Lexington, Kentucky Beyond Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ

Barbeque and the Bourbon trail are must-dos in the so-called “Horse Capital of the World,” but Lexington’s diverse food and drink scene has a lot to offer.
A cocktail from Ona / Photo courtesy of Ona

A longtime destination for Bourbon lovers, Lexington—dubbed the “Horse Capital of the World” by some for its racetracks and many equestrian farms—isn’t on most people’s culinary radars. However, this Kentucky city is on track to change that. Recent openings and an increasingly diverse scene that includes West African, Sri Lankan, Greek, Japanese, Cuban and Vietnamese cuisine have seized attention from the long-time sports bar and steakhouse staples.

Where to Eat

The Four O’Clock dish at Honeywood.
The Four O’Clock dish at Honeywood / Photo courtesy of Honeywood

Honeywood

Honeywood is the latest from Lexington culinary icon Ouita Michel, whose restaurants have defined farm-to-table cooking in the region for almost two decades. Southern comfort food made with local ingredients doesn’t get much better. Look for chicken with creamed wild rice and Kentucky seedling pecans, brown beans in country ham broth with cornbread croutons and Bourbon chess pie. Michel also runs the Bourbon-centric Glenn’s Creek Café, housed at Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles.

Honeywood is located in The Summit at Fritz Farm, soon to host the state’s first food hall, The Barn.

Florida Yellowtail Tuna Crudo at the Middle Fork Kitchen Bar
Florida Yellowtail Tuna Crudo / Photo courtesy of the Middle Fork Kitchen Bar

Middle Fork Kitchen Bar

Middle Fork Kitchen Bar sits at the heart of “Pepper Campus,” the former site of the late-1800s James Pepper Distillery that’s set to reopen early next year. The complex houses another distillery, Barrel House, as well as microbrewery Ethereal, casual watering-hole The Break Room and more. Much of Middle Fork’s inventive menu is cooked over fire, like their duck breast served with a pilaf of brewers’ grains and kumquat marmalade.

Don’t miss Middle Fork’s version of a Northern Kentucky favorite, goetta (sausage made of beef, pork and oats). It’s served with confit of red and green tomatoes, locally milled grits and a poached egg.

The beverage director, Michael Florence, has crafted an extensive, natural-minded list of small-production wines that would stand out in any major city, but served with trademark Lexington hospitality.

The Country Club.
The County Club / Photo courtesy of The County Club

County Club

Ostensibly a barbecue restaurant, County Club avoids the obsessive regional specificity of most other Kentucky ‘cue joints. It offers responsibly-sourced local meat slow-smoked over hardwood, along with global touches that abound in dishes like smoked pork belly bánh mi, smoked crispy chicken skins with pepitas and habanero-lime sauce, and the Original 193 Burger, made with Kentucky beef, smoked mushrooms and housemade gochujang ketchup.

Where to Drink

The interior of Enoteca.
Enoteca / Photo courtesy of Enoteca

Enoteca

EnotecaLexington’s best wine bar offers an extensive bottle list that’s heavy on France and California, and a by-the-glass program with 20 selections via Coravin in 2- or 5-ounce pours. It also offers robust beer and whiskey lists.

The tapas menu includes traditional Spanish dishes like patatas bravas, tortilla española with piquillo pepper sauce, and mussels with saffron in a white wine sauce. There’s also the occasional down-home pick like shrimp and grits, or bread pudding with Bourbon sauce.

Ona

Ona is a neighborhood bar, booze-industry hangout and hipster cocktail lounge in one. Drinks are simple but impeccably balanced. Try the modestly named “Sour,” with pisco, mezcal, aromatic herbs, lemon and frothed egg white. Or grab a can of apple-peach-cranberry cider from Cincinnati’s Rhinegeist Brewery.

 Bartender pouring a beer at Beer Trappe.
Beer Trappe / Photo courtesy of Beer Trappe

Beer Trappe

Beer Trappe is a retail shop and bar with one of the widest beer selections in the country—more than 500 options on sale any given day. Many are made in such small quantities that they’re only available at the bar. Don’t look for cider, though. In Kentucky, cider is classified as wine, and Beer Trappe is beer only. Select Sundays also feature “Beer School,” with educational themed tastings for $10.

Stella's Kentucky Burgoo Stew

Where to Stay

21c Museum Hotel is a hotel and contemporary art museum located in the historic Fayette National Bank Building, built in 1914. The hotel’s restaurant, Lockbox, serves imaginative Southern cuisine with comprehensive local beer and Bourbon lists.

Fun Facts

George Clooney, Mary Todd Lincoln and musician Richard Hell were all born in Lexington.

Lexington’s annual Halloween parade is followed by a massive reenactment of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, with thousands of people dressed as zombies.

There are more Bourbon barrels aging in Kentucky than people in the state.

 

Published on September 13, 2017
Topics: Travel
About the Author
Nils Bernstein
Contributing Editor, Food

A fan of sweet wines, sour beers, and old-school Rioja, Bernstein is an exhaustive traveler in search of new and unsung chefs and restaurants, innovative wine and food pairings, and eating and drinking at the source. In addition to Wine Enthusiast, Bernstein has written for Bon Appetit, Men’s Journal, New York Times, Men’s Fitness, Hemispheres, and Kinfolk, among others.

Email: nbernstein@wineenthusiast.net



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