Parlay Social is a good bet for pub fare

Despite retro aspirations, downtown bar's fare is mostly modern

Contributing Restaurant CriticJanuary 3, 2013 

  • RESTAURANT REVIEW

    Parlay Social

    Address: 257 W. Short St., at Market St.

    Hours: Kitchen: 3-11 p.m. daily. Bar: 3 p.m.-1 a.m. Sun.-Wed., 3 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Thu.-Sat.

    Phone: (859) 244-1932

    Online: Parlaysocial.com

    Other: Street parking. Full bar. Starters $4.95-$10.95, soups and salads $4.95-$11.95, oysters $8.95-$20.95, sandwiches $6.95-$9.95, pizza $9.95-$13.95, meat and cheese boards $12.95-$16.95, desserts $5.95-$6.95.

It's open-mike night at Parlay Social, an eclectic and fun venue. Even though I love the house cocktail — a refreshing, even elegant, quaff of pink grapefruit-flavored vodka and bubbly — beer and wine seem more in the "getting down" spirit of things this evening. I order a Malbec.

I am here officially to review the place, but remembering past experience with meat and cheese boards that didn't test the kitchen's creativity, it takes effort to remind myself that tonight is not just about hearing my friend's band.

When I find myself skidding toward such temptations of prejudgment, I resist because I am very often humbled. This time was no exception.

Parlay Social bills itself, to my mind unconvincingly, as a Prohibition-era bar. There are touches here and there that suggest a time gone by, but I don't ever feel transported to the 1920s. The contemporary music, too, is thematically anachronistic. Finally, the menu, in spite of nostalgic references like "bootleg nachos" or a sandwich named the Hemingway, is really straightforward 21st-century fare.

That is not to say that this familiar pub grub isn't any good. It is. And if Suzanne is your server, you can enjoy it without a care in the world.

The spicy "bootleg" beer cheese is soft and sticky, so you can scoop gooey gobs of it on your traditional veggies of carrots and celery, or smear it on crackers.

Oysters on the half-shell, sold raw or cooked, are the one item that might match the bar's concept. These came from the East Coast, plump and briny, with a simple cocktail sauce that you could spike with horseradish at your pleasure.

The menu puts the most emphasis on sandwiches and pizza, however — another reason, I suspect, that beer and wine seemed more fitting.

There are simple but delicious options for vegetarians, including hummus and salty feta cheese packed between two slices of ciabatta bread. Get past the gimmickry involved in calling a turkey sandwich a "Gatsby;" it's a great mix of flavors: earthy spinach, rich cheddar and a sweet, slightly smoky red bell pepper mayonnaise on sourdough.

You can pick from among eight types of thin-crust pizza (with almost 20 additional toppings for $1 each).

At first, the "Big Blue," with its nod to Lexington's passion for college basketball, seemed like just another unnecessary anachronism until I realized that our beloved team, in fact, has been around since well before the days of Prohibition.

But the Big Blue was also a reminder of how good pizza can be when napped with white sauce — a memory that the chain pizza joints have almost caused us to forget. If it makes it to the table promptly, the crust doesn't get soggy, and the textures all stay separate.

This pizza had a ladle of Mornay sauce, and scatterings of blue cheese and bacon, and it was topped with pear and arugula. It was supposed to have honey on it as well, but I couldn't taste it, and I'm glad. The idea put the basic elements of a fruit and cheese plate on bread while introducing a bit of the salad course and a touch of protein.

Anyway, it might sound like overkill, and I admit I didn't select it, but it all worked well.

Although Parlay Social is essentially a bar with music (and sports), the dining experience stood up to the majority of casual restaurants that have only a blaring sound system. And there really is nothing better than a cool band to go with your pizza and wine.

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

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