The Moonlite Bar-B-Que Inn; The History of Kentucky BBQ
Catherine and Pappy Bosley bought the Moonlite for $50,000 from Sonnie and Sadie Bertram and J.C. & Betty Stinson. The Bosley’s used the 5,000 dollar profit from selling their house to make the down payment, moved in with Catherine’s mother and entered the restaurant business with no experience, and little formal education. Then, the Moonlite was a fourteen year old barbecue joint with 30 seats including stools at the counter. He was 48 and she 42, they had five children.
Pappy drove a cab for Veterans Cab Company, and worked at Fleischman’s Distillery. Catherine was a foreman at Glenmore Distillery. It was Pappy’s layoff from Fleischman’s that caused them to reexamine their opportunities. The owners of Moonlite were ready to sell, as they were looking to retire. The restaurant had been around then for 14 years and was well known to the Bosley’s being near Catherine’s mother’s house. Their five children grew up working next door to the Moonlite at the Big Dipper (a local hamburger joint).
In this time of large chains and merged companies Moonlite has grown as a family business. Hugh and Catherine, along with four children and several grandchildren work together to keep things going and growing at a slow, steady rate that now requires a staff of over 120 dedicated members working various facets of the business. These areas now include a 350 seat restaurant, a U.S.D.A. inspected processing plant, an extensive catering department (capable of serving 15 to 15,000 with unparalleled quality and professionalism), a wholesale division serving the region with Barbecue and related products through distributors in a four state area, as well as a busy carryout department.
During our visit to the Moonlite I had the opportunity to spend some time with Pat Bosley. He was more than happy to take us on a tour and show us his operation. Part of the tour was his schpeel about the process; it was obvious that he had told this story more than the one time. It went something like this;
“Our Bar-B-Q is slow cooked over a Hickory log fire in our custom built pits. This method of cooking imparts a distinctive flavor to our beef, chicken, mutton, pork, and ribs. Real Bar-B-Q, according to government standards, must be cooked to lose at least 30% of its original weight. This can be done in many ways, but the only way we do it is with our slow cook method, our pit cooks dipping (basting) each piece several times during the process. We don’t even put sauce on our meats until after it’s cooked. Most places are afraid to let their Bar-B-Q be tasted unless it’s swimming in sauce. (At this restaurant, you put the sauce on at the table.) When we started we had 30 seats, today we BBQ and average of 15,000lbs of meat a week.”
“Our Burgoo is a thick hearty soup made with lots of mutton, beef, chicken, and vegetables. In this part of the country, early settlers made a stew that consisted of any meats and vegetables available. That often meant game meat such as deer, squirrel, raccoon, rabbit or quail. As time passed, each cook fine tuned his or her recipe by adding special ingredients that made their Burgoo the “best”.”
Now that you know everything there is to know about the Moonlite BBQ Inn let’s talk about the food a bit. I wanted to try as many different things as I could so I opted for the buffet; a steal at $8.75. It was hard to focus on what should be a simple task of getting a plate of food. I have never seen a BBQ buffet of this magnitude before, come to think of it, this may be my first BBQ buffet ever. There was every kind of slow cooked meat you could imagine, and equally as many side dishes. Know the limitations of both my plate and stomach I realized I would have to be somewhat selective in my sampling.
Since we were in Kentucky; famous for BBQ Mutton and I had never had mutton before, I know this was where we would have to start. I also added some chopped beef and sliced pork to the plate. On the side was some bread dressing, green beans and ham and beans. Oh I threw in a tiny bit of mac and cheese, out of curiosity.
So let’s start with the sides; the green beans were sweet and tender with just a little vinegary tang. The dressing was moist and flavorful with little pieces of celery and onion; it was better than most dressings I’ve had on a buffet but maybe not as good as Mom’s. The mac’n’cheese was good as well, again better than most buffets. The bean’s and ham were awesome. The beans were tender but not mushy, the broth was sweet and salty at the same time and the chunks of country ham melted in your mouth. These were without a doubt some of the best I’ve had.
Onto the meat; I found the chopped beef to be just that, chopped beef in BBQ sauce. I was tender and it tasted just fine, but to me it lacked excitement. I think perhaps it may have been chopped down to fine for my preference and I found it to be a step away from pulverized. The sliced pork should was very good, it was minimally seasoned with just salt and pepper and barbecued to perfection. It was tender and juicy and took to the sauce quite nicely. The mutton was definitely the star of this show; having been unimpressed with the chopped beef I selected the sliced mutton. The sliced mutton was fantastic; also minimally seasoned it was barbecued to a moist and tender perfection. It was extremely flavorful and surprisingly not gamey as I thought I might be. There was the perfect amount of caramelized crust on the outside pieces that created the slightest crunch. I also tried the mutton dip; this sauce is basically an au jus for the meat. Its purpose is to add a little moisture and bring out the natural flavors of the mutton. I found the dip to be a winner. If you were to taste the dip alone you might be disappointed, however it truly comes to life when applied to the meat. There were other sauces on the table to help enhance your meal; a sweet barbecue sauce for the meats other than mutton, and a hot cayenne pepper sauce; which I would have like to have it hotter. It was definitely a pleasant upgrade from the typical Tabasco you usually find on tables.
Overall I give the Moonlite Bar-B-Que Inn a two thumbs way up! I truly enjoyed the food. The dining rooms and buffet areas were well maintained and clean, and the staff and owners were extremely hospitable and friendly. If you are ever in Owensboro, KY make sure you go there. If you are anywhere nearby it would be worth the detour.