Somewhere in the bowels of online restaurant reviews there is a nasty comment about how Pasture is overpriced that says a lot about how we look at meat.
We want it locally grown, free of antibiotics and pesticides, and having just grazed on the grass earlier this week before being lightly slaughtered and butchered (in the case of Pasture, at the processing center just out the back door). Some of us just don’t want to pay a premium for that kind of quality.
Pasture is about fresh meat raised in a clean, non-factory-farm environment. The hamburgers and pork taste different, more complex: That could be nutrients, could be custom seasoning, could be the gorgeously messy slab of gushing fresh tomato on top of the burger. The bologna, brown and more like roast beef slices than the pillowy pinkish circles at the grocery store, is much different. (I’ve had a lifetime fascination with bologna and could stare for hours at rope bologna in jars at country grocery stores; it’s like a chemical experiment in what is considered edible, like pickled eggs. I’m easily entertained.)
Pasture is not fancy: It’s a barn on U.S. 27 between Nicholasville and Lancaster and houses a modest menu of sandwiches that sometimes seems an experiment in how much stuff you can cram between two pieces of bread. Lay in a lapful of napkins, and if you’re picky about getting meat, sauce and grease on your clothes, consider using a knife and a fork.
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For our visit, I had the bologna Reuben, which consisted of a thick slab of the brown bologna with vinegar slaw, Thousand Island dressing, caraway mayo and Swiss cheese. Sandwiches come with house-made chips, but I substituted the potato salad.
Because the brown bologna was so different from my perception of good ol’ baloney, I did a bit of research and discovered that there is such a thing as a bologna “cake,” which you can make with sliced bologna, cream cheese, dry ranch salad dressing mix and aerosol cheese to garnish the cream cheese “icing.” You’re welcome.
Here’s the thing about potato salad: Every person in the South has their very own ideal potato salad. Pasture’s would be pretty close to mine: It’s basically a twice-baked potato without the baking — big chunks of potato with some texture left in it, lightly tossed with a creamy dressing and dusted with shredded cheese. There’s no mustard, no tiny pieces of mush potato, no pickle relish, no shredded eggs, no problem.
The seasoned fries are meaty, although my companion found them a tad overseasoned. The hamburger was well-done; we should have specified medium, but the meat’s taste shone through nonetheless. The burger’s overall presentation, with cheddar, lettuce, red onion and the aforementioned dream tomato, was tasty. Dream tomato can make any sandwich memorable: I still remember a turkey sandwich I ate in Berea more than 30 years ago because the tomato was still warm from the field, and I could have eaten it like a peach.
Yes, Mr. Online Complainer (every restaurant has at least one, someone who doesn’t understand why tiny restaurants aren’t creating custom sauces and installing artisan bakeries for $5 a sandwich), it was not much bigger than a McDonald’s quarter-pounder, but no, it also didn’t taste like anything in the McDonald’s family. Pasture is an entirely different species of burger, at a fair price.
The revelation for me the first time I ate at Pasture was the chorizo burger, which I ordered a second time to make sure I remembered it correctly. The burger comes with provolone, lima crema, pickled red onion and cilantro. It’s spicy enough to open a stopped-up nose but not so spicy that flames climb up the side of your face: That’s an appropriate level of lunchtime spiciness, and the crema balances it nicely.
Lunch for three, including three sandwiches, two upgraded sides and two fountain drinks (bottled Ale-8-One is available in the cooler) was $38.90. Service is enthusiastic and polite, but not speedy.
So take some time to glance at the meats on offer in the cooler before you sit down. Buy a homemade cookie or lemon bar. The extra five minutes isn’t going to rip a hole in your day, and the food is worth the wait.