The Year in Food
What Lexington Ate in 2020
BY: KRISTINA ROSEN
The new decade ushered in an unpredictable year for food, liquor and restaurant news in Lexington.
For an additional listing of The Year in Food 2020: Births, Obits, and Transitions, click here.
In the “Before”
This year, there was a clear “Before” and “After” in terms of the initial restaurant shutdown and reopening within the industry.
Lexington drank up with its inaugural Coffee Week in February when coffee shops banded together to offer community over competition, foreshadowing a theme to come for the Lexington restaurant realm.
Once the Spring shutdowns began, multiple local campaigns were launched to help support the small businesses and service industry professionals who had been affected by the initial ban on in-person dining.
New restaurants continued to open, while others surrendered not to the competition, but to the challenge of pivoting within a food scene that was simultaneously disrupted, evolving, and growing.
Longtime downtown Italian staple Portofino shuttered just before Thanksgiving, shortly after the announcement that the decades-old Chop House on Richmond Road had just held its last Sunday service. Additional closings in 2020 included Athenian Grill’s Locust Hill location, Bar Louie, The Barn food hall at The Summit, Bella Forno (formerly Crust), Best Friend Bar, Blaze Pizza in Hamburg, Edley’s Bar-B-Que, Gather on Main, George’s Grocery & Deli, Hayden’s Stockyard Eatery, HopCat, Locals’ Craft Food & Drink, Lyles BBQ, Nick Ryan’s, and Parlay Social.
Bazaar Eatery opened in the new Ethereal Brewing on Vine Street in April. The new restaurant is the brainchild of four Lexington food veterans—two former Crank & Boom employees along with the duo behind Gringos Food Truck.
Kuni Toyoda spent a decade dreaming about opening a restaurant in Chevy Chase and this year he made that dream come true with Bella Cafe & Grille. Toyoda brought us Bella Notte, Bella Forno (formerly Crust) and Smashing Tomato, but his newest concept explores more than Italian cuisine. Toyoda describes it as “everyday dining that you deserve. He adds, “Keep it simple, but do it right.”
Tucked behind Arcadium Bar, Favor opened to offer a permanent food spot on North Limestone in July. “It’s a whole different world for restaurants,” says owner Wyatt Sarbacker. “The industry is in shambles. I’m just trying to make snacks and feed people.”
Jonathan Lundy and TJ Cox opened Italx, their highly anticipated Italian restaurant in downtown Lexington.
Roulay Restaurant and Bar opened in February just in time for Mardi Gras, only a couple of weeks before the initial shutdown in March, and reopened in June.
The coffee scene delivered new jolts of caffeine in Lexington this year including Brevede, Jefferson Street Coffee, and Leestown Coffee House.
Lexington’s thriving Mexican restaurant scene added Bandido Taqueria Mexicana, El Cid Mexican Restaurant, El Patio, and El Mariachi to the mix.
Additional openings in 2020 included BurgerFi, Elixir, Horse and Jockey, Joella’s Hot Chicken, Old Kentucky Chocolates, OV Bistro, Rickhouse Pub, and Taco Tico.
Alfalfa announced its indefinite closure in late March, only to reopen months later under new ownership. The long-standing Lexington culinary institution was rescued by Tiffany El-Amin and Wali Yusuf El-Amin. Their goal is to help local producers, provide healthy local food, and engage the community while representing a Black-owned business in downtown Lexington.
The Barn at The Summit closed in May, quickly followed by Nick Ryan’s on Jefferson Street. Both of these closures set the stage for transitions. Crank & Boom left its location in The Barn and relocated into the former Lyles BBQ, (which closed in the “Before”). Distilled left its home at The Sire to move into the vacant Nick Ryan’s space.
The torch was passed on Southland Drive when Critchfield Meats relocated into the former Save-A-Lot, with plans to expand their services and offer the Save-A-Lot fried chicken.
Kismet, which was once a popular pop-up concept, found a permanent spot at The Burl only a few months before Best Friend Bar (the home of their first-ever pop up), closed in August. The closing of Best Friend Bar resurrected The Fishtank, a formerly popular campus bar between 2000 and 2009.
Bring on the Carbs
A second DV8 Kitchen made its way to Lexington’s Pastry Trail along Midland Avenue — joining Frank’s Donuts, Martine’s, and Spalding’s.
If Lexington ever hosts a Cinnamon Roll Week, a new contender opened in 2020. Daniel King’s passion for baking took off after appearing on an episode of the Food Network’s “Christmas Cookie Challenge” in December 2018. King opened The Futile Bakery, his first brick and more effort, on Waller Avenue in September.
Pearl’s is entering the holiday season on a positive note with the addition of a morning-shift and bagels to their lineup in November.
Making its long-awaited Lexington debut Tudor’s Biscuit World opened on East New Circle Road. Only days later, Louisville-based Biscuit Belly announced plans to enter the Lexington market. A Battle of the Biscuits is expected in 2021.
This article also appears on page 17 of the December 2020 print edition of ace magazine.
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