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August 7, 2013

Taste Bud: Rick’s White Light does it right in Frankfort

Even though I think Guy Fieri can be downright annoying, I do covet his job and, when I find time to catch his show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” I find myself coveting the places he visits and the food he samples.

One such destination that keenly interested me happened to be within easy driving distance: Rick’s White Light Diner in downtown Frankfort, Ky. I decided to make the drive, and while the Fieri posters and photos all over the place (I think the guy autographed everything in the restaurant, right down to every individual spoon) was unsettling, the food and atmosphere settled just fine.

The diner looks like it should be in a Coen Brothers movie — tiny, quirky, oddly decorated and with a varied clientele. While the New Orleans comfort food menu is a bit on the pricey side for the portions, the quality is well worth the cost.

In order to get a comprehensive experience, I opted (not ironically) for the Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives sampler for $16.50, which got me two pan-fried oysters, a small slice of crawfish pie, a pile of pork barbecue, a piece of French bread and one side (in my case, collard greens). My girlfriend Cynthia, meanwhile, opted for a shrimp po boy and garlic cheddar grits.

Looking around the colorful establishment, one finds that one can order anything from an Ale 8 to a can of West Sixth IPA to accompany a meal. Vintage signs and photos reveal messages like “Ladies Welcome” and “Our meats are local. They are antibiotic, steroid and hormone free.” Good to know. On both counts.

Perhaps the first aspect of our meal we both noticed almost immediately was the cornmeal breading on both the oysters and the shrimp. Next, we noticed the absolute freshness of the seafood within. I scribbled in my notes that “I could eat my weight in these oysters. They could bread a rat in this stuff and I would eat it.”

The lightly peppery breading was crispy and came apart to reveal tender, juicy oysters within. Cynthia’s shrimp was equally tasty. “It tastes real,” she said. (Take that, frozen Kroger shrimp in a plastic bubble.)

The crawfish pie was one of the more interesting dishes I’ve tried lately; the flaky, thick crust was good on its own, but the tangle of ingredients within — crawfish, chipotle, garlic, green onions, butter and cumin — was fascinating. It all cooked down into a thick roux that packed a collective, smoky flavor that is tough to describe. Suffice it to say, I’d order it again in a heartbeat.

Meanwhile, the pork barbecue was tender and nicely smoked (the vinegary sauces were also excellent), the grits were creamier than you’d expect and tasty, and the greens were spot-on. Interestingly, the crawfish pie came with a side of iceberg lettuce topped with a generous helping of the house chipotle sauce (an aioli of sorts). I normally turn up my nose at iceberg, but with that stuff on it, I ate every tiny sliver.

Cynthia decided to finish off her lunch with a slice of homemade chess pie, on the advice of our server. I didn’t try it, but she said it was a wise choice in no small part because of the fresh whipped cream on top.

“Real whipped cream starts melting almost immediately,” she said. “You couldn’t eat this outside at a church picnic. You’d have to eat it inside. It’s that fresh.”

Did we just time travel to 1957?

Whatever. Rick’s White Light gets a thumbs up — even with Guy Fieri’s mug staring at me during the entire meal. 

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