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By BECCA OWSLEY
BRANDENBURG — Clanging cell doors, remnants of history, pizza and stromboli all are part of the dining experience at Jail House Pizza in Brandenburg.
The building, which looks much as it did at the time of its 1860 construction, takes visitors back to the time when outlaws and gunslingers frequented the cells.
Patrons can dine in the cell that once housed famous outlaw Frank James of the James gang.
Owner Richard Lomerson said James spent four days incarcerated there and was shot in the town after leaving the jail. He went across the street to recover in a hotel — a building that still stands today. James stayed there three weeks until Jesse and the boys came to get him.
The jail once held the jailer’s living quarters and two cell blocks. The lower level has two cells that housed female prisoners, four to a cell.
Now those two cells serve as the Elvis room and the Clint Eastwood room for dining.
On the ceiling in that area, the remains of the gallows trap door can be seen. Upstairs, carpet covers the door but above it remains the hangman’s hook where 13 condemned prisoners met their ends.
One public hanging took place outside from a tree. The last hanging at the jail was in 1932.
The men’s cells are upstairs near the gallows. Lomerson said kids enjoy shutting the heavy steel doors as if they were locked away inside.
It was hard to put heating and air in the building because the walls are thick brick with a steel plate down the middle so the inmates could not cut through.
“We didn’t know any of that but we found out real quick, we found out the hard way,” Lomerson said. “They made sure whoever was in here would not get out.”
Seating for the cell tables is first-come, first-served but call-ahead seating is available.
The jail was in operation until April 3, 1974, when a tornado blew away the courthouse that occupied what now is the parking lot. The prisoners were moved from the jail the next day and the building was dormant for more than 30 years. Renovation began a year-and-a-half before the restaurant opened in August 2007.
Ghost hunters have ventured to the jail several times and said there is a ghost there. Although Lomerson has never seen it, if he ever did he might have to hand the keys to the building to someone else, he said.
The ghost hunters say the ghost is a white-bearded old man named Bixley.
The addition to the restaurant was made with hand-sawn cedar and has a metal roof to match the rustic look of the nearly 150-year-old jail.
In one of the downstairs rooms there are pictures featuring scenes from before and after the 1974 tornado and the 1937 flood.
“Mother Nature has played havoc with Brandenburg,” Lomerson said.
The owner tried to leave the jail as original as possible with vintage staircases, door facing and brick walls.
“We did all this for the people of Brandenburg to bring back a place for them, it’s all Brandenburg and Meade County history,” Lomerson said.
Many diners look at the pictures on the wall, climbing on chairs to find faces they recognize.
Not only do restaurant visitors get to see a bit of Brandenburg’s history, they also get food and Jersey-style pizza.
Originally from New Jersey, Lomerson brought recipes with him and takes a lot of pride in them. The cooks make the pizzeria sauces and use Grände cheeses, “the finest mozzarella money can buy and I won’t use anything less,” Lomerson said.
The cooks use all homemade ingredients and hand-tossed dough. Everything is prepared fresh daily — nothing is frozen or taken out of a box.
Menu items range from 11 sandwich choices, spaghetti, manicotti, lasagna, rigatoni, ravioli and other items found in an Italian bistro.
The kitchen has a double brick oven to make the pizzas that can be ordered as 6-, 14- or 18-inch sizes.
Calzones and stromboli are made on site and have thinner crusts compared to many that Lomerson describes as mostly dough. The medium size is 14 inches and the large is 18 inches.
Food often takes 20-40 minutes to arrive tableside because it is made to order.
While waiting, garlic knots — a signature item served with every meal — are available to munch on. Visitors also can tour the old jail while waiting.
IF YOU GO
Jail House Pizza is at 125 Main St. in Brandenburg.
It’s open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and noon-8 p.m. Sundays.
Call (270) 422-4660 for more information.
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741.