SEC Roadtrip: UK – Where to Eat! An insider’s view of Lexington, KY

Lexington is decidedly a foodie town, with more than its fair share of local, independent eateries.

Lexington is decidedly a foodie town, with more than its fair share of local, independent eateries.

My darling husband set out a great list of courses for you folks coming in to Lexington for what may be a combined football / golf trip / guys’ weekend. Here’s what I consider to be the real draw in Lexington – restaurants!

Anywhere we go, I want to know the great places to eat. Most folks might just think of food on one of these trips as fuel, but I think, why not fuel up and have an experience, rather than fuel up at the same fast food place that you could encounter every 10 miles on I-75?

With eye towards those visiting on a football weekend, for a golf trip and Keeneland combination, or all of the above, here is our insider’s guide to the food scene in Lexington.

Cream of the Crop:
If you’re in the mood for a great fine dining experience, these restaurants are where you might want to splurge, and includes the Lexington institutions.   Consider these the perennial powerhouses of our local food scene.

Malone's and Sal's are probably as good as it gets for a great steakhouse experience in Lexington.

Malone’s and Sal’s are probably as good as it gets for a great steakhouse experience in Lexington.

Malone’s (and it’s sister restaurant Sal’s). Malone’s has been around for more than 15 years.  This Lexington original offers everything you would expect to find in a top-of-the-line steakhouse. There are Malone’s locations – Lansdowne (the original, near Tates Creek Golf Course); Hamburg (close to the southern interchange of I-64 and I-75) and Palomar (probably closest to the Gay Brewer Jr. Course at Picadome and Golf Club of the Bluegrass).

Merrick Inn is another Lexington institution.  Set deep in a townhouse community on the grounds of former thoroughbred farm, Merrick Place, guests should be careful about parking.  The patio is spacious and vibrant, remaining a see and be seen locale for decades.  The interior dining spaces are the small rooms of the former farmhouse.  Located across from Malone’s Lansdowne, it’s easily accessible from all points on the south side of Lexington.

Indoor, outdoor, private dining rooms, or a beautiful bar, Dudley's has almost whatever you're looking for.

Indoor, outdoor, private dining rooms, or a beautiful bar, Dudley’s has almost whatever you’re looking for.

Dudley’s on Short  Dudley’s moved a few years back from its original location to a shiny new space downtown.  Proudly celebrating more than 30 years in Lexington, Dudley’s menu is varied, bordering on exotic, relying heavily on locally grown and produced foods, and features some non-traditional items.  With patio seating along Short Street and a beautiful bar, it’s the perfect spot to begin a night out in downtown.

Here, I pause for a moment of silence for one of our absolute favorites, Jonathan’s at Gratz Park.  The Gratz Park Inn did not renew the restaurant’s lease after 15 years.  We had many dates there and hosted family celebrations, including the rehearsal dinner for our wedding.  It was a delightful upscale take on Kentucky cuisine and we miss it.  A new restaurant has opened in that location, and it sounds uninspiring.  We’re sad.

Relative Newcomers (but no less delicious) to this group include Nick Ryan’sCole’s 735 Main (home made Key Lime Pie), The Village Idiot (duck & waffles), The Grey Goose (pizzas) and LockBox, located in the awesome New 21C Museum Hotel (um, yes please).  These are all downtown-ish, and all great places to relax and refuel or the beginning of a big night out on the town.

Middle of the Pack in a Power Conference:

If you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere and very good food, check out these local favorites.  Though not particularly fancy, these restaurants are the solid, old stand-by’s of the Lexington food scene.

The Winchell Brothers sandwich - guaranteed not to leave you hungry.

The Winchell Brothers sandwich – guaranteed not to leave you hungry.

Winchell’s is located in a strip mall on Southland Drive and is a favorite of ours and not only because it’s within walking distance.  It doesn’t look like much from outside, but Winchell’s has a killer breakfast, and the lunch & dinner menu is a once-a-week tradition at our house.  They often feature desserts from Martine’s Pastries (she did our wedding cakes and her work is delicious).  I recommend the Winchell’s Brothers sandwich with tomato soup, the tiramisu, (if they’ve got it) and my darling husband would recommend the Country Eggs Benedict, Reuben Grill or the Buffalo Chicken sandwich.  Be sure someone in your group orders the Jalapeno grits, so you can get a least a fork-full of heaven.  Also, Winchell’s has a host of TVs and are generally willing to put on just about any game, if there is an event your group doesn’t want to miss.

Saul Good is a relative newcomer to the Lexington restaurant scene, but quickly became extremely popular.  Get the Hot Brown Pizza – a slightly healthier version of the state’s signature dish, the Kentucky Hot Brown.  (There are three locations, one near Fayette Mall, one downtown, one in Hamburg close to the junction of I-64 and I-75).  I like the salads and they have some other creative pizzas that are delicious.

If you're missing the down-home goodness of authentic country-fried fare, Ramsey's is definitely the place in Lexington.

If you’re missing the down-home goodness of authentic country-fried fare, Ramsey’s is definitely the place in Lexington.

Ramsey’s has been around Lexington forever, and each location shares the same relaxed atmosphere.  It’s always a treat to go to Ramsey’s and enjoy their authentic, down-home cuisine.  So much so that I took my Long Island-Italian uncle there once and the next time he visited he said, “can we go back to that place we went last time?”  Ramsey’s is the place to get southern standbys like fried catfish, fried green tomatoes, a Hot Brown, or a fried chicken sandwich.  Pass on the salads, but be sure to leave room for a slice of pie.  Oh, and don’t have any blood work done in the coming month.  They do a mean breakfast and will serve eggs any style except poached.

Willies Locally Known is a fantastic barbecue and live music joint located in our own Southland neighborhood.  It’s meats are smoked on-site, just off the outdoor patio to the perfect tender deliciousness.  But there’s more than BBQ to the joint, as its menu reads like a list of Dixie and Delta favorites: catfish, oysters, chicken ‘n waffles, and Po Boys.  Plus, there’s live music on stage seven nights a week!

And if you need to feed your Sweet Tooth to finish off the evening, you can’t go wrong at the Crank and Boom Lounge for an ice cream snack.  Located in the trendy, up-and-coming distillery district, its a can’t miss treat.

If you’re hoofing it around downtown, an equally exquisite option is Sorella Gelateria, with it’s hand-crafted sweet, cold treats.  (We’re a little sentimental about this one because we are so nostalgic for an annual gelato raids to Pino Gelato each year during our Hilton Head Island vacation).

Upstarts:

You can’t enjoy a full throttle tailgate or 36 holes of golf on an empty stomach.  Breakfast may be our favorite meal to eat out on the town, and we know to get to these joints early (in the spirit of John Pinnette, my husband doesn’t do well with lines or waiting)!

Doodle’s (focuses on local & organic food) and Alfalfa’s (where the One Bearded Golfer and I had our first date) offer your traditional, hearty breakfast fare while putting their own unique take breakfast classics like french toast and a variety of omelets.

We've found the source of the obesity epidemic in America.  Two words: Worth It!

We’ve found the source of the obesity epidemic in America. Two words: Worth It!

If you feel the need to feed your sweet-tooth after rolling out of bed, Lexington offers several fantastic bakeries that fit such a bill. Spalding’s Bakery (Located near the JIF peanut butter plant east of downtown) is an old school doughnut shop that closes when they run out of the day’s fresh doughnuts.  Don’t dillydally or there will be a line, as Spalding’s fried doughnuts have very loyal fans.  Also, it’s just a bakery, not a restaurant (no place to sit and eat), so make you’re order to go.

Magee’s is a bakery and cafe also on the east side of downtown (on the way from downtown to I-75 south).  While famous for the amount of pure sugar packed into each pastry and doughnut, you can also grab a seat and enjoy hot breakfast sandwiches or  cold ham biscuits.

Technically located in a gas-station, people drive from miles around for Doughdaddy's seriously good doughnuts.

Technically located in a gas-station, people drive from miles around for Doughdaddy’s seriously good doughnuts.

On the other side of town and closer to campus, Donut Days (two locations, one on Southland, one in Chevy Chase near campus) is the friendly neighborhood bakery that never disappoints in our neighborhood.

If you are traveling to and from Lexington via the Bluegrass Parkway, I’m pretty sure is a state law that you have to stop at DoughDaddy’s (located on Versailles Road in a BP station) and try one or two of their many gigantic doughnuts.  One enormous fried doughnut is enough to keep you fueled up for several hours.

Clutch finishers:

It's called an Old Fashioned.  Try it, you'll like it.  And if your bartender doesn't know how to make it, move on to the next bar.

It’s called an Old Fashioned. Try it, you’ll like it. And if your bartender doesn’t know how to make it, move on to the next bar.

If you still have the fortitude to trudge on after a full day of golf, football and maybe a trip to the Keeneland, here’s a list of places to check out, depending on your mood.  We all know that Lexington, and Kentucky as a whole, is known for bourbon.  Many locals will sip Maker’s Mark on the rocks all evening, though we’ve always thought it’s tough to beat a good Old Fashioned.  If you prefer brews over whiskeys, fear not, as craft and locally brewed beers are all the rage in Lexington.

Belle’s Cocktail House, The Bluegrass TavernCheapside, Jefferson Davis Inn, McCarthy’s (standby from the old college days), Molly Brooke’s, Trust Lounge, Henry Clay’s Public House, Parlay Social and beer joints West 6th, Blue Stallion, Country Boy, The Beer Trappe, Lexington Beer Works are all within walking distance of each other downtown, which definitely gets hopping on football and/or Keeneland weekends.

If you’re looking for some place a little more relaxed or with pool tables and dart boards, give a look to Marikka’s – a German style bier stube, or Drake’s over on the Tates Creek corridor.

If you need a bite to eat after surviving the bars, hit Tolly-Ho on your way back to the hotel.   This greasy-spoon dive will set you right, regardless of what or how much you’ve imbibed that day.  Just tell them you want a Double Ho with cheesefries and chocolate shake, and wait for the magic to happen.

There you have it, folks, a brief list of some of our favorite eateries to visit while you’re in Lexington.  You should be able to find whatever you’re craving somewhere on this list and enjoy your stay.

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