Nostalgia is the ticket when My Old Kentucky Dinner Train pulls out of the depot here.
In an elegant white-linen dining car trimmed in mahogany and brass, George Gershwin tunes serenade diners.For those too young to have ridden passenger trains, the reminiscences of older friends - even scenes from movies and songs - may come to mind during the two-hour excursion.
The track winds through the Bernheim Forest and past bourbon distilleries en route to Limestone Springs and back. It's a chance to roll back in time while enjoying a four-course dinner and pampered service.
The Kentucky dinner train was the brainchild of Richard Corman, owner of three shortline railroads and a railroad construction and derailment cleanup company.
Corman, 35, takes just enough attention away from his other businesses to ensure quality on the dinner train. His goal: that passengers walk away believing they have never received better treatment anywhere.
Recently he was on the phone 30 minutes with the dinner train manager after he heard that a pitcher of iced tea served to one customer hadn't contained enough ice.
He said he pays his workers well to ensure better service and low turnover. Tips are shared with the cooks, dishwashers and servers.
Corman's love affair with railroads began after he graduated from high school and started his construction business with one backhoe. He quickly learned the pitfalls of business; some clients were slow to pay bills and proved difficult to work with.
However, the L&N Railroad not only paid quickly, it didn't dispute the bill. Corman said it is obvious that workmen can't work on the tracks as the train goes by, yet the railroad companies didn't try to dock work time for that. "The railroads don't try and nickel and dime you," he said.
He focused his attention on railroads and later acquired the shortline railroad, which hauls bourbon from the nearby distilleries.
He started the dinner train thinking it would be popular and he was right. It now serves as a model for others, including the Indiana Dinner Train in Indianapolis.
Rather than restoring an old dinner train, Corman said, he built his train as he imagined it should look.
Mahogany-lined and trimmed walls and brass lighting weren't common in the old dining cars, Corman said. "This is more like the presidential cars would have been."
One of the dining cars on his dinner train was part of the Dwight Eisenhower funeral train.
The engines are F-7As, diesel electric locomotives from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Three 1940s-era cars serve as the two diners and kitchen.
The train, which can serve 100 people, makes the 35-mile trip at 20 miles per hour. Trips begin at 11 a.m., 2:15 p.m., 5:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
The meal starts with soup. Depending on the day, the soup will be either porter special with roast beef, potatoes and onions in a beef broth, or cream of cheese with broccoli and potatoes.
The next course is a salad made with hydroponically grown Kentucky bibb lettuce, with bits of cabbage, tomatoes and occasionally kiwi. It is topped with Golden Spike dressing, a honey mustard mixture, and served with breadsticks.
Diners have a choice of a 14-ounce prime rib cooked to order; an 18-ounce cornish hen served with wild rice and mushrooms and a dip of cranberry sauce; or red snapper Caribbean, a fillet stuffed with crab and Monterey Jack cheese, served with pasta.
Each entree is served with steamed vegetables such as broccoli with cheese sauce and baby carrots.
Fresh baked yeast rolls cap the meal.
The final course is Kern's Kitchen Derby pie.
Special meals are planned for the holidays, according to manager Sue Fowler.
About a week before Thanksgiving, passengers will have a choice of turkey and dressing with corn pudding. Also, special dessert, pumpkin swirl, will wrap a sponge pumpkin bread around cream cheese and pecans.
For the Christmas season, the train will offer a country ham choice.
Mixed drinks, wine and beer are available at the depot and on the train, except on Sundays.
Although no smoking is allowed in the diner cars, passengers may step into the vestibules.
The dinner train will close from January through March, Ms. Fowler said. When it reopens in April, a children's menu and price will be added.