It was a big treat to get to visit Barbourville when I was a little kid. The best pizza in southeastern Kentucky could be found at Oasis, a rundown, side of the road cafe that mysteriously put out New York-style thin pizza on hand-tossed crust.
Dr Thomas Walker State Park was nearby and featured a log cabin replica on the site of the first house ever built in Kentucky.
There was a tree fort that kids could clamber all over while playing cowboys and Indians.
And there was the Hamburger Hut where you could buy all the chili buns, onion rings, burgers and milkshakes that a family could want or need.
I’d nearly forgotten about the old restaurant but on a recent visit to Buzzard’s Puke in rural Knox County, I was hanging out with my buddy Woodrow when he mentioned that that was where he liked to go when he was in need of a chili bun.Time to point the old Econoline into town and see if Hamburger Hut has stood the test of time.
If you’re lazy and don’t like to get out of the car you can pull up outside the dining room of the old restaurant and a carhop will sprint out the side door, take your order and return with a sack of food in a few minutes.
If dissolution has not yet reached your door then an air conditioned dining room awaits. It’s tidy and smells maddeningly good of fried onions and vanilla milkshakes.
A chili bun at Hamburger Hut will run you $1.33, if you want to add french fries (from a freezer bag) and a Pepsi you’ll be docked $3.39.
The chili is loose and soupy with just a faint hint of cumin and peppery heat. This is the wettest chili bun of the series so far and would be well accommodated in a bowl with a crush of Saltine crackers. Bun is standard white flour, and accoutrement hews to the Kentucky tradition of ballpark mustard and chopped white onions.
The gals running the dining room could not be sweeter and do not blanch when I take a brace of photos. In this part of the state a stranger with a camera can end up in a fistfight real quick.
Hot fudge cakes and banana splits are on offer as they are at many dairy bars in Eastern Kentucky.
Knox County has a wild history.
The Battle of Barbourville took place on September 19th, 1861. It would be the first Confederate victory of the Civil War fought on Kentucky soil. When we were teenagers we’d ride motorbikes from Corbin to Barbourville to cruise the town square, court the high school beauties and of course eat plenty chili buns.
Sometimes we’d brawl with the locals.Moonshiners raced their old rods up and down nearby Hwy 25e so often that the thoroughfare became known as “Thunder Road.” Bob Mitchum starred in the movie about the lawbreakers.
I don’t get to visit Barbourville very often but I’ll always have an affection for the wildcatters, moonshiners, and chili cooks of that old town.
Hours of operation
always call ahead
Read about The Eastern Kentucky Chili Bun Trail