Lexington’s Alfalfa Restaurant to turn 40

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When Alfalfa first opened its doors in Lexington 40 years ago, in 1973,  at the height of the Moosewood era, it was with a “limited menu.”

In fact, the word “Menu” might be overstating it a bit. There were two items on it: the Special, and the Basic.  Over the next 31 years, the restaurant grew into what Sarah Tackett described as,  “an unofficial home for hippies and suits alike. Birkenstocks and Blahniks, bohemians and bankers co-exist amicably among the patronage—and there’s something to be said for a restaurant that has built a sort of diverse enclave that transcends just about every existing boundary in Lexington (rich and poor; black and white; downtowners and suburbanites)—a restaurant that has lasted 31 years in a town where most are lucky to survive one. Almost everybody in Lexington has an Alfalfa memory.”

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From 1973 until 2004, Alfalfa operated in its iconically whimsical campus location, where the walls were crooked but filled with the work of local artists, and a cat once (somewhat infamously) fell through the ceiling. The menu always included vegetarian and vegan-friendly options, and there were always price points reasonably friendly to both student and faculty budgets. Although many regulars had fond feelings for it, and were dubious about a move, the cooks weren’t as nostalgic for the old screen-door kitchen, which one characterized as “a coffin turned into a sauna with the flames of hell burned in.” But the environment definitely forged a bond. Then-server, artist Bill Glasscock, said at the time of the move, “Even the dishwasher could be working on their dissertation. That’s like the glue here for us because we can bounce ideas off each other.”

A few regular patrons were skeptical that it would survive the move to its current downtown home on Main, adjacent to the Downtown Arts Center, and across from the Lexington Public Library. Lexington’s downtown restaurant scene can be both fickle and ruthless. But as one cook put it before the move, “The food will improve dramatically with the space. You’ll be amazed with what we can produce with both a stove and an oven.”

Now, nearly a decade later, on the eve of their 40th birthday, the skeptics have been mostly won over. Local art still adorns the walls, which now don’t appear to be leaning in any particular direction.

Their menu has remained what it was in the beginning — before it was trendy — fresh, seasonal, local. Alfalfa sent a forager to the Lexington Farmers Market long before anyone was using the word “forager.” The breads and desserts are made on site. The house vinaigrette on their signature salad is made from the same recipe that was used in the 1970s. The Alfalfa Avocado Grill is still one of Lexington’s better sandwiches. Their Buttermilk Blueberry Buckwheat Pancake was a staple of the very first Lexington restaurant brunch served, and it’s still an anchor on their current brunch menu. (It won Best Pancake so many times in Ace’s Best of Lexington Readers’ Poll throughout the 90s that the category was eventually retired.) The chalkboard specials are updated daily and might incorporate anything from Boone Creek stilton cheese to Stone Creek Farm’s andouille sausage. Kentucky wines are popular  on the wine list.

On Sunday April 28, 2013, they’ll host a 40th birthday celebration from 4 pm to 10 pm. They’ll serve their signature Hoppin’ John, along with carrot cake. There will be music by the Big Maracas, Devine Carama, and Patrick McNeese band. All Alfalfa alums and FOAs (Friends of Alfalfa) are invited, and a reunion photo or two will be snapped.

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