The limestone from which Simpsonville’s Old Stone Inn takes its name was cut from a nearby quarry in the early 19th century. It’s a marvelous building, pleasing to the eye and spirit, massive, but so graceful in its rise that it almost seems to float above the ground.
Inside, the atmosphere is set by warm light, white tablecloths, stately old furnishings, nostalgic art, green trim, soft acoustics and a soundtrack that features classical music (except in the bar area, where a cheery group was watching sports on a recent evening). Outside, there’s a fine patio that should make for pleasant dining when warm spring nights start showing up.
Inside or out, the Old Stone Inn is a bastion of gentrified country cooking, a place where every meal begins with a basket of warm biscuits; where the fried green tomatoes are served on jade-green blades of baby spinach with bits of salty, smoky country ham, a piquant remoulade and a sprinkle of fresh goat cheese ($8); where fried frog legs are served with creamy grits ($9); and a seasonal spring salad based around berries and tender greens is sprinkled with blue cheese, bacon and vinaigrette ($10).
For many out-of-state visitors, fried chicken is the dish that defines Kentucky cuisine, and Shelley Thompson, chef, and owner of the Old Stone Inn since 2008, certainly knows her way around a fryer.
Her fried chicken entree — two imposing chicken breasts — arrives at the table too hot to handle thanks to crisp, efficient service. If you’re looking for an old-fashioned Southern salt bomb, you won’t find it here — the chicken is lightly seasoned. The crunchy golden exterior is free of extraneous oil.
When you break through the crust, you get a blast of fine-smelling chicken aroma. And when you bite into the meat, you find it has a firm, satisfying body and good, pure, old-fashioned flavor. It’s good stuff, and so are the long-cooked, ham-seasoned green beans and the mashed potatoes with creamy white gravy that are served as sides ($17).
In fact, when we visited with our friend and erstwhile Louisvillian, Carolyn, we found lots of good stuff, except for one perplexing anomaly — side salads that contained a few annoying rusty leaves of lettuce that seemed out of place amid all the other carefully executed and plated dishes.
The menu includes a Hot Brown ($15), this one including country ham and roasted turkey as well as all the other standard appurtenances; and at the pricey end of the menu, you might tuck into a steak ($32), but most entrees are in the mid-teens and low $20s (like a simple red sauce pasta, $16).
If you’re eschewing fried foods, chicken with artichokes ($21) is an extravagant sauteed concoction that includes tender chicken breasts, artichokes, roasted new potatoes and the daily vegetable (count yourself lucky if you’re there on a day when asparagus is the offering), in a tomato-basil beurre blanc that’s buttery as all get out and flecked with plenty of fresh herbs. Or you might opt for shrimp and grits ($22), beautifully grilled shrimp perched on a bed of creamy grits with a piquant sauce seasoned with tasso.
But even if you don’t want an entire meal of fried goodies, you might want to start by sharing a generous bowl of chicken livers — plump and crisp, faintly pink in the center, dished up with white dipping gravy (appetizer, $8; entree, $17).
There’s a full bar, an affordable list of wines by the bottle and glass, including options in the low $20s, and yes, there is dessert. Highly recommended is the bread pudding, served piping hot and swimming in satisfyingly straightforward sauce.