deal could not be had east of the Mississippi. When in Paducah Starnes is a must do.

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