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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Word of mouth takes us to Jucy’s, Texas Bar-B-Q in Kentucky

According to a recent study from the University of Michigan, about $86 billion is spent each year on advertising in the United States. But often the best form of advertising is done by word of mouth.

During a recent visit to Mark’s Feed Store barbecue restaurant in Louisville (see my earlier review), we were enthusiastically steered by another customer to a place in nearby LaGrange, Ky., -- Big R’s Bar-B-Q.

Making our way there for dinner on July 4, we were disappointed to find Big R's closed while it moved to a new location.

Undaunted, we went to the nearest gas station to ask the locals for other recommendations. Go to another eight miles down the road to a place in PeWee Valley called Jucy’s, we were told.

We wouldn’t be disappointed, they said.

Our only regret is that we didn’t meet Tommy Hiltzman, also known as “The Jucy Man.” Jucy’s takeout menu and web site make a point of encouraging you to “step up and meet The Jucy Man himself.”

If we had, we would have thanked the Longview, Texas, native for making some of the best beef brisket that we’ve had since leaving the Lone Star State.

According to an employee and the company bio, Hiltzman, frustrated that he couldn’t find good brisket around Louisville, decided to open up his own place in 1994 with his wife Donna.

In August of 1996, they opened Jucy’s along a railroad line at 7626 LaGrange Road (also state road 146).

After you walk in the door, to your left will be something you don’t see as often in Indiana – a steam table with a short cafeteria line. Instead of sitting down and waiting for a waitress, customers wait in line and make their selections.

In addition to beef brisket, Jucy’s also serves pork ribs, pulled pork and chicken, smoked turkey breast and their honey ham. Jucy’s also sells smoked pork tenderloin by the pound. On Mondays, they serve all-you-can-eat ribs (but not on holidays like July 4).

My only complaint is that they weigh your meat on a scale right in front of you – which left me wanting more, particularly after the first bite.

The wood piles outside provide ample proof that your dinner is smoked on the premises. We were told that they smoke the meats slowly over hickory for hours – including beef brisket for 16 hours. The smoker is located, under lock and key, to the left of the main entrance and its pipe extends through the roof.

What we found was that Hiltzman achieved his objective. However, as we experienced in Texas, the beef was superior to the pork ribs, which we found to be somewhat dry and stringy.

However, we also are confident that we would find them even better on another night. Since returning to Bloomington, I’ve be told as much by a few people I trust who’ve also eaten at Jucy’s.

More good word-of-mouth advertising -- although next time we want to try Big R's.

Jucy's Smokehouse Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ken-Tex Bar-B-Q is still open, but the memories are better

I should have suspected that something was wrong when we pulled into the parking lot of a Ken-Tex Bar-B-Q in Shelbyville, Ky., and found it completely empty.

It was about 5 p.m. on a recent Sunday afternoon, but we reasoned that it was a beautiful, sunny day and that it was still a little early for dinner. The only other wheels in the lot were from an old chuckwagon.

We have been coming to Ken-Tex Bar-B-Q since the early 1990s, when Barry Bernson, a friend and Louisville TV news anchor, told me that it was better than anything he’d found in the Derby City.

On his recommendation, a workmate and I drove south on I-64 through a heavy thunderstorm to find this place started by a retired Texas state trooper who’d opened the place after having a vision from God.

We joked along the way, as the windshield wipers struggled to push away the raindrops, that perhaps our obituaries would later read, “He died for good barbecue.”

As the story goes, God -- or someone in a dream (more likely) -- told Ken-Tex’s founder to open a Texas-style barbecue restaurant in Kentucky. On our first visit, we found that the dining room featured a painting of the Lord blessing squad cars, as well as an impressive collection of police patches.

The barbecue was outstanding that night and wasn’t just limited to the basics. On this and several other visits, we enjoyed paying for all we could eat – beef and pork ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken and – if memory serves – mutton.

Ken-Tex also was one of the places where I celebrated with my father IU’s victory over the Duke Blue Devils in the 2002 NCAA Regionals at Lexington – when it seemed like everyone in Kentucky was a fan of the Hoosiers for one weekend.

Sadly, nearly all of that is in the past.

Barry Bernson still does the morning news and his “Bernson’s Corner” features are still worth watching. But the painting and police patches are gone and so is any reason to return to Ken-Tex.

The two teenagers who waited on us on a recent evening were nice but lacking for anything to do. No other customers stopped in during the hour that we were there. Our dinners both featured dried out meats, probably due to the hours they’d spent in a warmer.

As you can see in the photo, there was enough salt on our french fries that they sparkled. The beans were little better, having as much flavor as the cups they were served in.

I’m left wondering whether the founder of Ken-Tex has died, presumably gone to meet his maker, or perhaps sold the business. I can’t imagine that anyone would bless what they’re serving today.

It pains me to write this, my first truly negative review for Barbecued Adventures. However, memories will always remain. In my next entry I’ll reveal a place that perhaps has picked up Ken-Tex’s mantle, another barbecue joint in Kentucky started by a Texan.