The year in Lexington food, restaurant, and drink
It was a boom year for food, liquor, and restaurant news in Lexington, Kentucky in 2014. An inaugural block party celebrated the Jefferson Street dining corridor. The Lexington Diner opened its doors, and their Chef made it to Food Network. New salad, brunch, and beer cheese favorites appeared. The Lexington Women Chef series gained traction as Lexington is home to more and more women chefs by the day. And dozens of new establishments opened with hopes of clawing their way to the top, or even the middle, of Lexington’s thriving dining corridors.
Obits and Transitions
After 16 years of recognition as one of Lexington’s favorite fine dining destinations, Jonathan at Gratz Park served their last meal on June 28th. Chef and owner Jonathan Lundy and general manager TJ Cox described the hotel’s decision to not renew the restaurant’s release as a surprise. Mark Wombles, who is the chef and owner of Midway’s Heirloom, has opened his new project, Distilled, in the location inside Gratz Park Inn. Lundy is now focusing on Latin food, reconceptualizing the menu at Coba Cocina.
Almost 25 years had passed since the original Ramsey’s served its first meat-and-three at the corner of Woodland and High. Countless hot browns, all-day breakfasts, and fried green tomatoes later, the location served its last meal at that location on Monday, January 20. For nearly two and a half decades, the location universally described as “a Lexington institution,” sturdily served up reliably fried southern style comfort food in a popular neighborhood setting, topped off with award-winning pie. Chatham’s is now open in Ramsey’s stead, and that Ramsey’s relocated to Zandale off Nicholasville Road. (The one thing it did pick up in the move is ample parking and a drive-thru for carry-out orders).
Thanksgiving weekend, the Dish announced, “it is with a heavy, but very grateful heart, that we announce our final days in Chevy Chase. The Dish will be officially closing Monday, November 30th. I would like to thank everyone for letting us fill your glasses and your bellies with love and for filling my days with such great patrons, staff and friends.”
The Bluegrass Hospitality Group closed down its Harry’s location in Lansdowne but opened a new concept in its place, OBC Kitchen.
The Jax closed in the space at the corner of Short and Limestone, formerly occupied by Mia’s (and very briefly occupied by Rosetta).
BIRTHS and Transitions
A&W opened its Hamburg location this past summer, and another one is coming soon to the Meadowthorpe neighborhood.
The Cheesecake Factory answered the prayers of the big chain’s devotees and opened in Fayette Mall on October 28.
City Barbecue is adding a new location on Harrodsburg Road on December 13 (this one offering curbside pickup).
Cook-Out Restaurant, a North Carolina fast-food hamburger chain, opened on South Broadway at the former site of Stanley Demos’ Coach House and most recently, Casanova Fine Italian Restaurant. The restaurant serves char-grilled burgers, chicken, BBQ, hot dogs and more.
The Bella Notte/Smashing Tomato restaurant group opened a new concept, Crust, in the French Quarter square on Richmond Road.
Dad’s Favorites Deli opened a new location downtown at 236 Main St. serving downtown lunch-seekers and beer cheese fanatics alike.
Enoteca, located on 2nd and Jefferson St., completed their patio expansion and now offers a double-decker overlooking the ongoing Jefferson Street renaissance.
Joseph Clay opened Bour-bon Restaurant and Craft Cocktail Bar in Paris. From the creators of Amelia’s Field, Bour-bon uses fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and an open-flame on an Argentinian fireplace. The bar serves specialty cocktails created with house-made syrups, and hosts local music.
Across the street, also in the heart of downtown Paris, Ralph Quillin opened the wildly popular Rooster Brew, expanding the bluegrass region’s craft beer empire, and offering Lexington’s burgeoning food truck scene another location to set up shop (not without a few of the same growing pains Lexington’s food truck scene has experienced).
Also in Paris, The Gentleman Distillery opened, a small batch distillery bringing bourbon distilling back to Bourbon County.
In other brew news, Ethereal Brewing opened its doors Thanksgiving weekend at 1224 Manchester Street in Lexington’s growing Distillery District.
You can now spice up your brunch, as La Petite Crêperie on Woodland Park received their liquor license and now serves French wines and speciality cocktails alongside their crepes.
With a little help from Kickstarter, Karin West-Riley and Ranada West-Riley opened Lexington Diner at 124 N. Upper (at Upper and Short). Local and Kentucky Proud farm-to-table diner fare was the goal, with as many ingredients as possible sourced from their neighbors at the Lexington Farmers’ Market in season. In November, Chef Ranada appeared on Food Network for Guy’s Grocery Games, and trekked to Atlanta to audition for another Food Network spot.
Krim Boughalem and Andrea Sims (owners of Table 310 and former owners of Wine + Market) expanded their empire with National Provisions this year. The German-style beer hall and restaurant is the second-phase of the National Avenue Culinary Complex. The initial eatery, National Boulangerie, serves fresh-baked breads and pastry treats while the newest endeavor serves American meats, sausages, cheeses as well as 145 different kinds of beer.
Newk’s Eatery broke ground on Tuesday, July 15th and opened both its Richmond Road location (in front of Southland Christian Church) and Fayette Mall location in November. Newk’s offers California-style pizzas, hot speciality sandwiches, and tossed salads, wine, beer, and mean brownies.
More Mediterranean fare arrived in Lexington’s suburbs. Pita Social opened at 3090 Helmsdale Place near Hamburg, offering breakfast wraps, spicy beef pitas, falafel — fresh pitas daily.
A new Shakespeare & Co location opened on Chinoe Road in the recent Rossi’s location (formerly Pacific Pearl). The new restaurant serves the same menu as the original location on Broadway and Short St. Company controller Mark Chaffin says more expansions are under consideration, beginning with construction of a third location next summer in the Hamburg area.
Vinaigrette Kitchen opened on Leestown Road, meeting the needs of the Big Salad crowd. The menu was designed by bluegrass culinary empire builder Ouita Michel, and features greens produced by Lexington’s Seedleaf, a community gardening non-profit.
Bloody Mary and brunch-loving southsiders rejoiced early this year when Wild Eggs opened in the Palomar Center, offering items like the ACE (with a name like that, it had to be good), and other contemporary twists on typical breakfast, brunch and lunch fare.The Palomar location was the first franchisee operation for the Louisville-based restaurant chain, and more are on the way, including one scheduled to open in Hamburg this month.
In food writing, Sharon Thompson hung up her laptop and penned her final food column for the Lexington Herald-Leader in August.
A new cookbook from Lexington food blogger and advocate Rona Roberts, Classic Kentucky Meals, with photography by Sarah Jane Sanders, arrived in bookstores in November. (A signing is planned at Ruth Hunt Candies on Dec. 10)
The Inaugural Appalachian Food Summit held at the Hindman Settlement School on May 18th was a celebration of mountain food heritage that offered a glimpse at the unfolding future of local food in the region. The gathering successfully drew foodways scholars, writers, chefs, farmers and advocates from all six Central Appalachian states alongside visitors from outside the region. The day was an affirmation of what Appalachian people have to offer national conversations about local food, sustainable agriculture, wildcrafting, craft distilling, small batch preservation and place-based cuisine.
The Canal House duo visited historic Botherum this summer for a series of sold-out Summer Suppers, followed by an appearance at the Kentucky Governor’s Mansion as part of the year-long centennial celebration, and a November stop at Maker’s Mark.
Now in its fifth year, the Incredible Food Show at Rupp Arena brought Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond to town.
On September 10th, the first ever Jefferson Street Soiree rocked Lexington. The block party highlighted food and drink tasting—including wine in cans—from the up-and-coming Jefferson Street culinary corridor, including Grey Goose, Stella’s, Nick Ryan’s, Wine + Market, Enoteca, The Green Lantern, and many others. Live jazz at a stage between Grey Goose and Wine + Market topped off the night.
Local food was the focus of the Lafayette Seminar presented by the University of Kentucky Gaines Center for the Humanities. The panel discussion, “Thinking Big: Local Food and Large Institutions,” centered on large institutions and how they can become involved in local food provisions. The panel discussed, in particular, UK’s new contract with Aramark, and how that might affect local food producers. This discussion looked at the opportunities and challenges of local-food provision on the large scale – both at UK and nationally.
The Lexington Women Chef series continued this year, visiting Thai Orchid Cafe, Brasabana, and a late summer brunch and fundraiser on the campus of Montessori Middle School on Stone Road.
This article also appeared on page 16 of the December 2014 printed issue of Ace.
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