Thursday through Aug. 3, the city's restaurants are rolling out fixed-price menus for the first Beyond Grits Lexington Restaurant Week, giving the public a sample of their best wares.
For $25, restaurant-goers may explore myriad dining options. Some places are even including alcohol in that price.
If you're sheepish about eating only at your usual haunts, here's the opportunity to branch out.
The 40 or so restaurants participating in the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau initiative represent a superb blend of continuity and change; the oldest guard is side by side with the newest kids on the block.
The old guard
If you usually frequent the latest hangouts, visit a standard bearer like a la lucie, which introduced nouvelle cuisine to Lexington (it is offering braised beef cheeks with ratatouille), and Atomic Café, which did the same for Caribbean food.
Cheapside Bar and Grill, with its spicy jalapeño black bean soup, and pioneering Billy's BBQ, with its succulent, slow-cooked meats, are on board, too. Billy's will serve a "Be a Swine" sampler platter of pork, beef, a quarter-chicken and ribs.
Try Columbia's Steakhouse's signature Nighthawk Special: steak cooked in garlic butter. In fact, during restaurant week, Columbia's will offer two Nighthawks and sides for $25.
The Ketch served seafood when Lexingtonians were still cautious about fish, and probably will convert some remaining skeptics this week with its grill-blackened mahi mahi with Key lime butter and parsley-buttered potatoes. If you have never had fried chicken at Merrick Inn, do it now.
A few years back, Dudley's on Short moved from a former schoolhouse to its new digs in its inimitably beautiful style; the interior and the menu — whose dessert offerings this week include peanut butter beignets with strawberry rhubarb jam and bacon powder — should not be missed.
Ditto for Jonathan at Gratz Park, the venue where chef Jonathan Lundy re-envisioned and delivered Southern food at its finest; its restaurant week menu features an appetizer of country ham pot stickers with peach sweet-and-sour sauce and Sazerac soy.
Venturing from the city's core, The Dish's prix-fixe meals, which include seared pork belly over a ginger apricot sauce accompanied by edamame with ghost pepper sea salt — come with wine pairings.
For something more casually delicious, Josie's is around the corner; two may dine for $25, and desserts include a crispy waffle with homemade whipped butter and syrup.
Beaumont's Azur, overseen by chef Jeremy Ashby, has given the suburbs reasons to love eating local. Out in the county, Windy Corner, overlooking horse farms, is doing the same; there, two may get house salads and a choice of two po' boys for $25.
Malone's and its cousin, Sal's, have become Lexington's quintessentially modern steakhouses. Both are offering filet mignon — Sal's is Argentinean-style, and Malone's is broiled and topped with béarnaise — as part of their special menu. Enough said.
Options for continental cuisine are plentiful, too. Le Deauville glorifies its French roots with everything from pâté and cornichons to a wonderful mousse au chocolat. The Italian pasta at Casanova (which is closing Wednesday; see Page 23) is the real thing. Portofino is a modern rendition of the Italian-inspired American restaurant; it will serve chicken Marsala featuring Sheltowee Farm's mushrooms.
Informal Italian fare like arancini, lightly fried bites of saffron rice with spicy tomato marmalade, will be available at Bella Notte. Two may share The Grey Goose's popular thin, crisp pizzas for the restaurant week price. Sutton's is showcasing its tender hand-rolled meatballs, which are perfect examples of why this comfort food endures.
To Asia and back
Restaurant week is also the time to see how Lexington's Asian cuisine is doing.
For Thai, there is Lexington's beloved Bangkok House, still cooking its great red curry; two may dine for $25. Thai Orchid, under new management, uses farmers market produce and makes its own ice cream, which will be offered in the form of a sticky rice sundae with its Crank & Boom coconut ice cream topped with jackfruit.
Tomo will serve a chef's choice of sushi. School, which is Lexington's home of kaiten, or sushi served via conveyor belt, is offering a meal of small plates.
Bombay Bar and Grill is representing the Indian subcontinent.
Wine and beer
Wine lovers may enjoy a spectacular drive through the countryside and vineyard cuisine at Jean Farris Winery & Bistro, offering Garrard County grass-fed beef with goat cheese mashed potatoes. Or they may stay in town at the bistro Wines on Vine, which will serve filet mignon napped in a Champagne butter sauce.
The Village Idiot, Lexington's first gastropub, will have sugarcane-rubbed quail with sautéed summer vegetables, bourbon gastrique and pickled watermelon rind. The Julep Cup, situated in a stately condominium complex, has posted 14 items from which to choose, including veal liver and bacon, mushrooms, caramelized onions and bordelaise.
Sometimes music is part of the experience.
At Willie's Locally Known on Broadway's north end, outstanding local artists will play as you enjoy your fried green tomatoes, ribs and shortcake. More centrally located is Parlay Social, where pizza and a hot Brown are one and the same.
Some spots defy categorization. Natasha's Bistro is so much more than a restaurant: music sometimes, theater sometimes, but always a stimulating cross-section of Lexington life. Among its first-course offerings is grilled shrimp fregola and preserved Meyer lemon charred citrus vinaigrette.
Nick Ryan's has revived the memory of a Kentucky saloonkeeper, but with a decidedly contemporary culinary flair; its menu features a bourbon-citrus brined pork chop with smoked Gouda-andouille grits, cranberry-apple chutney and rosemary honey butter.
The Paddock Grille, being attached to Embassy Suites, is no stranger to serving crowds; its menu offers a petite prime sirloin with Embassy steak oil and Yukon mashed potatoes.
Then there are the very newest newcomers.
Dine at the new Palmer's Fresh Grill to get the thrill of the grill in the form of Norwegian salmon with Kalamata olive orzo and tomato beurre blanc.
Coles 735 Main has put its panko-fried avocado — yes! — on the menu with crab salad, spicy aioli and lemon saffron aioli. Get to know County Club, a fine smokehouse that also has brilliant salads, including the tomato salad during restaurant week.
House Food and Wine will be serving its wonderful arepas and tostones, and The Jax will serve its tomatillo tacos (tomatillo-braised pork in corn tortillas topped with queso fresco, house-pickled onions, fresh cilantro, house-cultured lime crème fraîche and sliced radish).
Finally, at tiny Minton's at 760, the signature lemon mousse cake — here layered on a shortbread crust with blackberry coulis — is a must.
No matter what your persuasion, Beyond Grits beckons.
IF YOU GO
Beyond Grits: Lexington Restaurant Week
What: About 40 Lexington restaurants are offering prix-fixe menus for $25 as part of an initiative by the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau
When: July 25-Aug. 3
Where: Various restaurants. For a complete list, go to Beyondgrits.com.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.