A Capitol Idea
Updated: Sep 11, 2019
Somewhere around fifth grade, students are loaded onto bright yellow buses and transported to our state capitol in our capital of Frankfort, Kentucky, for a day of listening to adults talk about boring old history, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of brown paper bags that have been smooshed beyond recognition, and lots and lots of walking. All I can really recall from that day was the large bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln that stands in the rotunda. Our tour guide told us if you rub his foot you will have good luck, so you know we were all standing on tiptoes to rub the toe of Lincoln's foot (a definite no-no during cold and flu season). Unfortunately, at that age the significance of the beauty of the building and the plethora of information that is handed out gets demoted to somewhere between who you're going to sit next to on the bus and when you can go to the bathroom. With Presidents' Day occurring on February 19th, Leigh and I thought it appropriate to visit KY's state capitol building to say hi to ol' Abe and see what else we might have missed on our first trip there (which really wasn't that long ago, right?).
Wanting to maximize our outing, Leigh and I decided first things first, which means we had to stop and eat somewhere. Doing a little research, I had come across Rick's White Light Diner located at 114 Bridge Drive. This place had been highlighted on the Food Network's , "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" with Guy Fieri in 2010, a show that pushed Rick's into the national spotlight. Funny side note: I had seen this episode at the time and thought, gee, I should go try that place out, but never did, and didn't realize it was the same place until we pulled up across the street. The outside of the restaurant isn't much to look at, pretty unassuming, but walk into the small galley-style dining area and you are surrounded by all manner of interesting artifacts hanging from every surface. Chef Rick Paul holds court here Tuesday through Thursday between the hours of 8 am and 3 pm. What I mean by hold court is he is definitely master of his domain and as with any good ruler, has a certain je ne sais quois that sets him apart from the rest of us. His salty humor and quick wit will disarm just about everyone except those with delicate sensibilities. So bottom line, you get dinner and a show with this place. Cajun cooking is his focus, procuring his ingredients from local vendors and seafood that is brought in fresh from around the United States, not China (trust me, it makes a huge difference)! I chose the shrimp po-boy and Leigh ordered the muffaletta with fried asparagus and cheese grits as our sides. Oh, wow! The food was out quick, piping hot, and delicious. Due to the close quarters, we found ourselves chatting it up with some other folks, including a visitor from the Czech Republic. Rick even has maps on the walls with push pins showing where people have traveled to just to eat at his place. Okay, maybe that wasn't their sole reason in traveling, but, hey, they ended up at the White Light Diner and for good reason. The food is outstanding! Leaving the place, we felt like we had not only had one of the best meals of our lives, but that we had made some new friends as well!
Moving on to the real reason for our visit, the tour of the Capitol, we headed just a little ways down the road to the Capitol grounds. The weather wasn't the best, cold with grey, overcast skies. We could easily envision this beautiful Beaux Arts style building, however, on a beautiful spring day with flowers all in bloom and everything green. It really is a gorgeous place. Going inside, we were greeted by security and made to enter through metal detectors. Leigh, of course, setting them off and making us believe for a hot second this may be the fastest tour anyone has ever taken of the Capitol. Luckily, no body cavity searches were required and we walked right over to the visitor's desk where two very nice ladies helped us decide our preferred tour method. You can take a guided tour of the building or a self-guided walking tour. Click this link for full details: https://capitol.ky.gov/Pages/visitorinfo.aspx For expediency, we chose the self-guided tour starting on the third floor.
Entering the House Chamber, we were approached by a security gentleman who instead of asking us to stay back behind the velvet ropes like we are accustomed to in other historical venues, he encouraged us to go right up to the front and stand behind the podium for our photo op, saying to us, "Do you all pay taxes? Then this is your house". How nice!
We moved from there to the law library with its impressive glass-tiled mezzanine and smell of old leather books, which as a bibliophile, I totally geeked out on. And returning to the center of the building and focusing our gaze upward, took a moment to take in the dome which is the only capitol dome in the United States that has lights that change color. Leigh, as a Lite Brite enthusiast, loved this unique aspect.
Two other cool features can be found on the first floor. Along one wall is a massive quilt compiled of squares depicting each of the 120 counties, and lining the hallway on the other side are two display cabinets wherein you will see porcelain dolls dressed in the gowns worn by the First Ladies of Kentucky dating back to 1792.
There are lots of other features you can check out while visiting, including the Executive Mansion, the giant floral clock, and the formal gardens, but having done our fair share of walking and ready to move on to sweeter endeavors, we rubbed Lincoln's toe and set off for our next stop, the Rebecca Ruth Candy Factory.
I can't believe that Leigh lived just five minutes from this adorable little white house on E. 2nd Street and never once took the tour. But I shouldn't judge too harshly as I live just a stone's throw away myself in Lexington and had not been there either. This candy factory has a very unique story, one that begins with two best buds (wait, this sounds oddly familiar),
Rebecca and Ruth, back in 1919 when the two left their teaching jobs to launch a candy business in the Frankfort Hotel. Rumors started that the two were putting alcohol into their candies, and since it was during the time of Prohibition, this caused quite the buzz around town. People flocked to try these candies even though in reality they didn't contain any alcohol. Rebecca sold her half of the business in 1929 to Ruth who by this time was a widowed mother of an 8-month-old baby, and Ruth set out as a sole proprietor of a business during the Great Depression, not exactly the best time to be selling a product many viewed as a luxury. Ruth, however, was business savvy and had the backing of the community who believed in her as well as her product. With the rising popularity of bourbon, Ruth thought now might be the time to marry the two and thus, the bourbon ball was born!
This fiercely determined woman was able to take her business through a fire, the Great Depression, and even sugar rationing in WWII, and to this day it is still run by her family. Tours are available Monday through Saturday, 9-12p and 1-4:30p, and costs $5. Leigh and I left with not only a free sample, but also inspired to overcome any obstacles that come our way. What a great lesson for us all!
So if the last time you visited Frankfort was on a school bus, you might want to consider going back. You can take in the beauty of the area, be inspired by the stories of people following their dreams, and I can guarantee you have terrific food options that don't include a flattened PB&J. Get yourself to Frankfort, Kentucky. It's a Capitol idea!
To hear our full story, please listen to our podcast Brunch with the Buds: Baby It's Cold Outside.