One could argue that Short Street has emerged, in the brief span of a couple of years, as downtown Lexington's most popular dining corridor. One reason is its growing diversity of styles, ambience and cuisines. It would be hard to find better evidence of that trend than at The Village Idiot, our city's first gastropub.
In case that term is unfamiliar, a gastropub is a bar with a broad-minded culinary sensibility that showcases fine, fresh, inexpensive beer but also serves wine, spirits and highly evolved pub grub.
During my first visit, my socks were knocked off by a big bowl of Brussels sprouts, slightly al dente (I might have roasted them just a bit longer), tossed with blue cheese, slices of tender fingerling potatoes and small white onions. Along with that and an India pale ale on tap, I tried a little glass jar of homemade cucumber pickles with baguette slices and Scotch eggs (hard-boiled eggs covered with ground meat and deep-fried) modernized by the substitution of duck in place of traditional pork.
After this delicious and affordable sampler, with its well-balanced palate of flavors and textures, I immediately thought: I'm gonna become a regular. And I have.
That initial experience was not, I am glad to say, a one-off. The menu is full of exciting twists and turns that don't sacrifice taste for gimmickry.
For example, don't expect the usual fried chicken with your waffles. Here they are fancy with a leg of duck confit. Chef Andrew Suthers' duck love — there are also duck brat sliders — gives a hint of his classical training. The waffles amended with cheese, however, are pure American contemporary, until slathered with butter and maple syrup, when everything reverts to down-home comfort food.
This rich and heavy dish might be over the top, but it works equally well as an early dinner before a recital at Transylvania University or a performance at the Lexington Opera House, as a late-night meal, after bar-hopping, or as an anti-hangover prohylaxis — in the vernacular, "stoner food."
There are specialty drinks, too, not just beer. I mourn the imminent retiring of the Idiot's summer Pimm's cup as winter approaches. That most British of cocktails is perfect to pair with the grilled romaine Caesar salad with smoked trout and rich, crunchy herbed croutons. Its polar opposite, yet certainly more fall- and beer-friendly, is the unwieldy but fun sloppy Joe, made with a wild mushroom medley from Sheltowee Farm and laced with smoky, spicy chipotle-seasoned sauce.
Remember, though, that this is a pub at heart, so snack options are abundant.
Share a "pot" of Prince Edward Island mussels with crostini, a modest serving of pork belly with Dr Pepper-soy sauce and kimchee, or a basket of crisp French fries (my favorite dips were the lemon-garlic aioli and the sweet Thai chili sauce). Or try a box of gourmet popcorn, either drizzled with truffle oil or gussied up with bacon and bourbon.
It's also pleasant to run into a menu with gougères, which The Village Idiot has translated, for simplicity's sake, as "cheesy poofs." The Gruyère cheese here is replaced by smoked Gouda, a nice touch. All four "poofs" are napped with Mornay sauce. My only gripe was the lukewarm temperature; half the fun of gougères is the release of fragrant steam when you cut them open.
After years as a restaurant (it was most recently Metropol), this circa 1825 building, Lexington's oldest surviving post office building, seems to have found its appropriate reincarnation as a gastropub. I guess its spirit was searching all this time for the informality and creativity that abounds at The Village Idiot.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.