I travel the region quite a bit, and Corbin, KY is no exception. For about a decade I have driven right by the home and birthplace of the legendary Colonel Sanders' Kentucky Fried Chicken in Corbin, KY, and I never went in until now. There were a couple thoughts going through my mind as I pulled in to the parking lot at the Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe: 1. Is fried chicken I am about to order for dinner going to be as goods as I remember from being a kid in the '70s (on the rare occasion that my mom did not cook dinner), and 2. Is my experience going to Corbin, KY going to be like that of Peter Griffin.
Peter Griffin visits Corbin KY looking for Colonel Sanders
I admit that for the decade of driving in and around Corbin, my mind flashes to the 19 second Family Guy gag of Peter Griffin trying to go meet Colonel Sanders in Corbin, KY, and the KFC employee is trying to tell Peter Griffin that the Colonel is dead.
So I pull into the parking lot, and the building is quaint on the outside, and I got out of the car to read the official historic marker. It talks about the Colonel Harland Sanders starting a restaurant in Corbin, KY in 1932, and took his recipes on the road in 1956. That got me thinking about how much I liked the gravy and chicken as kid, and my hopes were high that this KFC location will take my taste buds back to my childhood.
I really think something changed with KFC in the 1980s when RJ Reynolds and Pepsi Co bought and sold the brand. The gravy and chicken crust is not like what I remember as a kid, and I stopped eating KFC back in the 1980s because it wasn't what I remembered, the flavor and texture wasn't quite like the Colonel's original recipes from the 1970s. So, on this recent day, I went in and ordered a two piece extra crispy meal with mashed potatoes, gravy and a biscuit thinking somehow Corbin will take me back to the the old ways. It did not. The potatoes were a stiff and pasty, the gravy didn't have that roasted chicken flavor I remembered, and the biscuit was cold and crumbly. As for the chicken, the crust was ok, but tasted a bit like raw flour, and had a less than crunchy texture. The chicken inside was hard, dry, stringy and grey indicating the chicken is frozen, and/or was cooked and sat too long under the heat lamps to dry out the chicken and make the crust a bit floury and limp. I ate a few bites of each item on my tray, I ate enough of this meal to hold me over until morning, but I threw the rest out because I just did not care for it. The quality, flavor and texture here is no different than any other franchise location in the USA, and it is unfortunate that I was hoping for something special here in Corbin. I guess it is my problem and expectation, rather than really thinking through the reality of getting a meal here.
Original Kitchen Replica
It is a shame that the rest of the world gets this current type of fried chicken and may think this is representative of southern fried chicken. Fried chicken in the South is so much better. There are a lot of people in the South USA who make their family's fried chicken recipes either for their families or at a mom and pop shop. Part of my expanding waistline is because there are some excellent fried chicken joints in the south where the cooks do take a lot of pride in their recipes, just like Colonel Harland Sanders did 80 years ago. So far though, for my travels though TN, KY, GA, AL, MS, MO, NC and SC, I have tasted excellent fried chicken (and some not so excellent), and gravy on potatoes, and none taste like the memory of Kentucky Fried Chicken of my childhood. So, Colonel, I believe your secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices is still a secret.
Original Recipe Card
After my attempt at KFC dinner, I bussed my tray and went to look at the few museum displays. I did enjoy looking at recipe cards. At one time, Colonel Sanders gave away recipe cards for his salad dressings and side items for people who dined in his restaurant. His chicken recipe remained a secret and he never gave away that recipe card. I enjoyed looking at his baked beans recipe, and it is complex with some surprise ingredients like cinnamon, cayenne and ginger. I also enjoyed looking at a replica of bedrooms that were available at the Inn portion of the original restaurant and inn because the display was a bit hokey.
After looking at the replica bedrooms, I had one final thought about Colonel Sanders and Eastern Kentucky: who stayed in his inn? Corbin is in Eastern Kentucky coal country, and there were big coal companies in the 1930s, 40s during the war effort, and the early 50s before steam engines went to diesel and petroleum. Even Henry Ford owned part of a neighboring mountain and coal mine to harvest coal to keep his plants running. Did Henry Ford, other big mine executives stay with the Colonel and had dinner each evening at the inn and restaurant? Who stayed there and got to enjoy the real deal Colonel Harland Sanders' recipes?
I eat locally wherever local happens to be. I like finding good food where ever I go, from down home cookin' to celeb chef's food. I really like food, so that is why I blog about food. I am not a writer and never will be, so there are gonna be some typos and bad grammar. Oh well, I still love food! Also, I am not a photographer, but my little point-and-shoot camera seems to do well for my food photos. my email is LannaeFood (at) gmail com