This series of articles on Tasting Lexington begins on page 14 of the January 24, 2013 print edition of Ace.
BY HEATHER C. WATSON
Southern food is everywhere these days. Hipster restaurants from Brooklyn to Charleston proudly feature fried chicken skins as an appetizer. Foodie-TV chefs marinate anything that’ll stand still in Maker’s Mark bourbon, and food magazines declare that Southern food is having a moment. As Southern food takes the national stage, local gourmands find themselves wondering how to characterize the flavors on which they grew up.
What is Lexington cuisine? we ask ourselves. Louisville boasts the Hot Brown, Derby Pie and benedictine. Bourbon-flavored foods and country ham-filled dishes are popular throughout the Bluegrass State. But what tastes define our city? We asked local foodies to weigh in on the tastes that define Lexington.
For longtime Lexingtonians, gone-but-not-forgotten local restaurants are important to the local flavor. The restaurant at the Coach House brings up fond memories, as do the incredible bar at the original Dudley’s location on Maxwell and the salmon croquettes at Roger’s on Broadway.
Tom Yates, the Ace food writer behind such popular events as Arts and Apps for the Broadway Live series and a professor emeritus at the Kentucky Bourbon Cooking School, weighed in on an old-school favorite: “Wednesday night skillet fried chicken from Roger’s Restaurant, while it lasted. Had to get there early. We did. Crisp, crackling, perfect, and served with cream gravy. Killer old school sweet vinegary wilted salad was my side.”
Longtime favorite local restaurants continue to provide unique flavors. The moist, perfect fried chicken at Merrick Inn. The Revro burger at Stella’s Kentucky Diner, which offers amazing locally-sourced beef dressed with a fried green tomato. And, perhaps the most iconic of all Lexington dinners, the Nighthawk plate from Columbia’s Steakhouse, complete with the signature garlic butter dressing your steak. For Chef Tom, Columbia’s Lamb Fries with cream gravy steal the show: “Like jacked-up fried chicken livers, they’re crazy good.”
Healthy-living blogger Emily Sandford, of SkinnyEmmie.com, considers Ramsey’s Diner to be her authentic taste of Lexington. Sandford, a Lexington native, says “Whenever I’m looking for an authentically Kentucky restaurant to take out-of-towners for lunch or dinner, I immediately gravitate towards Ramsey’s. There is something about ‘meat and three’ meals that feel uniquely Kentucky to me. There’s nothing overly fancy on the menu, the laid back atmosphere is unique, and service is always friendly. I never hesitate to recommend people trying the featured veggie of the day, and if they have a sweet tooth, going for a slice of Missy’s Pie afterwards.” Chef Tom considers Ramsey’s a quintessentially Lexington flavor as well. His particular favorite is “seasonal Corn Daze at Ramsey’s, especially when they hand them out with ripped open husks on July 4th, roasted, buttered, and salted.”
Of course, no discussion of Lexington food is complete without a mention of Joe Bologna’s, whose pizzas and pastas have fed students and Lexington locals for decades. When thinking of the soft, warm, garlic-coated breadsticks at Joe B’s, Chef Tom notes “Now, I want a beer.”
And, then, there’s burgoo. Often considered Central Kentucky’s signature dish, the earthy, rich meat-and-vegetable stew is something that Kentuckians either love or hate. For Chef Tom, nothing beats the burgoo at Keeneland. “It’s hearty and warm when the weather is cool,” he notes.
From restaurants to farmers markets to backyard gardens, the bounty of seasonally fresh local vegetables available to Lexington eaters are always a favorite. Local fruits, vegetables, and greens provide fresh, amazing flavors.
Chef Carolyn Gilles of The Wholesome Chef says “My Lexington food scene involves fresh, local foods grown by our local farmers at Seedleaf, Faith Feeds | Glean KY, and Elmwood Stock Farm. Getting fresh kale nearly year round is awesome!”
Whether your tastes run to favorite restaurants, cherished recipes, or local vegetables, Lexington’s signature flavors are rich and unique, rooted both in history and innovation. Whether you consider them traditional favorites or Southern-trendy finds, there are plenty of flavors to discover in Lexington.
Write us and weigh in on your uniquely Taste of Lexington memories. Email us at acelist at aceweekly.com, attn Heather Watson/Taste of Lexington.