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Classic


Alfalfa's

Blue Fire Grill

Chatham's
Cheesecake Factory
Coles 735 Main
Ramsey's
Ruby Jean's Winchell's

Call it American, Traditional, Comfort Food or Family. Whatever we call it, there's still a place for those good old restaurants serving fried chicken, hot roast beef sandwiches, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, apple pie, pancakes and all the other foods most of us grew up with. Fortunately, Lexington still has some very good restaurants that more or less fit into that category. Some serve traditional items with new twists. Some specialize in one kind of traditional fare, such as vegetarian. Some emphasize the Southern aspect of Kentucky's heritage, while others lean toward a more national menu. But they all feel vaguely familiar. You don't have to ask the waiter how to pronounce an entree, or what's in it, or how hot it is. Some of these restaurants have a historic feel. But these restaurants are not listed here simply because they have been around and serve familiar food. They are recommended because they are the best at preparing these foods. They fix them as well as Grandma used to. Some fix them better.

 

Alfalfa's

At Alfalfa you know you're in for an adventure as soon as you see the drink list: Ale 8, Ginseng Ginger Ale, Seltzer, Cinammon Coffee, Twig Tea and Soy Milk. Among various eccentric appetizers, we recommend the Spinach Mushroom Quesadilla. Order the Soup Of The Day. It's often quirky but always great. The best salad is the Phoenix, a mix of greens, apple, raisen, cucumber, red onion, alfalfa sprouts, and sunflower seeds. Chalk Boards list daily specials. Entrees rotate by season, but when available, we like their Meat Loaf, a hearty blend of ground chuck, red bell peppers, garlic, red onion, eggs, worcestershire, bread crumbs, spices, roast red peppers and chipotle. If you saw Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and remember Big Daddy's love for Hoppin John, but never got to eat it yourself, this is your chance. Alfalfa makes the best Hoppin John of any restaurant in Kentucky. It contains black eyed peas, brown rice, creole tomato sauce, diced onions, green peppers, and cheddar cheese. That's the classic Southern recipe. If you go for lunch, three sandwiches stand out. The Grilled Avocado on Whole Wheat is a concoction of hummus, swiss, cheddar, avocado and tomatoes. The Smoked Turkey adds lettuce and a cranberry herb pesto. The Original Dagwood (from the comic strip) stacks city ham, country ham, turkey, bacon, lettuce, cranberry herb pesto, and white cheddar. Lunch or dinner, save room for Carrot Cake, which includes whole wheat and honey, or Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake. Alfalfa's is on Main Street, four blocks east of Triangle Park, across the street from the Public Library.

Blue Fire Grill is inside the atrium of the Hyatt Regency Hotel adjacent to Rupp Arena. The ambience and menu are now cutting edge. Among the appetizers, we like the Butter Bean Hummus, Bourbon Barrel Ale Onion Rings, and Catfish Fingers, but the Crab Cake (blue lump crab, avocado, charred corn salsa) is the star of the show. It, a soup and salad are all you need. They offer a Soup of the Day, but the White Bean & Tomato (toasted fennel, fresh basil) is available daily and is hard to beat. The Heirloom Tomato Salad (goat cheese, bibb, white balsamic) is the best of their five salads. Sides are pretty creative : Wild Rice, Bacon White Cheddar Grits, Sweet Potato Fries. If you're from out of state, you MUST try Burgoo, Bison, Catfish and Hot Brown while you're here, and the Blue Fire offers fine interpretations of those old Kentucky classics. Their Maple Bourbon Salmon (local maple syrup and Woodford Reserve) and Filo Pouch (green chili creme fraiche) are also very good. You may not have room for dessert, but if you do, there's a Mint Julep Creme Brulee, Blueberry French Vanilla Cobbler or Whiskey Vanilla Sauce Bread Pudding waiting. downtown
chatham's Chatham's is the ultimate Classic restaurant. The old building at the corner of Woodland and High has been completely renovated, crumbling floors relaid and decor redone. Gone is the quaint, cluttered look, replaced by a sleek, 21st Century ambience. Even the bar, bathrooms and patio have been redone. Yet it's still in that classic old farmhouse and the menu is pure 1900s Kentucky. Appetizers include Fried Green Tomatoes, Hoppin John, Mac n Cheese, Sweet Potato Casserole, Broccoli Casserole and the best Cornbread in town, cooked and served in a cast iron skillet. You must order the Cornbread; there's enough for your whole table and it will be one of your meal's highlights. The two Soups are outstanding. Low Country She Crab Soup is not a Kentucky dish, but this is a great version. Kentucky Onion Soup is made with beef stock, vidalia onions and havarti and provolone cheeses. It's a serious contender for the best onion soup in Lexington. There are only two Salads, but they're fresh, locally grown and very good. Entrees read like a visit to Grandma's house : Meat Loaf, Catfish, Bone In Pork Chop Tenderloin, Country Fried Steak, Pot Roast, Chicken Livers, and Kentucky Hot Brown. Shrimp & Grits, and Fried Shrimp, are not authentic 1900 Kentucky, but they're excellent and have become very popular here. Among desserts, the Chess Pie is especially good but all the regulars order it so they run out early. In addition to other pies, there's Cheesecake and Bourbon Bread Pudding. This is a beloved location and especially on weekends draws huge crowds, so 45 minute waits are common by mid evening. Remember the days when restaurants served reasonable sized portions? That's what Chatham's does. You won't be taking half your meal home for lunch tomorrow. Instead, you get one meal's worth of food. In a nation where obesity is an epidemic, this is not a bad idea.
A famous national critic described The Cheesecake Factory as a place where people suffer through a mediocre menu as an excuse to eat the world's greatest cheesecake. We agree that this is incredible cheesecake, but we're not as down on the rest of the menu. They make everything from scratch every day, and will gladly adjust anything to anyone's dietary needs, which is more than a lot of restaurants can say. Among appetizers, the Sweet Corn Cakes, Avocado Eggrolls, Crabcakes and Vietnamese Shrimp Rolls are the best of a tasty dozen. There are seven salads and 11 sides. On their Seafood page you'll find four Salmon and three Shrimp dishes, but we think the Shrimp & Chicken Gumbo and Southern Fried Catfish are their best. The "Specials" include mostly Chicken and a few Mexican dishes, but the treasure hiding here is the Shepherd's Pie. There are five Steaks and a Grilled Pork Chop. The Huevos Rancheros, Chorizo Avocado Omelette and Farmhouse Omelette are very good. There are various desserts, but ignore those and go to the 15 kinds of Cheesecake. The only problem is the wait, and they don't take reservations. cheesecake factory
chatham's Cole's 735 Main features Classic Upscale Southern Cuisine. Among appetizers, we like the Spanakopita (spinach and feta souffle wrapped in phyllo with shallot cream), but the Fried Avocado stuffed with crab salad and the Sea Cake are excellent. Star of the salads is the Roast Beet & Goat Cheese With Arugula. The beets are surprisingly tart and contrast nicely with the goat cheese. The 14 item entree menu includes Beef Shoulder, New York Strip, a Petite Filet and Duck Breast. The seafood section is outstanding : Scallops, Tuna, Shrimp & Grits, Scottish Salmon, and a Seafood Medley which includes scallops, shrimp, clams and mussells in a tomato herb broth on spinach fettuccini. Ribs fans will find Baby Back Ribs or Short Ribs excellent. There's Amish Chicken with mushrooms and spinach. For vegetarians, Morrocan Butternut Squash Stew includes garlic whipped potatoes and lemon shallot brussel sprouts. A Bar Food Menu, available by request, is a bounty of items below $12 : Spicy Duck Tacos, Salted Endamame, Baked Brie, Duck Fries, Wild Mushroom Bruscetta, Artisan Cheese Plate and the Kobe Burger. 735 East Main. From downtown, drive East on Vine / Main, and look left.
Ramsey's keeps its menu simple: 13 entrees, seven salads, a soup of the day, 21 vegetables and 15 sandwiches. Ramsey's offers one of the best Chicken & Dumpling versions in Kentucky. You should order Soup of the Day when it's Chicken & Rice, Corn Chowder or Cheese. Among veggies, go for Honey Mustard Carrots, Fried Green Tomatoes, Yellow Squash and Onions, Apple Fritters, Creamed Corn and Mashed Potatoes & Gravy. Kids like their Macaroni & Cheese. Entrees are a more difficult choice. They're all great. In true Blue Grass Tradition, you can get Classic Hot Brown, Veggie Hot Brown or an Open Face Pot Roast Sandwich. These are some of the best Chicken Livers you've ever had. The Meat Loaf is outstanding. We like their Catfish (fixed as you'd like), Skillet Fried Pork Sirloin, and Pot Roast. Pork Chops in Ramsey's Red Sauce are memorable. One creative item is Lemon Yogurt Chicken. For lunch, order Traditional Reuben, Zucchiniburger, or Meatloaf Sandwich. And you MUST save room for the best pie in town. You order by the slice or the whole pie. There are 13 flavors, all served hot. They range from Peanut Butter to Butterscotch to Black Bottom and Black Cherry. West Zandale, just off Nicholasville Road (moved from original High Street location). ramseys
norma jeans Ruby Jean's is a buffet style restaurant specializing in Southern Comfort Food. You pay $8.00 and take what you want. Fried Catfish and Fried Chicken are offered daily, but the rest of the menu rotates. Over the course of the week, they offer Baked Ham, Meatloaf, Pork Roast, Turkey & Dressing, Pork Chops, Roast Beef, Salmon Patties and Salisbury Steak. Sides also rotate. They include Carrots, Baked Potatoes, Buttered Corn, Sweet Potatoes, Corn Pudding, Cabbage, Broccoli, Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, Collard Greens, Green Beans, Cole Slaw, Pickled Beets, and Potato Salad. Desserts rotating are Fruit Cobbler, Banana Pudding, various flavors of Pie, and Bread Pudding. Beverages include Pepsi, Sweet Tea and Coffee. Portions are generous and everything is always fresh. There's nothing fancy or cutting edge here, but if you're in the mood for the kind of cooking you used to get at home or at your Grandmother's, Ruby Jean's is the place to come. The ambience is pretty basic. They're only open from 11-3 Monday and Tuesday and 11-7 Wednesday through Friday. The Sunday Brunch is 10:30 - 3.

Winchell's is famous for Fried Green Tomatoes, the best version in town of this classic dish. But we also endorse the Pork Quesadillas. The Tomato Basil and Loaded Potato Soup are excellent. This is one of the last stands of Kentucky Hot Brown: roast turkey, country ham, toast, Mornay cheese sauce, cheddar and parmesan cheese, bacon and tomato. Their Catfish Dinner ranks up there with Hall's. It's a hand breaded catfish filet with jalapeno cheese grits, vinegar slaw and homemade tartar. For lunch try the Grilled Portabella Sandwich. Save room for Bourbon Pecan Pie. There's a strong UK / sports ambience here, especially on game days. 348 Southland Drive. From downtown, use South Broadway / Harrodsburg Road to Rosemont Garden, turn left, then turn right onto Southland. Winchells's is on your right over in the shopping center just before the Oleika Temple building.

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