For our Food Year in Review 2015, click here.
The Year in Review: Obits and Resurrections
a la lucie at 159 North Limestone ended an era in Lexington dining when it closed November 30. Chef/owner Lucie Slone opened in 1985 at a time when larger-than-life women chefpreneurs weren’t yet trendy in Lexington (or anywhere else). A longtime anchor of downtown dining, a la lucie was a noisy, lively place with a cosmopolitan, eclectic feeling unique to Lexington. Slone isn’t retiring or even leaving the restaurant business; she plans to open a new concept farther down Limestone in Lexington’s emerging NoLi corridor. Slone wants to transform the empty corner garage of North Limestone and Loudon into an eclectic meeting place to dine and be social; it will feature a mermaid bar and plenty of open air dining. The project has been backburnered since the purchase of the building back in 2009, but with the closing of a la lucie, it has become Slone’s new focus.
Atomic Cafe at the corner of Limestone and Third Street closed after a long run offering Caribbean fare (jerk chicken and sweet potato fries) and — at one time — one of the most popular patio spots in town.
Bellini’s, a longtime Italian staple on Main Street, just across from the CentrePointe crater, closed in January 2015. The restaurant opened in 2003, and reigned in an era when downtown restaurants benefited considerably from big expense accounts that were more popular before big exposes about big spending.
Billy’s BBQ, a Chevy Chase mainstay since 1978, closed at the end of November, and will be replaced by a Louisville-based hot chicken franchise.
Bour-bon in Paris closed as a restaurant, but remains available as a private venue.
Amid significant neighborhood protest, the Kroger on Romany Road (a.k.a. Krandall’s, Krolex) closed on September 12. The nearby Chinoe Kroger recently completed its remodel, and the new Kroger on Euclid opened in Spring of this year. In other Kroger news, the chain also announced that it will offer online grocery shopping at the Lexington locations on Richmond Road and Beaumont as early as the end of the year (order online and pick up at the store). The new Versailles Kroger already offers online shopping.
The Melting Pot at 152 West Tiverton Way in Lexington closed this summer after seven years in business.
Natasha’s Bistro and Bar closed its doors indefinitely in November.
Willie’s Locally Known on North Broadway also closed, but for a relocation. Willie’s will re-open on 286 Southland Drive in 2016. The new location will come with a larger venue and a larger menu. Owner Wilson Sebastian said, “under the direction of our talented new chef Tanner Stiff, we plan on offering almost all of our current menu items, but also adding more salad options for those looking for a lighter Willie’s option, Kentucky burgoo and Texas Chili, Nashville hot chicken, BBQ and spicy chicken wraps, and a strong oyster presence. We’re going to shuck oysters behind the bar at the new place, which is something I think no one else is doing in Lexington at the moment.”
Yamaguchi’s Sake and Tapas closed at the end of November, breaking culinary hearts all over Lexington. Yamaguchi’s has long been one of Lexington’s best kept secrets (“Kue, Hirasuzuki, Kasago, Seki-aji. The finest ingredients you can find. You do not have to go to NY or LA. They are right here hidden in Codell Dr.”)—and a cult favorite among fans of authentic Japanese cuisine, who never objected to the 8 pm open time, not when it meant the best prep in town on fare like barracuda, pork jowls, and steamed monkfish liver (“foie gras of the ocean”). Offering an intimate and idiosyncratic setting and menu, the husband-wife proprietors (executive chef Hidenori Yamaguchi and Shima Yamaguchi) received premium seafood from Japan every Wednesday, which usually meant a wildly popular slightly limited menu and half-price sake on Tuesdays. Small parties of well-behaved adults were welcome, and the owners were frank about their preferences in customers via social media, “Normal conversations of 7 or more people is TOO LOUD for your very next table to enjoy conversations in normal volume,” and the two are much beloved among Lexington food fans who appreciated a true Japanese tapas menu.
The Year in Review: BIRTHS and Transitions
In addition to a food cart/kiosk at the newly opened Disco Kroger on Euclid, Athenian Grill opened up a second location just off of Richmond Road, on Locust Hill Drive. Athenian Grill’s food truck didn’t drive away into the sunset; it’s still roaming around.
Brusters Ice Cream opened in April on 220 Ruccio Way, off of W. Reynolds Road.
The former office space at 109 North Mill (between Main and Short) has been transformed into Buddha Lounge, a sushi and tapas spot. The extensive renovation of the unique building just off Main Street is a microcosm of the downtown development boom.
Chef Allison Davis (Wild Thyme) opened Caldo, Lexington’s first bone broth emporium, on North Ashland Avenue offering “locally sourced grass-fed bone broth, raw salads, fermented foods, smoothies and more.”
Javier Lanza (Sabio) and Aimee Lanza (former proprietor of the Jax) opened Centro in September in the former Courtyard Deli location on Cheapside.
The Cheezy Mac opened its second location in Fayette Mall. (The first location is near the corner of Richmond Road and Locust Hill, in front of the Kroger.)
Courtyard Deli, a 25-year mainstay of Cheapside Square, moved to Church Street.
The Boom continues: Crank and Boom Ice Cream and Middle Fork Kitchen Bar both opened their doors in Lexington’s burgeoning Distillery District. Middle Fork features a custom-made Argentinian wood-fired grill where chef Mark Jensen continues to serve the globally-inspired food that made Fork in the Road a Lexington food truck favorite. Jensen built the new place by hand, literally. “We’ve built the tables and the bar, we’ve upholstered the stools, we’ve built the wood-fireplace, we’ve even carved the tap handles.”
Gastro Gnomes and Rooster Brew are partnering on a new project that will open next summer in the Pepper Distillery District. This will be the first brick and mortar location for the Gastro Gnomes and an expansion for Rooster Brew.
Lexington culinary empire builder Ouita Michel opened a Kentucky Proud-certified cafe at Woodford Reserve Distillery. Glenn’s Creek Cafe in the Distillery’s visitor center serves sandwiches, soups, and salads, as well as Kentucky Proud sweets from Michel’s Midway School Bakery and a coffee menu featuring bourbon specials.
High on Art and Coffee, a new cafe and coffee shop on 523 E. High Street, opened its doors early this year.
Honnah-Lee Bubble Tea, a bubble tea and gourmet popsicle business, opened in a new location near the corner of Harrodsburg Road and Lane Allen.
HopCat opened in October in the Square. The new bar is serving as many as 140 craft beers, about 40 from Kentucky, and food “your mom would make if she loved craft beer.”
Locals’ Craft Food & Drink opened on 701 National Ave in the booming WaBlo district near the railroad at National Avenue.
21c Museum Hotel Lexington announced Jonathan Searle will be executive chef at Lockbox. Lockbox will be located in Lexington’s new 21c in the National Bank building at the corner of Main and Upper.
Food Truck Lyles BBQ Company debuted its brick and mortar restaurant on June 6. (Brick and Mortars that added food trucks include The Cheezy Mac and Great Bagel.)
The Macho Nacho opens on December 14 as the next restaurant replacing the former Glenn’s Creek Brewery in Chevy Chase on High Street (formerly Buddy’s, and prior to that Roy’s Diner). Delivery will be offered in the adjacent neighborhoods.
Mad Mushroom opened up a new location at 1093 South Broadway Road, near Gumbo YaYa and First Watch.
La Madeleine Country French Cafe opened their first Kentucky location at The 90 on UK’s campus.
Lexington Pasta’s Pasta Garage opened on Delaware in July.
Pho Saigon opened in the Woodhill Plaza Center, located on 155 E New Circle Road. It serves traditional Vietnamese food.
Sayre grads opened Pie Five Pizza in Fayette Mall. They offer build-your-own pies in a casual setup similar to Chipotle.
Pies & Pints, home of craft pizza and craft beer, opened in Victorian Square (now The Square) early this year.
The Press Juice Bar and Cafe opened in the former La Petite Creperie location.
Lexington’s growing food truck trend scored another success as Rolling Oven opened inside Dodd’s Corner in Nicholasville.
Chef John Foster’s Sage Rabbit opened on S. Ashland this July. Best known for a decade at Dudley’s and a brief tenure operating the Harvest in Chevy Chase, Foster has also chaired the culinary program at Sullivan University’s Lexington campus.
Street Craves opened up over the summer, taking over the location that was formerly Hugh Jass and prior to that the first home of the legendary Tolly Ho.
The upscale Tony’s Steak and Seafood (of Cincinnati) opened a two-level fine dining restaurant in The Square.
Travinia Italian Kitchen opened at the Mall in April.
Vinaigrette Salads opened a second location in The Square in April. Its Townley location also opened a drive-thru window.
The Louisville-based Wild Eggs breakfast franchise opened a second location in Lexington, this one in Hamburg, near Malone’s, at 1925 Justice Drive. The first Lexington Wild Eggs opened in Palomar Center in 2014. Be sure to order the ACE (because with a name like that, it’s gotta be good).
For our Food Year in Review 2015, click here.
This article also appears on pages 6-7 of the December 2015 print edition of Ace.
Subscribe to the Ace e-dition for Lexington news, arts, culture, and entertainment, delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning.