Lexington

(Editor’s note: If you haven’t read Part 1 of this two-part post, know that it’s about the explosion of great food and drink options in downtown Lexington. This second part touches on restaurants just a couple of blocks away, to some several miles away, that should be added to your “must visit” list.)

Doodles: This fast-casual breakfast and lunch operation is located about two blocks from downtown and less than a block from Transylvania University. If Lynn Winter hadn’t shuttered Lynn’s Paradise Café and considered doing a fast-casual version of that restaurant, this might be what it would have looked like.

Beignets and stuffed French toast at Doodle's.
Beignets and stuffed French toast at Doodle’s.

Open just four days a week, the menu changes from Thursday to Sunday. You can find everything from omelets to huevos rancheros to corned beef hash to a Kentucky hot Brown quesadilla, and that’s just for starters.

Prices are modest, you fetch your own food and coffee refills, seat yourself, and leave when you’re ready. It’s that casual.

And when you’re finished, make sure to set off on foot, first, to Third Street Stuff & Coffee, an eclectic arts and crafts shop directly across the street, and, second, to walk the Transylvania University neighborhood to see a lot of beautiful historic homes.

Jonathan at Gratz Park: If you want a sophisticated dining experience, come here. You won’t regret it.

Executive chef Jonathan Lundy cleverly elevates southern food and ingredients with modern interpretations of old standards and new creations alike.

Expect low lights and lots of dark woods in this century-old dining space that’s part of the Gratz Park Inn.

Clubby? Yes.

Romantic? Yes.

Good for a business meeting? Yes, that, too.

Probably best that men wear jackets to dinner here.

Have a look at the regularly rotating menu to get your mouth watering.

Jonathan’s also has one of the better wine selections in town.

west-sixth

West Sixth Brewing: Any hophead is already a fan of this brewery’s brilliant IPA. (For what it’s worth, NABC’s Roger Baylor described it to me as representative of a true IPA than most of the overly hopped IPAs on the market today.) I’m also a fan of its amber ale as well.

Since this is a taproom and not a brewpub, there is no food menu, but it does serve some good snacks available to munch on while sipping your beer.

The drive here from the city center is about 5 minutes, but also walkable if want to stretch your legs. It’s worth going to just to say you went there when it was small—because it will grow.

Country Boy Microbrewery and Taproom: This is another terrific brewery in Lexington that’s also just a few minutes’ drive from the city center. (Like West Sixth, you could walk there from any downtown hotel. Heck, that’ll save on cab fare when you don’t need to be driving home from either brewery.)

If you’re a Keeneland fan and want to wait until the fall meet to go here, brewer Evan Coppage recommends you get the vanilla brown ale dubbed Shotgun Wedding ($4) and Jalapeno Smoked Porter ($5.50). His mother’s garden supplies the 100 pounds of jalapeno peppers required for the beer. Now that’s local!

Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. (a.k.a. Town Branch Distillery and Kentucky Ale): The oldest of Lexington’s three breweries is the well-known Kentucky Ale. And just across the parking lot from it is the newest member of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Town Branch Distillery.

Town Branch Distillery, which shares a campus with Kentucky Ale.
Town Branch Distillery, which shares a campus with Kentucky Ale.

Founded by Dr. Pearse Lyons, founder and CEO of Alltech, an animal feed company there, both brands’ products have achieved quick recognition, both inside and outside the Bluegrass, for their quality.

When Town Branch opened last year, its new visitors center turned out to be a stunner. Now it hosts daily tours both in the distillery and the brewery. Neither, however, has a tasting room where you can sample goods at your leisure. Still, it makes for a good stop if you’re into knowing what happens behind the scenes.

Saul Good Restaurant & Pub: Currently, there are two Saul Good’s on the east side of the city, but by the fall, there will be a third at the city’s center. (Louisville was close to getting one, but the deal never materialized.)

Former Gov. John Y Brown, Jr., turned me onto this place a couple of years ago, saying it had the makings of an expandable chain. Indeed, operator Rob Perez has nailed the concept by skewing it a bit toward women. His executive chef dubbed it “a pub with a skirt,” which is funny, but don’t imagine it all that feminine. (His wife had a lot of say in the décor.) Imagine it kind of classy-casual.

The Thai Crunch Salad at Saul Good. Good stuff indeed! (Photo courtesy of Saul Good.)
The Thai Crunch Salad at Saul Good. Good stuff indeed! (Photo courtesy of Saul Good.)

Go here for really good pizza, salads and sandwiches, as well as an exceptional beer program and martini flights. The Young’s Double Chocolate Stout beer float is tasty, too.

Smashing Tomato: If you like Neapolitan style, wood-fired pizza, much like they serve at the Garage Bar, this is your style of pie. Just like in any good pizzeria, the menu is simple, short and evidence of a staff dedicated to doing just a few things really well.

It takes about 20 to 25 minutes to drive to either of its two locations from the city’s center. As Kentucky’s only Vera Pizza Napoletana-certified pizzeria, trust me, it’s worth the drive—even from Louisville.

Coba Cocina: I wrote about this restaurant a couple of months ago, calling it one of the most beautiful restaurants I’ve ever seen. (Click here for pictures.) Unfortunately, the food isn’t as amazing as the facility.

Though nothing we ate was bad at all—in fact it was more than suitable, not to mention filling—I just thought it not nearly as impressive as its dazzling surroundings.

Still, at the very least, go have a drink here and stay for dinner if the menu appeals to you. The drive from the center of Lexington to Coba Cocina in the Chevy Chase neighborhood is barely 15 minutes, and it’s a pretty one at that.

Azur Restaurant: Besides being a heck of a nice guy, executive chef Jeremy Ashby is doing terrific things at this modern farm-to-table restaurant. He walks the talk when it comes to using as many local ingredients as possible and then turns them into innovative delights on the plate.

The patio, a favored spot, at Azur Restaurant. (Photo courtesy of Azur.)
The patio, a favored spot, at Azur Restaurant. (Photo courtesy of Azur.)

As you can see on the menu, his food is amazingly affordable for such upscale dishes.

Azur is the kind of place you want to go to if you can stay the night in town. Play around downtown, get a good nap in and then make the 20 minute drive to the restaurant. When in season, make sure to eat outside on the expansive patio. Linger a bit; don’t rush through a meal here.

** And before anyone complains about me not mentioning Ouita Michael’s fantastic quartet of eateries, Holly Hill Inn, Wallace Station, Windy Corner and Midway School Bakery, just get your map out: none of them are in Lexington.

Plus, I’ve written about all of them at some point on this website. They are not, of course, any less superb than they ever were.

Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

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