First, house-made root beer: It is an ingenuous, uncomplicated draft, sweet enough but not overly so, just hinting of sarsparilla. It arrives in a thick glass mug sheathed in frost. An ideal companion for burgers and hot dogs, it’s also the right medium for a float of vanilla ice cream.
While root beer is universally American, the chili bun is uniquely regional; and it’s the opinion of more than a few experts on the subject that the chili bun served here is one of Eastern Kentucky’s best. I’ve had none better.
The concept of a chili bun is simplicity itself: a chili dog without the dog. Yellow mustard and chopped onions are usual condiments, most often put into the bun before the chili, meaning that you don’t see them when you unfurl the wax paper to behold the clever little sandwich. But they’re there; and they are important, the mustard adding picnic zest, the onions delivering sweet crunch. The chili itself is beefy, beanless, thick and savory, just a little bit spicy. Cheap as it is (about $1 per bun), it has a luxurious quality that sparkles in an impeccably fresh, soft bun.
The same good chili is, of course, the right stuff atop a hot dog, although its aristocratic mien tends to eclipse the pale little weenie down below.
The Root Beer Stand is a genuine drive-in with car-hop service. I arrived early and was taken care of instantaneously. But in the evening, especially on weekends, expect to wait a while.
Note that the Root Beer Stand is open only from late Spring to early Autumn.