West of Louisville along the Ohio River and south towards the Land Between the Lakes is a world of barbecue unlike anywhere else. While there is plenty of good pork, the primary pit meat is mutton. It is big-flavored barbecue; and while its tang is undeniable, a multi-hour smoke bath makes its wallop as soft as a prize-fighter’s glove. Peak Bros. has been a good place to eat it since 1948.
Peak Bros.’ renown has built over the decades since it first opened as a BBQ beer hall with dancing on weekend nights. Despite its venerable history, the restaurant today looks like a newcomer. That’s because it was totally rebuilt after a fire in 2006. The current place lacks the favorite-slipper comfort of the old, but the meals it serves are western Kentucky classics.
Originally guided here by Duncan Hines biographer and Kentucky food authority Louis Hatchett, who referred to Waverly as “the western edge of barbecued muttonland,” we started with chipped mutton sandwiches. Chipping, a local term for intensive chopping, turns the meat into a hash sopped with the potent natural gravy known as dip. Peak Bros. does not pull its meat. You get it either sliced or chipped.
Debbie Britt, whose father and uncle started the restaurant, assured us that chipped is good, but sliced is even better. At her urging, we got some slices. They were gentle-tempered and tender, but when it comes to mutton, our preference is chipped, which is crazy-moist with deep baritone flavor.
On the other hand, Peak Bros.’ ham, edged with pepper, is fantastic when sliced — a dulcet harmony of pork and smoke. It is ultra tender, perhaps the best meat in the house.
Plates come with good, meaty beans and slaw, but sandwiches are notable, too, presented the local way, on soft slices from a pullman loaf of bread with raw onion and pickle chips.
Other available meats include chicken, ribs, brisket and steak.
In the fall, Peak Bros. becomes a favorite source for Thanksgiving and Christmas hams. Lady Bird Johnson once declared Peak Bros. ham to be the best “this side of Texas.”
Note that breakfast is served only Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.