Middle Eastern
Special Occasion
Fast Food

Lexington Ky Restaurants

Special Occasion

Your Guide to Fine Dining

Holly Hill Inn

Merrick Inn

Campbell House
The Mansion
When one has a special occasion to celebrate or an important client to impress, Lexington has seven fine restaurants to choose from. What you are paying for is the chef, or chefs, who graduated from culinary school and interned in major kitchens elsewhere before coming to Kentucky; the service staff who quietly antiicipate the diners' every need; and the menu with creative entrees representing the cutting edge of 21st Century cuisine. Reflecting the national trend among top echelon restaurants, these elites have drastically reduced their menus to focus on fewer selections done exquisitely well. They focus great time and effort on their wine lists. The ingredients and preparation receive great attention, but what sets them apart is their presentation : the artistic appearance of the food is given great emphasis. These places all take pride in their history and tradition and continue their success through meticulous attention to detail. Reservations are assumed and arrival about 10 minutes early smooths the seating. A meal at one of these restaurants is An Event, to be anticipated and remembered.
Holly Hill Inn. When national championship debater Ouita Papka announced that instead of going to law school she would attend the New York Culinary Institute and become a chef, coaches thought she was joking. Now they bring their teams to her award winning restaurant. The 1812 Holly Hill Inn is an antebellum mansion 20 minutes from downtown Lexington. Most foodophiles rate it the best restaurant in Kentucky. Ouita and husband Chris Michel are chef and sommelier. They use fresh, locally grown ingredients in a fixed menu of three, four or five courses at $35, $40 or $45. Their halibut and scallops are wonderful, but when available, the rabbit and squab are the stars of the entree show. Make sure the cornbread accompanies whatever you order. And while you can order your own wine, we suggest you let Chris choose one for you. Save room for dessert; Ouita's are special. Midway. 859-846-4732. From downtown, take Broadway north to !-64, go off at Midway, turn right on 421 and immediately turn left on North Winter Street. Holly Hill Inn is at 426, a block up the hill.
Merrick Inn opened as a restaurant in 1970 in the old mansion when Merrick Farm was developed as a townhouse complex. The old horse farm atmosphere still permeates the place, and longtime customers consider Merrick the best restaurant inside city limits. The menu is traditional Old South but each favorite is given new touches. For instance, the grilled shrimp are now served on cheese grits in Maker's Mark sauce. Fried green tomatoes now come in a shrimp lobster salad. And the chefs use their Daily Special board to add a contemporary flavor. One recent item has been the stuffed egg roll, a pork and shrimp base with cucumber, bok choy and Thai chili sauce. There's some real heat hiding in there, so be careful. The entrees include several kinds of fish, chicken, chops and steaks. The sides read like something out of Gone With The Wind : acorn squash, broccoli, spinach, macaroni and cheese, corn and grits. What breathes life into this nostalgia trip is that these may be the best versions of these classics you have ever tasted. The dessert list is another classic. We recommend the key lime pie, butterscotch pie and cheesecake. 3380 Tates Creek Road. 269-5417. From downtown, go east on High Street, which turns into Tates Creek. When you come to the bottom of the long hill, with Lansdowne Shops on your right, look for the Merrick Place entrance on your left. Merrick Inn is atop the hill. Parking is a problem; use the valet system.
Murray's is in a 1907 residence south of town on Harrodsburg Road. The interior is quite cozy and elegant and the menu Upscale Southern. The wine list is impressive and the appetizers outstanding. We liked the egg rolls and their ginger apricot sauce. Murray's does a fine job with steak; their filet mignon in garlic herb sauce is tender and juicy. They cook it over a hickory wood fire and drizzle it with their own smoked tomato bearnaise. But they also do fish very well, serving it with sides which do a great job of complementing the flavor. Chef Josh Winslow considers Halibut the house specialty, so if in doubt order it. For several years, Murray's has had the reputation of serving the best grits in town, so you ought to try them. We're not big grits lovers, but these are the best we've had. Including sides, it's hard to leave Murray's not feeling full, but save room for dessert. The peach cobbler and key lime pie are memorable. 3955 Harrodsburg Road. 219-9922. From downtown, take South Broadway, which turns into Harrosdburg Road. Pass New Circle Road and Man 0 War Boulevard, then look for Murray's on the hill to your right.
Jonathan's at Gratz Park is a downtown restaurant using ingredients from local farms, wineries and dairies. They have the longest wine list in town and an impressive appetizer menu. One of those --- "oyster skins" --- is chef Jonathan Lundy's creation and is a must try. He adds a fried oyster and pimento cheese to a basic potato skin. The sea scallop hot brown is unique, while the country ham & shrimp potstickers are a tradition with new touches. His fried green tomatoes are excellent, but the best salad is Kentucky Hot Slaw, a mix of cabbage and peppers in mustard and bacon. The skillet blackened salmon comes over a soybean base and crayfish corn pudding. Then there's the potato dumplings. If you go in a group, somebody must order these. The Specials are always worth trying, especially on days when Lundy does pork prime rib with sweet potato and apple pone. Save room for dessert. Jonathan's most famous is the flaming bourbon brulee. 120 West Second Street. 252-4949. This is a small, intimate restaurant within the Gratz Park Inn. From Main Street downtown, driving, turn North onto Limestone and go three blocks. Turn left onto Second Street. You'll see the rear of the building, shown here. Turn left into the Gratz Park Inn parking lot.

The Campbell House has outlasted several longtime rivals (The Coach House, Levas's, The Little Inn) and stands as the longest continuously running Special Occasion restaurant in town. When The Campbell House opened, many current rivals were still horse farm mansions. The Campbell House Inn has changed owners several times (the current one is Crowne Plaza) and the restaurant inside has changed names and been rethemed several times (most recently a multimillion dollar updating in 2005). But regardless of what The Inn names the restaurant, everybody just calls it The Campbell House and continues to eat there. The restaurant is popular with the UK football and basketball crowd and Keeneland racing fans, so when UK has a home game or the Keeneland Fall or Spring Meet is in session, it's hard to get a table. The current name is Kilburn's, but Friday Seafood Buffets and Sunday Brunch Buffets continue to draw crowds. For 50 years, The Campbell House has been popular after church on Sundays, and for Thanksgiving and Easter dinners. It takes special pride in its prime rib, but we didn't list it as a steak house because its seafood and other entrees are outstanding. Always order the soup and dessert of the day. The menu is basically Old South for the traditionalists, with daily specials to allow the chefs to show off their culinary skills. 1375 Harrodsburg Road. 255-4281. From downtown, two miles south on Broadway.

Metropol is certainly a historic experience. The building dates from 1810. It was the original Lexington Post Office, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Converting it to a restaurant presented its challenges : it's long and narrow. The ground floor has a six stool bar, three tables, and the kitchen. Up the narrow, creaking stairs brings you to a dimly lit pair of rooms with small tables. It's a perfect place for a romantic date, but not really suitable for a larger group. The food, however, is wonderful. Among the exotic appetizers, we like the Coquilles St. Jacques (tiny bay scallops in a beurre blanc topped with Gruyere cheese). We also recommend the Crab Avocado Salad, which has just a faint trace of cumin in a roast bell pepper vinaigrette. You have difficult choices to make on the entree page. The Braised Rabbit is our favorite, served in a delicate Dijon mustard sauce. If you can tolerate a little spice, Seafood Fetticcine includes scallops, crab and shrimp in a lobster tomato sauce. For vegetarians there's Pasta Bella, a mix of mushrooms, artichoke, olives, and tomatoes in pesto sauce and white wine. And for seafood lovers there's Chilean Sea Bass, pan seared in truffle sauce framed with new potatoes. If you survive all this with room for dessert, try the Apple Bread Pudding. This is probably the most expensive restaurant in Lexington, but for a special occasion it is definitely memorable. 307 Short Street. 381-9493. From the Hyatt, walk two blocks north on North Broadway, turn right on West Short Street, and look for Metropol at the end of the block on your left.

The Mansion has the grandest appearance of any Lexington restaurant. It was, indeed, a mansion, the antebellum home on the old Griffin Gate Thoroughbred Farm before it was developed with a golf course, elite housing and Marriott complex. High ceilings, intricate chandeliers, tasteful lighting, and 1800s furniture greet you upon entering. Then the Old South waiters usher you to your table and the menu takes over, featuring items like a lobster chive salad, turnip soup over walnuts and poached pear, pappardelle saffron with tomato ragou, and tomato basil mozzarella. Clearly, these people take appetizers seriously. The entrees are equally innovative and impressive. The sea bass with charred onions, beans and cilantro balances several flavors just right. Grilled venison with brussel sprouts, chestnuts, mushrooms and cider gastrique is a dinner you can't order very many places. There's prosciutto wrapped pork tenderloin, and filet mignon with South African Lobster. Save room for dessert. The three we like best are the creme brulee, peach bread pudding with caramel sauce, and cheesecake. The wine list is heavily French. We suggest asking for the sommelier's own recommendation to go with your order. 1800 Newtown Pike. 231-5100 daytime. 288-6142 evenings. From downtown, drive west on West Main Street, turn right onto Newtown Pike and follow it several miles past Lexmark and New Circle Road. When the golf course shows up on your right, slow down and look for the stone walled entrance to the Griffin Gate Complex. The Mansion is up the hill.
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