When I was a kid growing up in the eastern highlands of Kentucky’s Appalachian range, Tuesdays were the highlight of my entire week. That was the day I visited the livestock market in nearby London.
The ride back through the countryside rolled through cattle farms, tobacco fields, worn-down cemeteries and tidy ranch-style brick homes set back from the road.I’d ride shotgun in my uncle Don Sullivan’s big red International cattle truck. It was an antique of uncertain vintage that belched blue smoke when you fired up the motor.
I’d rather go for a ride in it than any rich man’s Ferrari.
Don was a beef farmer and a man who understood a child’s simple need for the treats on offer at the Dairy Dart, a drive-in restaurant that sat in the livestock market’s gravel parking lot.
Upon arrival, my uncle would hand me a five dollar bill, tell me his order for a burger and a milkshake and add that I could get whatever I wanted.That $5 fed both of us.
I always got the chili buns, and a pineapple milkshake.
Chili buns are chockablock across this part of Kentucky. To the unfamiliar, they are nothing more than a chili dog minus the dog. A heaping ladle of scratch, beef chili is wedged into a fluffy, Kern’s Bakery hot dog bun and garnished with mustard and chopped raw onions.
French fries, onion rings or Grippos potato chips are required side-eating.I’ve traveled all over the world and that pineapple milkshake is still the finest one I’ve ever encountered.
The London, Kentucky livestock market was a place of deep mystery.
I loved their auctioneer Sonny who bore a resemblance to Burt Reynolds. To me he was a rockstar. His skin was the color of a leather wallet and he always wore tank tops to battle the stifling heat. He had long curly hair and a fat mustache. Sonny was a chain smoker whose rapid fire patois was indiscernible to my young ears.After a few seconds of machine gun hollering he’d yell “sold!” and acknowledge the man who’d won the auction by raising a finger in his direction.
Santa Gertrudis cattle, Duroc hogs, Arabian horses, work mules, and the occasional Boer goat were paraded through the auction ring before being assigned to their new homes.
The air was rich with the odor of manure.After a few hours the chili bun would be worn-off and uncle Don would send me to the ancient, stooped woman running the old-fashioned popcorn machine for more refreshments. If you would’ve told me she was a Civil War widow I would’ve believed you.
Dairy Dart had a near 50 year run in that gravel parking lot til they moved up the road a few minutes to Carnaby Square shopping center. That occurred around the year 2000.In January of this year, the founder of the restaurant Jessie Williams passed away at the age of 94. A recent visit found the concern to still be firing on all cylinders in her absence. The recipe for the chili was securely passed down to the cook who’d shown the moxie it takes to bang out a big kettle a few times a week.
My waitress, Vickie, is running full-tilt around the small dining room. She’s cutting up with the regulars whilst hustling out cheeseburgers, shakes, chili buns and chuckwagons to the lunchtime crowd.
Whatever they’re paying her they could double it and still make good money from her labor.
Jessie Williams was an entrepreneur and empire builder back when women were expected to stay home and raise a house full of young’uns. She traveled across the state of Kentucky with the gospel group, The Williams Family, and when she wasn’t praising the lord through song she was shepherding her crew at Dairy Dart through a busy service or making sure the workers at the automobile dealership she founded were acting right.
There will never be another like her.Dairy Dart
841 S Main St.
Hours of operation
Always call ahead