Legendary Eats: An Ace Reader weighs in on his favorites
by Jay Atwood
[The article below is Jay Atwood's food column reprinted from Ace's Best of Lex, 2008. By popular demand.]
I served in the Navy with a guy who lived and breathed baseball. Being a catcher by trade, he naturally went by the nickname Pudge. When Pudge was still in high school he had the potential to pursue a pro career. He was drafted by a pro team while still in school, but ended up marrying his pregnant girlfriend and joining the Navy instead. By the time I met him, Pudge was a career boatswain’s mate who had already put in 10 years. But he still loved the game and had a baseball anecdote or analogy for any situation.
Now, in light of the Lexington Legends’ dismal 2008 season (thankfully) coming to a close, it might be time to break out one of Pudge’s old baseball analogies to distract us from the fact that we only went 45-93 this year (and ended the season on back-to-back games where the opposing team beat us with walk-off homeruns.) Pudge, who’d been stationed all over the world, used to say that you could tell a lot about any given city by looking at its local restaurants as if they were a baseball team’s pitching staff: 4-5 starters, a handful of middle relief bullpen guys, and a shut-down closer. Since the Legends were a little low-rent this year, I will focus on Lexington restaurants that traditionally fall under $20/plate. Even so, we have one hell of a rotation in this town.
Starters: Restaurants that can be counted on to give you a solid outing once a week or so.
Ramsey’s is the best little place in Lexington that only locals really seem to know about. Ramsey’s serves Kentucky Cuisine: fried chicken, fresh corn (especially during their annual Corn Daze), pinto beans & cornbread, fresh cakes & pies (from Missy’s next door), and the best fried green tomaters in the state. There are several locations around town but the original has the best atmosphere and offers the additional treat of getting to see regular non-injury crashes at High & Woodland. Good times all around!
The smokehouse at Billy’s BBQ makes Chevy Chase the best smelling neighborhood in Lexington. Hands down the best BBQ joint in the city (retiring the Ace Best of Lex barbecue category several years ago), Billy’s is just as famous for its Dill-ckles, their fried dill pickle appetizers. (And, if you ask your server real nice they might even let you color the boar on the front of a menu before they get it laminated!)
Seafood on Southland! For a land-locked state, the Ketch holds its own with its renowned oysters and fierce metal pots of crab legs that look like miniature B-grade movie monsters.
Maybe one of the most varied menus in Lexington, everyone knows Mia’s offers everything from simple bar food like “McCarthy’s favorite” fish & chips to designer salad and pasta. What people don’t know is that Mia’s cooks some of Lexington’s best steaks too. Their filet is nothing short of amazing and the “The Kentuckian,” a sirloin grilled in beer cheese and smothered with tobacco onions, is even better.
MIDDLE RELIEF: Restaurants that can step in from time to time and provide solid relief.
An Irish Pub at night, during the day Lynagh’s offers the best burgers in Lexington. (The O’Round retired the Best of Lex burger category years ago.)
Mancino’s Pizza & Grinders
... on Leestown Rd. Mancino’s flagship sandwich, the Steak Delicious is just that! Indeed, it more aptly might be called the Sloppily Satisfying Steak Orgasmic. Let’s put it this way: the Steak Delicious is so good it will make you lick your elbows afterwards.
Located within a bar crawl from all the campus watering holes, Tolly-Ho is the place to go after you get your drink on to get your sliders & cheddar tots, cheese fries & milkshakes on. And about the time the last of the college kids straggle drunkenly back to their dorms the place fills with campus 9-to-5-ers looking for one of the most-underrated and affordable breakfasts in town. The "Ho" is a University of Kentucky institution.
THE CLOSER: A restaurant of such intensity that all dining questions are answered whenever it gets the call from the bullpen.
Ask anyone who makes the best wings in town and they’ll tell you: Indi’s. On Legends game days the line for wings stretches around the block and takes upwards of an hour to get through. At the corner of N. Broadway & 7th, Indi’s has no dining area. Either take-out or drive-thru, Indi’s is soul-food-to-go! Along with the best wings in town, they offer sweet coleslaw, thick rich macaroni & cheese, homemade fruit cobbler, the best mixed greens in town, and long fat potato wedges so spicy they’ll chap your lips today and something else tomorrow.