This article appeared in the Lexington Herald on Feb. 6
Many are familiar with Tombstone, the Town too Tough to Die, but how many know about Frankfort, the Town too Sweet to Diet?
If it was hard to stay out of Boot Hill in the Southern Arizona town, it’s virtually impossible to stay out of the candy store, ice cream parlor and bakeries in the Central Kentucky city.
For starters, Frankfort is home to a chocolate factory that even Willy Wonka would be proud of. The modest white cottage with red shutters and awning in the shadow of the state capitol building seems an unlikely setting for one of Kentucky’s most popular exports, but that’s just what it is.
Here, at Rebecca Ruth Candies, chocolate rules: glass cases are lined with horse heads fashioned of white and dark chocolate, raspberry jellies, nut lovers’ caramels, pecan blondies and some 125 other types of confectionery.
But even in this chocolate empire, one reigns supreme. Rebecca-Ruth was the first company to produce candy made with 100 proof bourbon whiskey, and even though the maximum used is five percent, the tiny bon-bons known as bourbon balls still pack a wallop.
The company’s secret recipe features Evan Williams, a product of Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown. Charles Booe, president/owner of the company and grandson of co-founder Rebecca Gooch, explains what sets his bourbon balls apart from the competition.
“Our chocolate containing the bourbon goes through an aging process just as bourbon alone does,” he says.
And just how long do those bourbon balls have to age to achieve the required level of delectability?
“I can’t tell,” he says. “It’s a family secret.”
If the candy is mouth-wateringly good, the story behind it is equally delicious. In 1919, one year before the Suffragette Act was passed, two intrepid substitute teachers made a life-altering decision. Frankfort natives Ruth Hanley and Rebecca Gooch arrived at the conclusion that their hearts weren’t really into corralling unruly children, instead working to turn the candy they had made for friends into a lucrative business.
The women found an outlet for their candy-making skills when the manager of the Old Frankfort Hotel offered them the use of the barroom, shut down by Prohibition. Pouring candy instead of drinks, they piqued the interest of hotel guests peering nostalgically into the dry saloon. The tantalizing aroma wafting into the lobby sent guests and townspeople alike scurrying to the candy counter. Thus, Rebecca-Ruth Candies was born.
103 years later, it is still flourishing, with some 1,000 pounds of candy made every day at the company’s low-tech (a 1910 antique candy furnace is still used for cooking the candy bases), but people-friendly world headquarters.
You Scream, I Scream – We all Scream for Ice Cream
Pardon the pun, but ice cream lovers across the Bluegrass Region are going hog wild over Hoggy’s Ice Cream Parlor. A scant three years after its opening, the line of people waiting for a cone or cup still winds halfway around the block during the sweltering summer months.
Inside the pink and blue storefront with the pink and blue hog hoisting a pink and blue cone, owner Chrissy Hogsten scoops up some 20 different flavors for her devoted clientele. Those flavors include coconut almond chip (an ice cream version of almond joy candy bar), Fudgy Cow (like Rocky Road without the nuts) and Boss Hogg (think Reese’s Pieces in a sundae).
But what really distinguishes Hoggy’s is that Hogsten believes they are the only place in Central Kentucky that serves Dole Whip, a mouth-watering soft serve originated by the Dole Pineapple Company and made famous at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, which was, for a while, the only place one could find it.
At Hoggy’s you can enjoy a cup or a cone of pineapple, lime, orange, raspberry and lemon Dole Whip on a rotating basis, although Hogsten says she can also do a twist of any two flavors on the menu, as well as a Dole Whip float in any of those flavors.
Hogsten attributes Dole Whip’s incredible popularity to the fact that “it’s dairy-free, fat-free and gluten-free, but you would never know it because it’s so flavorful.”
Hoggy’s is anything but ordinary in its offerings. For example, if you have the physicality of an American Ninja Warrior, go for the Squealin’ Sampler where you attempt to balance 20 mini scoops on a single cone.
For the overachievers, there’s the Hog Wild Challenge. If you think you’re up to it, you can fill a bowl with 16 scoops of ice cream, eight dollops of whipped cream, eight cherries, hot fudge, caramel and four toppings of your choice. Finish it in 45 minutes, and you are awarded a Hoggy’s T-shirt and a picture on their Hall of Fame.
Fail and your infamy will be recorded with your picture on the Wall of Shame in either the men’s or women’s restrooms. At latest count, the Hall of Shamers outnumbered the Hall of Famers.
Hoggy’s is currently closed and will reopen in time for Valentine’s Day, but several Winter Weekend openings have been scheduled for January.
Find Some of the Cutest Food in the Country Here in Frankfort
At B’s Bakery, pink flamingo donuts, mini cookies atop elaborately iced cupcakes and petit-fours sporting tiny gingerbread men are so impossibly cute that television’s The Food Network has dubbed the bakery “one of the 10 bakeries in the U.S. serving the cutest food.”
You may not find flamboyant flamingos or rakish gingerbread men on the menu every day, but you can find equally “cute” and delicious items throughout the year. Research has shown that B’s has the largest cookie bar in the state with some 20 varieties, with everything except the macaroons being made from scratch.
For that, you can thank the eponymous B, aka Beth Carter, a Frankfort native whose storied career has taken her from an externship in Italy and a stint on the culinary team for the American Grand Prix to a gig with Taylor Swift’s 2015 World Tour and a position as set caterer for Ree Drummond on her Food Channel Network program, The Pioneer Woman.
Can a woman who’s known the bright lights of two continents find happiness in the small-town atmosphere of Frankfort? For Carter, the answer is a resounding YES.
“I had been wanting to get back here for a long time and I just felt Frankfort was ready for a home-town bakery,” she says.
Were they ever. B’s was a hit from the start, and now Carter’s dazzling career has led her from a 12th century Italian castle to Le Mans races and cooking for celebrities to the chatelaine of one of the “cutest” bakeries in the United States.
When One Bakery Just Isn’t Enough
Frankfort may be a small town, but its residents are second to none in their love of sweet treats. For that reason, a second bakery, Poppy’s, has its own followers who declare their donuts are sacrosanct; the specialty cakes are chic in the extreme, and one fan even went so far as to describe the Long Johns as a “chocolate and cream oral ecstasy.”
For those who might not know what a Long John is, it’s an oblong, yeast-risen pastry coated with a glaze or iced like a cake.
This locally-owned bakery has all the usual suspects, such as muffins, cupcakes, cookies, pies, petit-fours, croissants and cheese Danish. They also have some unusual offerings – baklava that would make a Greek lick his or her lips and a King Cake for those who just can’t make it to New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras (watch out for that plastic baby tucked somewhere in the middle.)
Most of all, Poppy’s is a home-away-from-home for its devoted fans who come for the hand-crafted baked goods served with a side of love.
Whether you’re a connoisseur of chocolate, an ice cream aficionado or a devotee of donuts, you’ll find your sweet spot in Frankfort.