Restaurant menus bring back memories of great Lexington food

swthompson@herald-leader.comAugust 26, 2014 

I have found a few surprises, and lots of memories, as I have cleaned out my desk and cabinet drawers at the Herald-Leader. I am ending my career here, retiring at the end of August.

Years ago, our restaurant critics would bring menus to the office, and over the years they piled up. We can't bring ourselves to throw them into the recycling bin because they hold pleasant memories for many people.

To refresh my memory about some of these places, I went through our archives and found many restaurants that are no longer around but that provided us with good times and great food.

Readers of a certain age will recall popular places such as The Little Inn, Springs Motel, Campbell House Inn, Stanley Demos' Coach House, the Imperial House Motel's restaurant, the Lafayette Club and the Saratoga. They endured for decades.

There was a boom in new restaurants in 1986 (24) and 1987 (20), but in 1988, a number of places closed including T.W.'s Seafood, Great Moments and Le Mirage in Lexington Center. L'aubergine, Espresso Café and Au Petit Café followed.

The Duck Club, which was a high-end restaurant at The Hyatt Regency, folded. But the hottest news that year was the closing of the Bistro on Euclid Avenue. A partnership rift caused chef Louis Cease to leave and open La Brasserie downtown and then C'est Si Bon in the old Hall's on Main site.

At the time, Acajou and Fleur-de-lys continued to be popular, and La Brasserie got a new chef, who was a native of France. Oriental restaurant August Moon, and Italian eateries Amato's and Pino's, were the leaders at the time when others were closing.

In November of 1991, Tootsie & Tony's opened in Hartland Shopping Center, and it was supposed to take the town by storm. It was owned by master chef Tony Seta, and Sam and Tootsie Nelson, daughter of famed Coach House restaurateur Stanley Demos. Tootsie & Tony's closed 11 months later.

The Cape Codder, at the corner of Ashland Avenue and High Street, was one of the most popular restaurants in Lexington back when a few blocks off East Main Street was called the suburbs. It closed in April 1991 after 21 years, and it was succeeded by restaurants that lasted hardly any time at all.

Chevy Chase Bar & Grille was open for six months; Magnolias 307 opened in December 1992 and lasted 15 months; followed immediately by Jellybeans Grille, which closed in 1995.

More restaurants have been at 735 East Main than perhaps any other address in town. It housed the Stirrup Cup, C'est Si Bon, Le Café Francais, Ashland Park Café, Paul's Siam Cuisine, Celebrities, Lelia's, Furlong's and The French restaurant Acajou. It's now Coles.

Another spot that housed several good restaurants was 164 South Eastern Avenue, later renamed Grand Boulevard. Old Towne Inn opened in 1981 in space that was converted from an old garage. Del Frisco's took over in 1995 and stuck to its motto that you didn't need a knife to eat their tender steaks, for 10 years. Ed & Fred's Desert Moon left its original home at 249 East Main to move into the spot vacated by Del Frisco's in August 1996. It closed in 2003.

Many places have endured the recession, construction around them, fickle diners and unpredictable chefs, to still be in business:Dudley's, à la Lucie, Ramsey's, Columbia's and Merrick Inn.

There are many others that are long gone but that Central Kentuckians will always remember.

Rogers Restaurant was Lexington's oldest restaurant when it closed in 2004. It was open for 81 years. George Rogers opened the restaurant on the northeast corner of Main and Jefferson streets. The place became so popular that, by the late 1930s, he had opened three branches, one on Short Street, one on East Main in Lexington, and one in Carlisle. All three had closed by the mid-1940s. In Lexington, Rogers moved his original restaurant from 601 West Main to 808 South Broadway in 1965. Charles Ellinger bought the restaurant from Rogers in 1974 as a surprise Valentine's Day gift for his wife, Jan.

Sousley's Parrot Gardens and River Boat Restaurant at Clays Ferry was popular in the mid-'70s because of its location on the Kentucky River, the exotic birds in the parrot garden, and antique-car shows on Sundays.

The Fishnet was open in an old building at the corner of West Second and Jefferson streets, long before the area became a trendy restaurant row. The address also was home to Coyle's and Huckleberry's (Earlene Huckleberry was best known for her Death by Chocolate pie). At one time, The Fishnet was open in a little building on Versailles Road.

■ The Bungalow on North Mill Street was a hot spot for after-work drinks, and for a number of years, it was the only spot in town for Saturday brunch with a bloody Mary.

■ Students at the University of Kentucky were sustained with grilled burgers, creamed potatoes, homemade rolls, milk shakes and pecan pie at the Dutch Mill Restaurant at 927 South Limestone Street. George and Virginia Parsons ran the restaurant from 1950 to 1995.

■ The New Orleans House was open for a decade in the rear of South Park shopping center on Nicholasville Road before it moved to Griffin Gate Plaza in 1989. The bountiful seafood buffet restaurant was replaced in 1999 by Happy Dragon Chinese.

Here are some places that tasted victory and defeat in a short period. We've include their addresses because we know you'll be asking: "Now, where was that?"

Scores, a sports-theme restaurant, and Jay's Seafood in Festival Market.

Laffite's Rendezvous in Patchen Village.

1880 on South Limestone.

Cafe Max, 249 East Main Street.

Nine Point Mesa in Lexington Green.

d.a. Clark's in Chevy Chase Plaza.

Rock-A-Billy Cafe in French Quarter Square

Kitamura Japanese in South Park.

Florenz Italian Restaurant, 3301 Nicholasville Road.

La Espanola Cuban restaurant, 100 West Vine Street.

Sarlina, 1915 Nicholasville Road.

Pino's, 200 Southland Drive.

Up the Creek, in front of former Lexington Mall.

Red Sevilla, 119 South Limestone.

Sharon Thompson: (859) 231-3321. Twitter: @FlavorsofKY. Blog: Flavorsofkentucky.bloginky.com.

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