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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.

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