WINCHESTER — I was really glad I made the effort to get to Graze a second time, for lunch on a beautiful day.
The drive out Winchester and Combs Ferry roads to the tiny restaurant, in the old Pine Grove post office just yards from the Fayette/Clark county line, was an absolute pleasure. The small dining room was awash in natural light from the windows, and the service was excellent.
And the food was good, although limited (more on that later).
It was almost the exact opposite of my first visit, for dinner on a Friday evening.
That night we chose to head through Lexington's suburbs off Todds Road, a slow, less-than scenic trek.
But that wasn't Graze's fault, nor was it the biggest problem of the evening.
To put it bluntly, the service was dreadful. At every turn we had to flag down our waiter — to get water, wine or cutlery, to ask a question, order, etc., etc.
What makes this most astounding is that Graze is so small. It seats about 18 people in one space, all almost within arm's length of the kitchen and servers. There's something particularly irritating about being neglected in full sight.
And neglect is really a problem in a place like Graze where a key attraction is the menu that changes daily based on availability of extremely local ingredients: beef from across the street, vegetables from a mile away, lamb from the farm of one of the owners.
The three or so entrees for lunch or dinner are posted on a chalk board by name only — no prices, no details. A simple menu printed daily would be a great addition to the dining experience.
This means you depend upon your server to learn the particulars of what's on offer.
If you're into food, particularly local food, and drive out into the country to get the freshest, part of the pleasure is learning something about what you're eating. That was just not possible on my first trip.
Lunch was much better. Our server told us where things came from and how they would be prepared. We tried the barbecue brisket quesadilla ($11) and the Brookview burger ($10), named for the farm across the street where the cattle graze. The burger, although cooked more than we ordered, was the standout, set off nicely by a light, creamy peppery sauce.
At dinner the food was good but not great. A rock shrimp appetizer prepared and served in a spicy broth was the standout. Pan roasted chicken was overcooked and dry; a fatty and therefore very tasty ribeye was cooked with just the right redness in the center. I used cold slices of the ribeye in salads at home the following week and it was delicious every time, a proof of good beef.
Salads bring up a weakness in both of my summertime visits: a striking paucity of vegetables. I admit I'm a vegetable freak, but really, a few green beans and potatoes at dinner, a small salad at lunch, the occasional slice of tomato. Certainly, a local food restaurant on Kentucky farmland in the summer could put more fruits of the earth on the plate.
In the final analysis, Graze is good, not great. But it could get there, and I hope it does.
It is well worth a late-summer or early-fall drive to taste and see for yourself.