The Lighthouse Restaurant serves up tasty food and kindness
Known for their big, homegrown tomatoes and heaping bowls of farm-grown vegetables served alongside three meats—Penn’s Country Ham, fried chicken and fried catfish—The Lighthouse Restaurant in Sulphur Well was voted by readers as the top winner in Kentucky Living’s 2020 Best in Kentucky Down-home Restaurant category.
Owners Tammy and Rodney Deckard began working in the family business in 1998, when owned by her parents, Mitchell and Norma Ervin. Her parents bought the restaurant in 1985, when it was Porter’s Restaurant, which was opened in 1969.
“My mom was a really strong Christian woman. She felt like God led her to name the restaurant (after the gospel song by the same name), says Deckard—“a place that people would come and experience a good meal and know God’s love.”
Deckard says her dad passed away in 1996. “When he was alive, he would grow all the produce,” including those big tomatoes. “He loved the restaurant; he was a big talker. Everybody knew him. He would go sit down at the table and talk to people. People looked for him when they came in.” He built the iconic small lighthouse, which sits on top of the restaurant.
While her mom retired in 1998, she continued to own the restaurant. Deckard says, “She passed away in 2017, and we took over The Lighthouse Restaurant in 2012.”
After the Deckard’s became the owners, they decided to operate the restaurant Thursday through Saturday. It has kept them busy.
In December, they also open other days for group parties and do breakfast parties, with all-you-can-eat country ham breakfasts. And, if someone wants to bring in a big group, like Toby Tours, they will accommodate them.
Sulphur Well’s legacy
“We’re in Sulphur Well, Kentucky, in the middle of nowhere. It takes 30 minutes to get anywhere from here. We’re centrally located between Louisville and Nashville. It’s a very small community,” says Deckard.
While they have locals, she says many of their customers come from surrounding counties or farther. “It’s not unusual for people to say they drove from Nashville or Knoxville.”
She says a river runs through Sulphur Well—the east fork of the Little Barren River—and a lot of people come there to kayak. “It’s a real pretty part down there,” she says.
Deckard explains that’s where the hotels used to be that everyone would come and stay at back in the 1950s early ’60s. “They would have conventions there. They were called Buelah Villa Hotels. People would come for the sulphur water (thus the town’s name, Sulphur Well). The hotels did have a dining room with home-cooked food, like we do,” she says.
“I hope that when people come here, they feel like they are family. We have met so many customers who come from everywhere,” she says. “Some come weekly, some come a couple times a month. They feel like family.”
The Lighthouse Restaurant normally has a staff of 14–18 and can seat about 100, but they have modified their hours slightly due to the coronavirus pandemic. They offer dine in or carryout of the family-style or regular menus.
“We work long days. Me and my husband both help cook. We’re hands-on,” she says. “I’ll wait tables or cook. Three of our cooks have been with us 20–25 years.”
Homemade, family-style and more
“When we say that our food is homemade, it really is. It’s not from a can. We make our biscuits homemade, with the flour and shortening. We make our coleslaw homemade; all of our pies are homemade,” says Deckard.
The family-style, all-you-can-eat options include the three meats served with large bowls of coleslaw, sliced tomatoes, fried apples, baby lima beans and green beans, creamy stewed potatoes, homemade biscuits, red-eye gravy and strawberry preserves.
The family-style meal is $17.95 a person, which is $1 cheaper on Thursday and Friday. Children age 5 and under eat free with an adult; ages 6-11 eat for half price, or $8.95.
During limited seating due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have made the family-style meals available for carryout. “It’s all-you-can-eat at the restaurant, so we try to add a little extra and send out plenty.” A new offering is the popular Family Pack: 16 pieces of catfish, hushpuppies and three pints of vegetables of your choice—or you can get a dozen country ham and biscuits with your choice of three pints of vegetables—for $34.95.
They also offer a regular menu, with plate dinners, sandwiches and appetizers that people can order if they don’t want a large family-style lunch or dinner.
On Thursday and Friday, there’s a separate lunch menu 11 a.m.–3 p.m. with several lunch specials, such as a cheeseburger plate with two sides for $7.59; two country ham and biscuits with two sides, or tenderloin and biscuits with two sides for $8.95; or, a three-piece fish with two sides and hushpuppies for $8.95.
“Hamburgers are definitely a favorite,” says Deckard. “People love the fried green tomatoes.”
Deckard says, “We have tons of vegetables and other sides that are not on the family-style menu. There are all kinds of sandwiches, such as BLTs and hamburgers patted out with fresh-ground beef. We do lots of cheeseburgers lunch plates with homemade curly Qs and coleslaw.”
There’s also grilled tenderloin, grilled chicken, and sometimes grilled fish. There are several appetizers, such as mushrooms, fried pickles, cheese sticks and fried green tomatoes. And, there’s a kid’s menu.
She says you would not believe how many pies they make. “We ask people to pre-order pies. After you eat all that food, most of the time you cannot hold dessert, but they are buying these pies and carrying them out.”
The favorite drink is Ski from the fountain, a citrus soda made from real orange and lemon juice which used to be bottled in Greensburg for many decades. Deckard says, “People love it around here.”
Since COVID-19 has started with limited seating, Deckard says they we are taking reservations and highly recommend that people make them. She says, “It seems to be working good for us.”
Also, before the pandemic, they offered a breakfast menu, but are not opening until 11 a.m. currently. Saturday was a big day for breakfast says Deckard. Pre-COVID-19, The Lighthouse Restaurant’s hours were 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
Served by Farmers RECC, The Lighthouse Restaurant, 1500 Sulphur Well Knob Lick Road, is open Thursday through Saturday; dine in or carryout.
Be sure to check out their Facebook page for their monthly giveaways.