By Amy Lynch

As good luck and fate would have it, I had an opportunity to return to Paducah last week for a few more days of fun and feasting!

1857 Hotel made me feel like a rock star, greeting me warmly and welcoming me back with open arms. I’d barely gotten checked in when Jo, my new favorite bartender, invited me to come downstairs and try some Bird Dog Ruby Red Grapefruit Whiskey she’d just gotten in. The “Kentucky Mule” she mixed up for me was DELISH. (And, she even poured me a bonus taste of cocoa cayenne liquor I wanted to lick right out of the glass.) If I lived here, this bar would definitely be my “local.”

For dinner my first night in town, I visited Max’s Brick Oven Café, a charming little spot with a courtyard patio that looks like something straight outta N’Awlins. My wood-fired salmon with mustard cream sauce over spinach with roasted potatoes paired perfectly with a chilly Chardonnay.

Breakfast at G&O Pharmacy and Grill was a fun little find. Imagine a full-service pharmacy with a short-order grill and lunch counter in the corner. There ya go. The breakfast menu’s about as basic as it gets — coffee, bacon, sausage, eggs, toast and hash browns. But really, what more do you need in the morning? And tons of local color. Gotta love a place where you can sit on a stool with a counter full of regulars sharing their newspapers and discussing whether or not Earl should put new blades on his lawnmower.

Culinary students capably staff Kitchen’s Café on the groovy little Paducah School of Art and Design campus. And imagine my surprise when I walk in and see a huge old iron engine furnace cover made in Indianapolis, IN — a fun little taste of home! The fresh hummus pita wrap I ate was darn tasty, too – nice and garlicky with snappy slices of cucumber, greens, fresh herbs and a sprinkle of feta served with a cup of fresh diced pineapple.

Happy hour took place at Dry Ground Brewing in the currently shape-shifting retro Coca-Cola plant on Broadway, an amazing renovation work in progress. This place is sleek and contemporary, populated with a great staff and a menu of buzzy microbrews that touts offerings like Under Tow Imperial IPA, 37 Flood American IPA and Rapture Imperial Stout. The Preacher Pils I sipped was smooooooth, and I also liked the seasonal sample I tasted. Can’t remember the name, but it was made with chamomile tea?!? Ed, Andy — Help me out here, guys??

I’d been daydreaming about revisiting the Freight House from the second I found out I’d be returning to Paducah, and chef Sara and her team did not disappoint. I sat at the bar where I was downright pampered with a Pistol Ave cocktail made with cinnamon whiskey, Fernet Branca and tamarind soda.

My amazing tomato/plum salad with cornbread croutons and “fire and ice” tzatziki tasted like summer on a plate.

And then there was my butcher steak entrée served with peach/potato/peanut salad and charred creamed corn. Just when I thought my dinner couldn’t get any better, the lovely couple sitting next to me paid for my meal. I. Love. This. Town. (Thanks again, David and Linda!)

Returned to the Coke plant for breakfast at Piper’s Tea and Coffee, where I took advantage of a sweet $5 coffee and Kirchhoff’s scone deal.

Laura, my lovely Paducah guru, met me for lunch at Starnes Bar-B-Que, a local institution that’s been around for decades. The tiny menu boasts not much more than a couple grilled white bread sandwiches filled with low-and-slow cooked meats, but there were swarms of people eating in and carrying out. To accompany, you can choose from cole slaw, potato salad and bagged chips. And no Coke vs. Pepsi debate here — Starnes is all about the iced tea and the RC Cola, baby! The sauce is a spicy, vinegary recipe not quite like any other barbecue I’ve ever had. I ordered my pulled pork with cole slaw on the sandwich itself (‘cause that’s how I roll) and gave it good dousing. Mm good.

Other notable moments — sitting by the river watching the water and clouds drift by…

Coloring and crafting to my heart’s content with Kristin at Ephemera in the Lower Town Arts District…

And glimpsing two mama deer and two fawns crossing the road while cruising through the idyllic Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.

See you next time, Paducah — thanks for the memories and the Southern hospitality!