Dining Restaurant reviews and Goings-on

Varden's rewards a road trip to Paris with a delicious yet economical lunch

Varden's rewards a road trip with a delicious yet economical lunch

Contributing Restaurant CriticAugust 26, 2011 

  • RESTAURANT REVIEW

    Varden's

    Address: 509 Main St., Paris

    Phone: (859) 987-4700

    Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tue.-Sat. Dinner: 5-9 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 5-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Bar: 11 a.m.-midnight Tue.-Sat. but no food service after the dinner hours above. Closed Sun.-Mon.

    Online: Vardensofparis.com

    Other: Street parking. Alcoholic beverages served. Credit cards accepted. Lunch: sandwich, chips and soft drink, or soup, salad and drink $6.75, sides 75 cents, cookies and cakes $1.75-$3.50. Dinner: appetizers, soups and salads $4-$10, entrees $11-$25, desserts $5-$7.

PARIS — In the summer, it is a guilty pleasure to linger over lunch on a slow day. If that lunch is light and delicious, all the better. That is one of four excellent reasons to go to Varden's for the afternoon.

Here are the others:

2. Consider, first, the drive out to Paris, with its 360-degree view of green pastures and horse farms that exemplify the Bluegrass.

3. There is Varden's charming and beautifully restored interior — an old pharmacy brought back to life, with tile floors, a ceiling of pounded tin, and all of the drawers and shelving that held apothecary products of the 19th century.

4: Value. Two great sandwiches, soup, two sides, two bags of chips, two large glasses of sauvignon blanc and two desserts cost about $31 before tip. (Find the menu here.)

As available, produce is local, from the nearby farmers market. That must explain the unadulterated taste of the cup of peppery tomato dill soup. There was equal freshness to all the sides — a simple potato salad, not overdressed with mayonnaise, that allowed red bell pepper dice and Spanish onions to shine through, and a pasta salad of farfalle, with shreds of basil and chunks of cherry tomatoes, sweet and summer-ripe.

Some of the sandwiches, such as those with cheese, are made on a grill, panini-style, so the grill marks create extra toasty flavor on the bread's surface. Try turkey with rich brie and a cranberry jam — there's a reason why these ingredients are Thanksgiving icons — or ham with beer cheese made in Kentucky.

Other sandwiches are served straight up on their bread and in the proper proportions — not laden or soggy, just right. I adored the chicken salad, also made on-site, with dice of celery, sweet pickles and grape halves, and the pale yellow egg salad, rich yet light as a feather.

I appreciate that at Varden's, there is no masking tastes or creating deceptive textures with dressings. All that is needed is a bit more salt, but there is nowhere in the culinary world where it is better to err on the side of caution.

The portion control here is brilliant, so there will be room for dessert. Varden's makes its own cookies: a white chocolate with macadamia nuts, a chocolate chip and a terrific oatmeal raisin — just chewy enough, without tasting undercooked, and having the slightest crispness around the edges.

Or get cake, so delicious that it might as well have been made in "the other Paris" but comes from Martine's in Lexington. On this day, the display case held a tender-crumbed, sea-green pistachio cake, frosted to almost architectural perfection with buttercream and decorated with a squiggle of green icing and a simple silver dragee. Its beauty will make you gasp. You won't know whether to eat it or applaud. I recommend the former.

But summer is not the only time for midday getaways. As we can feel fall coming upon us, bear in mind that, both for the vista getting there and the interior once you arrive, not to mention budget-friendly, satisfying lunch fare, the time for a trip to Varden's will always be now.

Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.

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