Burkesville family restaurant operates in historic Smith Pharmacy
When Heather Hannan and husband, David, moved home from the Caribbean to Burkesville in 2009, she was heartbroken to learn Smith Pharmacy—the longest-running family pharmacy in the state—was closing. “I used to come here as a little girl and order a Fresh Orange,” says Hannan.
Later, when trying to find restaurant food that was not fried, they decided to open a restaurant in the 1814 pharmacy building. Along with the original fountain, they kept the antiques that date back to the 1800s.
“I always cooked. My mother catered when I was young, so I grew up cooking with my grandmother, Annie Ruby, when young,” says Hannan. “People would always say, you should have a restaurant.”
With a degree in interior design, Hannan became excited and filled with all sorts of ideas for how Smith Pharmacy could serve as a restaurant after they toured the building. “The upstairs was filled with all types of antiques, some dating back before the Civil War,” she says.
David convinced the building owner that it would make a great cafe. They also agreed to allow the Hannan’s to use the antique furniture and memorabilia that fills the cafe.
With no restaurant experience, but a love for healthy food and Hannan being an accomplished cook, they opened the restaurant in July 2010.
Annie Ruby’s Cafe is named for Heather’s maternal grandmother, Ruby Norris, a beloved Burkesville teacher and guidance counselor whom everyone called Mrs. Ruby. “She did not like her first name—Annie—at all. I liked it,” says Hannan. “She had already left us by the time we started the restaurant.”
Hannan says, “We named the restaurant for my grandmother because she taught all of us how to cook. She was a great cook, and we still use some of her recipes. We make homemade biscuits like she did for breakfast. Apple pie was a famous Mrs. Ruby dish.”
Mrs. Ruby lives on at the restaurant with her original apron hanging in the restaurant and a violet painted on the window. “Nonny grew violets all the time. We actually have some of her violets,” says Hannan.
Her mom, Judy Frederick, is the other full-time employee at Annie Ruby’s. “She is an all-around good cook, but she is a good cake baker and makes homemade bread. She passed along the cakes to me. She makes the cakes and I decorate them. I learned that skill from her,” says Hannan.
Frederick was a teacher in the community, teaching French and German. “She lives right up the road, so if I need something, she will help us,” Hannan says.
When things are normal (not during COVID-19), Annie Ruby’s also serves dinner typically every other Friday in the summer months. Hannan says, “Mom will make the homemade bread. She can make anything really.”
The famous heirloom tomato pie
“We had lived away for a while and gotten used to not eating fried food, so we wanted to offer fresh food,” says Hannan. “We wanted to incorporate our family recipes—mom’s chicken salad, pimento cheese and paninis.”
“Nothing is fried. Everything is homemade,” says Hannan. “We’re a Kentucky Proud restaurant.”
Best known for its seasonal heirloom tomato pie, Annie Ruby’s serves breakfast and lunch weekdays, offering soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, as well as onsite catering.
It was a love for tomatoes when they began the restaurant that helped make Annie Ruby’s famous. Hannan knew she wanted to use fresh, local produce.
“When we first opened, we grew our own tomatoes, until 2017. We grew all heirloom varieties. I made it my mission, so I would have like 20 varieties and up to 80 plants,” says Hannan.
Starting out with a basic tomato pie recipe they saw online or TV, Hannan says it was a stack of tomatoes, onion and fresh mozzarella cheese, topped with mayonnaise in a regular pie crust baked in the oven.
“My husband’s mother came to visit from Louisville. She said, ‘It’s good, but it’s soggy Heather.’ My mom went to work and we came up with our own cornbread-based crust. From that first year, we started making our pie in a springform pan.
Soon after they were featured by Dave Shuffett on a segment of Kentucky Life on Kentucky Educational Television. “It’s now famous around here. People travel from all over to eat it,” says Hannan.
While Hannan does not grow the heirloom tomatoes any longer, they still use heirloom tomatoes from a local Kentucky Proud farmer, Jude Holler Farm, which also supplies the organic lettuce and greens.
The heirloom tomato pie is only available in the summer months usually from late June through September, or if the season goes long, sometimes into early October.
Homemade and local
Annie Ruby’s Cafe is located on the town square in Burkesville. “We’re definitely a hometown business. If it weren’t for our local customers, we wouldn’t be in business. We are located just 10 minutes from Dale Hollow Lake. In a normal year, we have tons of traffic that comes thru Burkesville and will stop,” Hannan says.
Other favorite dishes that keep customers coming back are the chicken salad, pimento cheese and paninis and salads are popular year-round, she says.
“We do a chef salad with choice of meat—chicken, Kentucky Legend Ham or turkey. We also do specialty salads such as strawberry spinach salad, or there’s a fall salad with a maple vinaigrette with fresh pears, mixed greens, candied pears and Parmesan cheese.”
Annie Ruby’s offers a lunch special and a soup of the day. “Every Wednesday there’s a rueben,” says Hannan. “Every Thursday there’s barbecue—brisket or pork, which we smoke. We make our own barbecue sauce.”
While not a typical salad, Hannan says, “Our grape salad is extremely popular. It’s sweet.” Made with fresh red grapes, it uses a cream-cheese base whipped with brown sugar with pineapple chucks added and sprinkled with pecans.
“My chicken and dumplings is very popular. We make fresh soups every day,” Hannan says.
Homemade desserts run the gamut with brownies every day, cake balls and all types of pies, including a brownie-type “Minnie’s Pie,” made famous in the movie, The Help.
“In the wintertime we make candies for people for Christmas and bourbon balls,” says Hannan. “If someone requests something, we try to make it.”
With the original Smith Pharmacy soda fountain that was there in the 1960s, Annie Ruby’s serves up ice cream, milkshakes, smoothies, protein smoothies and seasonal frappes—such as peppermint mocha and eggnog during the holidays. They serve 16 flavors of ice cream using Blue Bell and Mayfield brands.
The Fresh Orange is made with orangeade as well as lemonade, limeade and cherry limeade flavors.
Breakfast is popular at Annie Ruby’s. They serve breakfast wraps, waffles and French toast—they have Waffle Wednesday and French Toast Fridays—hash browns, chocolate gravy—a local thing—sausage gravy, homemade biscuits, omelets and Penn’s Country Ham.
In addition to the restaurant, Annie Ruby’s offers a banquet facility in the adjoining building that can seat up to 100 pre-COVID-19. Hannan says it’s used a lot for meetings, birthday parties, receptions, rehearsal dinners, class reunions and Christmas parties.
Custom cakes are another specialty at Annie Ruby’s. All types of cakes are offered, from birthday cakes to holiday cakes or shower and wedding cakes.
Being located on the town square, Annie Ruby’s attracts a lot of workers in town as well as ladies’ groups. They deliver to in-town groups.
Reservations are suggested when they do the summer dinners or for large groups for breakfast and lunch, since the restaurant normally seats 45.
Annie Ruby’s Cafe
204 Court House Square
Burkesville, Kentucky 42717
Open Monday–Friday, breakfast and lunch
Annie Ruby’s hours are 7:30 a.m. (normally 7 a.m.) and it closes at 2 p.m.
Breakfast runs until 10 a.m., then lunch is served from 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
During summer months, Annie Ruby’s serves dinner every other Friday.
Follow Annie Ruby’s on Facebook for the daily specials and other announcements.