Taste of Lexington, Kentucky

Serious yum in the “horse capital of the world.”

By Hope S. Philbrick

As someone who spent about half my life in the Midwest and the other half in the Deep South—I really don’t want to reveal the number of decades I lived in each region, suffice it to say long enough to know what I’m talking about—I can say this with conviction based in certainty: Kentucky is a perfect fusion of Midwestern and Southern culture.

Get a taste of the best of both regions on plates and in glasses across Lexington, where artisan brewers, distillers and chefs are leading a local culinary boom.

Bring your taste buds and you’ll have a great time exploring Lexington.

Azur Restaurant & Patio
The contemporary, stylish décor of this place sets the stage for an elegant lunch or dinner dining experience. Attentive service, an impressive selection of bourbons—in Kentucky especially, bourbon pairs with whatever you order—and top-notch fare surpass expectations and warrant encores. Chef/Owner Jeremy Ashby showcases fresh, organic, sustainable ingredients that are sourced locally whenever possible. A Kentucky native who trained at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, S.C., Ashby has cooked at the prestigious James Beard House and racked up a number of awards including winning the inaugural Lyons Farm International Chef Showdown and the Kentucky Great American Seafood Cook-Off in 2011. His menu offers a mix of innovative creations and classic dishes with surprising twists. Dishes like lobster crepes, pretzel-crusted oysters, woven shrimp, stuffed gnocchi, and pan-roasted duck explain why Ace Weekly readers voted Azur “Best of Lex” in fine dining three times. Whatever you order, expect high-quality bites and tantalizing flavor combinations.
Odds of Encountering Children: Slim.


If there was one restaurant I could have put into my pocket and brought home with me to Atlanta, Ga., it would have been this one. (I’d be happy to see others on this list in my hometown, too, but Brasabana is most unlike any other dining option already in Atlanta.) If the enjoyable movie “Chef” got your mouth watering over the concept of Cuban cuisine, this is where to satisfy the craving. The food here is eye-poppingly gorgeous and tongue-tinglingly delicious. Portions are generous and about halfway through your lunch or dinner you may feel full, but loosen your pants and keep eating if you live any distance from here because, Fair Warning!, one meal here will have you craving a return visit daily. So eat up while you can and/or start plotting your relocation to Lexington. Teaming with Azur’s Chef Jeremy Ashby, Executive Chef Miguel Rivas, a native of the Dominican Republic who honed his culinary skills in New York City and Paris, serves an intriguing mix of dishes like con pollo (chicken with rice), empanadas, carnitas, ropa vieja (slow-cooked shredded beef) and papas rellenas. If you’re not familiar with Cuban cuisine fear not: It’s flavorful without flaming your palate with hot spice. Trust your server for recommendations, it’s not like you can go wrong with anything on the menu.
Odds of Encountering Children: Slim.

Brasabana - ropa viejaBrasabanaBrasabana

Cole’s 735 Main
A favorite with locals and visitors lucky enough to be tipped off to dine here, Cole’s 735 Main serves dinners prepared by Chef Cole Arimes. The native Lexingtonian honed his skills at various kitchens in Cincinnati before returning home. His menu reinterprets American classics with global inspirations and features local ingredients as much as possible. With eclectic options like Moroccan butternut squash stew, bourbon-glazed salmon, filet mignon and grits, sautéed duck breast, or Asian-smoked baby back ribs, it’s possible to satisfy nearly any craving. For starters, don’t miss the panko fried avocado with crab salad. Fine dining without fuss, the environment is sophisticated-casual inside the warm and cozy historic building that boasts walls festooned with restored murals.
Odds of Encountering Children: Slim.

Cole's 735 Main - panko fried avocado with crab saladCole's 735 Main

Country Boy Brewing
This artisan brewery opened in 2012 with just two beers in production and exploded onto the local scene earning rave reviews and devout fans. Country Boy produced 540 barrels of beer its first year, 1,800 barrels the second year and 6,000 this year—and its 15 employees struggle to keep up with the ever-growing demand. One sip and you’ll understand why. These beers are minimally processed (employing some Japanese craft brewing techniques), made of fresh ingredients, and the “boys” like to experiment with fruits, hops and other ingredients to achieve tasty, creative results like the popular favorite Jalapeño Smoked Porter. Country Boy is expanding its repertoire and, in addition to beer, will soon begin producing cider using Kentucky-grown apples, the first of its kind in the state. (To celebrate its local produce, the cider will bear the “Kentucky Proud” label.) Head to the taproom to savor a flight of draft picks, featuring enduring favorites and seasonal creations.
Odds of Encountering Children: Slim.

Country Boy Brewing - Daniel Harrison, original country boyCountry Boy Brewing flightCountry Boy - Cougar Bait cans

This former gas station has been transformed into a casual neighborhood diner and is a trendy hotspot for breakfast or lunch. Utilizing organic ingredients whenever possible, the menu offers up comfortable favorites like omelets, shrimp & grits, hotcakes, eggs, oatmeal, hash and more. If the generous portions don’t help get you going, the bright atmosphere and energetic vibe surely will.
Odds of Encountering Children: High. For the best odds, visit when school is in session.


Shakespeare & Co.
Shakespeare & Co.With more than 30 locations in 11 countries—primarily in the Middle East and North Africa—Lexington is currently the only U.S. city home to this restaurant concept, and it boasts two locations. The shabby-chic setting ensures you’ll be comfortable whether you prefer to dress up for high tea or snarf down a quick meal wearing jeans. ‘Eclectic’ seems inadequate to describe the breadth and depth of this menu, which is as thick as a book and presents options both familiar and foreign. Shakespeare & Co. won the prestigious “Best Middle East and North Africa Franchise Brand” award in 2014 from the Middle East and North Africa Franchise Association. Arrive hungry and expect attentive service, quality fare, and elegant décor inspired by 18th-Century Europe.
Odds of Encountering Children: Varies depending on time of visit. For the lowest odds, head for the bar.

Town Branch Distillery
Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. is first a brewery: It’s the award-winning producer of the Kentucky Ale portfolio of beers, which includes the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout, among others. In 2007 the company added a distillery, making it one of the few dual brewing and distilling operations—or “brewstilleries”—in the world. It makes sense since “when you make beer and spirits they’re the same in the beginning,” says Toni Cannon, visitor center operating supervisor. The first new distillery built in Lexington in nearly 100 years, Town Branch Distillery became part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 2012 and produces Town Branch Bourbon, Town Branch Rye, Pearse Lyons Reserve malt whiskey, and Bluegrass Sundown, a bourbon-infused coffee liqueur. Beer is made at the facility “all the time,” explains Cannon, “we sometimes interrupt beer production to make spirits,” all of which are currently bottled by hand. One-hour behind-the-scenes tours are $7 per person and include tastings for anyone age 21 and older (you’ll get to choose four tastes among the five beers and four spirits; our advice, bring a friend and share sips).
Odds of Encountering Children: Slim.

Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co.

Wallace Station Deli & Bakery
Wallace StationThis little diner is in Versailles, a picturesque drive outside of Lexington, but its proximity to the Woodford Reserve Distillery, an essential stop for any bourbon lover—especially anyone collecting stamps in the Kentucky Bourbon Trail passport—makes it an appealing inclusion to a Lexington visitor’s itinerary. This casual eatery serves sandwiches, wraps, burgers, soups, salads and sweet treats. It’s been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.” Arrive hungry: portions are generous.
Odds of Encountering Children: High. But you choose where to sit (indoors or out) so eye the crowd and make a strategic choice.

What To Do…

When not eating, there’s plenty to explore in Lexington, especially if you love history and horses. Among our favorite stops…

Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate honors the 19th Century statesman known as “the great compromiser” and Abraham Lincoln’s idol.

Kentucky Horse Park boasts 1,200 acres of museums, galleries, theaters and exhibits that showcase all horse breeds. Don’t miss the marked measured strides of three famous racehorses: Man O’ War, Secretariat and John Henry.

AshlandKentucky Horse Park - Man o' War memorial

Follow the big blue horse signs around town to discover even more.

More Information…

Visit Lexington

Kentucky Tourism

– Photos © HSP Media LLC

Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.

HopeP_144Hope S. Philbrick is founder and editor-in-chief of Getaways for Grownups. She became a freelance writer and editor because she believes that work and fun should not be mutually exclusive. Her work has appeared in dozens of publications nationwide. When not writing, she can usually be found on the road or savoring something tasty.

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