In recent weeks, there has been quite a kerfuffle over the closing of several beloved locally owned restaurants in Lexington. I have reviewed two of them — the Julep Cup and Enoteca — and for the life of me, I can’t see how either failed to attract enough customers to stay open. Lexington diners must be a fickle lot.
That being said, much of the blame for the closings has gone to the opening of multiple high-profile restaurants in The Summit at Fritz Farm, thus luring diners away from downtown. I don’t know if all these eateries will earn a place in the pantheon of Lexington favorites, but it’s looking good for J. Alexander’s.
The first restaurant to open in the upscale development, Nashville-based J. Alexander’s is described as “a contemporary American restaurant known for its wood-fired cuisine.”
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Steaks and prime rib are the specialties, ranging in price from $27 (slow-roasted prime rib) to $34 (New York Strip). I had the prime rib, and it was tender and juicy, pretty much what one would expect from a place that lists it as a specialty.
The prime rib is served au jus, although you can ask for raw or creamy horseradish if you prefer that as a condiment. (They are very good at letting you make substitutions; I also asked for a baked potato instead of the mashed potatoes, and they were fine with that).
I would like to say I sampled other entrees, but all five in my party ordered either the prime rib or the steak. I did try what I consider one of the best appetizers I’ve had on any Lexington menu. The deviled eggs (6 to a plate, $8) are finished with sugar-cured bacon and homemade pickle relish, and they melt in your mouth.
Another melt-in-your-mouth dish is one of the sides — listed on the menu as Not Your Ordinary Mac & Cheese — and it wasn’t. Topped with panko bread crumbs, garlic and onions, and three cheeses (Gruyere, Swiss and Parmesan/Reggiano), it would be a bargain at twice its price of $5.
The artisan pizzas also are wood-fired. I didn’t have room for one, but I definitely plan to go back for the BBQ pizza ($12), with homemade barbecue sauce, roasted chicken, smoked Gouda, caramelized onions and mozzarella.
J. Alexander’s probably has the most extensive salad menu (I counted eight) of any restaurant I’ve visited recently. The shrimp Louie salad ($17) and Asian ahi tuna salad ($19) are large enough to be a full meal.
There are seafood, chicken and pork dishes on the regular menu, and a daily offering of chef-recommended dishes. On the night I was there, it was a tough choice between the prime rib and one of the chef’s specialties, a grilled Cajun rainbow trout finished with an herb butter and served over Louisiana rice with Southern cole slaw ($20).
Finally, if you have a sweet tooth, let the server recommend one of the house-made desserts (if you have trouble making up your mind, the carrot cake has been referred to by more than one satisfied customer as the best in Lexington).
The décor of J. Alexander’s could best be described as modern chic, and the ambience is casual and laid-back. It’s large enough that they don’t have to turn tables over quickly, resulting in a relaxing dining experience.
As for service, if our server was typical, they have that right as well. She was both knowledgeable and personable, and she returned to our table just often enough to make sure we were doing OK, without hovering.
J. Alexander’s is a national chain and part of what some Lexingtonians think is the problem with local dining, but it’s doing enough things right that it’s likely to be around for a long while.
Patti Nickell is a Lexington-based travel and food writer. Reach her at email@example.com.
Address: 4081 Finn Way, The Summit at Fritz Farm
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Payment: Cash and major credit cards