My wife and I were... hmmm.... somewhere last summer and we were in a small shop talking with the proprietor. Somehow, Paducah, KY came up and he said that he was from Paducah. We told him that we liked Paducah and that we were planning on going back to try a couple of restaurants that we thought looked interesting on our first visit to the downtown area. He said, "Oh, you guys have to go to Patti's. The food there is SOOOO good!"
Then the day we left to go on vacation, we stopped into our favorite little coffee house near our house to get a couple espressos for the trip. The girl behind the counter was asking us where we were going on vacation and we mentioned that we were going to eventually spend a couple of nights in Paducah, KY. "Paducah?! I grew up not far from there! Every Easter I go back home to see my family and we have lunch at Patti's. It is SOOOOO good!" We did a little research and found out that the place they were talking about was Patti's 1880's Settlement in Grand Rivers, KY, about a 30 minute drive from Paducah. With two glowing reviews like that, we felt we really needed to give the place a try.
How Patti's got started is a bit of a story. Patti grew up in Chicago and her family moved to Tucson, AZ for health reasons. During World War II, Patti visited a Veterans Administration hospital with some friends and met Bill Tullar, an Naval Air Corps pilot who developed tuberculosis while flying blimps during the war. The couple soon married and after the war Bill started in the insurance industry. The Tullars lived in numerous places - California, Hawaii, Arizona and even Germany - before they ended up in Florida. Things weren't going well in the insurance game and Bill was forced to take a government job as an investigator for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).
Bill Tullar was in Western Kentucky assessing flood damage and he ended up visiting Grand Rivers - a small town (with a population of about 350 people) on the north end of a strip of land known as "The Land Between the Lakes" situated between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake. He immediately fell in love with the area. He loved the area so much that he asked Patti to come up to see the place. She, too, fell in love with Grand Rivers.
In 1975, the Tullars - now with three grown sons and a daughter - decided to buy a small six-unit motel in Grand Rivers. They bought Newcomb's Modern Cabins - which were far from modern at the time - for $19,000. Everyone in the Grand Rivers area laughed at the Florida couple for buying the dying business.
While Bill Tullar still worked for FEMA, Patti Tullar ran the motel. The Tullars rented the rooms for $11.55 a night, but much of the time she didn't have a lot to do. She looked forward to the trips she took to shuttle motel patrons to and from the local airport. Bored out of her mind, she thought about opening a little restaurant in what was basically the living room of the home quarters the Tullars built after they bought the motel.
In 1977, she asked her oldest son, Chip, and his life partner, Michael Lee Grimes, to move from Los Angeles to Grand Rivers to help out with her restaurant. The living room of their living quarters eventually became a little 20 seat burger/ice cream shop by the name of Hamburger Patti's Ice Cream Parlor. The upstairs bathroom that was the Tullar's private bathroom was the one that customers used when they needed to use the facilities. As the restaurant business began to grow, the Tullars eventually knocked out some of the room's walls to expand them into dining areas.
Pictured right - Patti and Bill Tullar
While the restaurant still wasn't able to support the whole family, Bill, Chip and Michael Lee Grimes all worked separate jobs to help supplement the family's income. Once the restaurant got going, the Tullar's son Michael moved from California to Kentucky to run the kitchen and be sort of the "jack-of-all-trades". Bill quit his job with FEMA to concentrate on the family business.
The restaurant soon became known as Patti's 1880 Restaurant. With Michael's carpentry skills, they eventually built a new kitchen. Feeling that their father was being left out, the Tullar boys built another restaurant on the other side of the kitchen and called it Mr. Bill's. This was more of a barbecue and steak house, catering more to tour buses and large groups. However, as Patti's 1880 Restaurant became more famous, it eventually took over Mr. Bill's.
In the early 90's the restaurant became known as Miss Patti's 1880 Settlement when they brought in old cabins from Illinois and Kentucky and turned them into gift shops. From there, Patti's 1880 Settlement evolved into what it is today - still a number of gift shops, a walking garden with babbling brooks and fountains, a remote-control model boat area, and a miniature golf course. Antiques that Patti collected from the area are on display throughout the restaurant. Stained glass windows from old churches are on display, as well.
After Patti died of Lou Gehrig's Disease in 1998, Bill Tullar passed away from lung disease in 2000. To honor their parents memory, the Tullar children erected a chapel with a memorial to their parents on the property. They also now run a hotel at the Grand Rivers exit on Interstate 24 - Patti's Inn and Suites. And for years at Christmas time, the restaurant is decorated with over 500,000 lights all throughout the complex. Today, Patti's 1880 Settlement serves over 300,000 people annually in their restaurant.
We had made reservations the day before on our way from Nashville. Since Grand Rivers was close to Interstate 24 on the way to Paducah, we decided to stop into the small town to check out what Patti's 1880 Settlement was all about. It was a bit difficult to find - it's sort of off the main drag into Grand Rivers and you had to double back once you got to the "business district" of the small town. (see map) We eventually found it and drove past the complex a couple of times looking at what appeared to be a tourist trap. Cindy said, "Maybe we ought to stop in a have a drink to see what the place is all about. We can always cancel our reservation if it's too touristy."
I thought about the two people who raved about Patti's and I said, "Aw, let's just have dinner here tomorrow night. It should be all right."
We had reservations for 7:30 p.m. and we got there right at 7:30. It was tough to tell, but it didn't seem like Patti's was overly busy as we were able to find ample parking in the lots outside the building. We went in and told the hostess we were there. She said that it would be a short wait for our table. She invited us to sit in the heavily decorated area around the front counter, or we could go into the gift shop off to the side to look around.
Like most places that have gift shops, they more than probably made us wait before they seated us - even if a table was available. It was the type of gift shop that we didn't care for. Call us snobs - maybe. But it was kind of schlocky and touristy. We looked around for a bit, but ended back up toward the front counter. When we came back, they immediately seated us in one of the many dining rooms in the place.
If they do lights at Christmas, we wondered what it would be like. It was early September and the dining room was already festooned with a lot of lights and greenery. We were seated at a corner table in the small dining area and given menus.
Our server for the evening, Katie, came over to greet us. I asked what beers they had available and she said, "I'm sorry, sir. We don't have alcoholic beverages. We're a dry county here." Cindy sort of smirked at me when she said that, knowing full well that if we'd stopped the night before to check the place out we would have found out that we couldn't have gotten a drink. Oh well, we were there. No beer or wine with our meal. Not a deal breaker - or at least I wasn't going to make it a deal breaker.
Patti's 1880 Settlement is famous for their 2-inch thick pork chops. By this time of the evening - sort of wanting a cold beer - I wasn't really looking for anything else. They had steaks, seafood, pasta entrees, chicken dishes and prime rib. The prime rib almost made me turn that direction, but I thought I'd go for one of their signature dishes.
Katie brought out another one of their signature items - their flower pot bread. It was served in a small flower pot and came with regular butter and an excellent strawberry-infused butter. The bread was hot and we were able to tear off chunks of it rather easily.
I ordered the 2" pork chop and Cindy went with the Steak Oscar. Before the entrees showed up, we both got the spinach salad with the hot bacon dressing. It was a good salad and a good start to the meal.
Cindy's Steak Oscar featured filet medallions that came with three grilled jumbo shrimp, grilled asparagus, sautéed mushrooms and a béarnaise sauce drizzled over the top of it all. She got some grilled vegetables to go along with the steak. She proclaimed the steak to be tender and very good. The béarnaise sauce was rich and delicious.
The pork chop was as thick as advertised. I sort of wondered how they were able to cook them this way and I guessed that they probably grilled them lightly, then put them in the oven to bake them to full temperature.
My guess when I first looked at the pork chop was that it would be woefully overcooked. It wasn't. It was very easy to cut in to, it was juicy and full of great grilled pork flavor. I sort of wondered how they were able to cook them this way and I guessed that they probably grilled them lightly, then put them in the oven to bake them to full temperature. I got steak fries to go along with the pork chop and they were overcooked, hard and very tasteless. But that was all right - I was much more interested in trying to finish the pork chop.
As we were eating our dinners, I noticed that a number of the wait staff was congregating in our dining room. Suddenly, one of them announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a couple here who is celebrating their wedding anniversary. So, if you could please join me by singing 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart' to honor them this evening." And, on cue, everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - in the room started to sing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart". Well, everyone except for Cindy and me - we didn't know the lyrics. There were probably a dozen servers in the room, along with possibly 16 other diners - all of whom were singing the song. Only Cindy and me, as well as the anniversary couple, weren't singing. Cindy and I just sort of looked at one another in amused amazement.
After dinner, we walked around the place a bit. The dining rooms were connected in sort of a flowing fashion. It looked like the building design was one of "Hey! Let's put in an opening here!" Below left is the dining room next to where we ate and it featured a huge backlit stained glass window. Antique pictures hung from the wall. Below right is a small private dining room that we found up front. It, too, had a small backlit stained glass window in the wall. The room featured one table and looked like it seated 10 people.
We went outside and walked around the outside garden area for a bit. It was dark and none of the picture that I took came out very well. The path was a labyrinth past babbling brooks, fountains and the small gift shops that were closed for the evening. Even with the shops closed, the garden area was still a popular place with the patrons.
Having the big pork chop at Patti's 1880 Settlement was sort of a treat. It actually tasted pretty good after I was worried that it would be overcooked. My wife felt her Steak Oscar was also very good. Was it a great meal? No, I wouldn't say that. But it was good enough where people that grew up going to Patti's - such as those who told us that we had to try the place - would really enjoy the place time and time again. It was a pretty good value - not having any alcohol helped keep our bill down. And the service was fine. Sure, Patti's is worth a visit. We're glad we did it, but I don't think we'd go out of our way to go back again. (Photo courtesy Trip Advisor)