If you’re looking for one of Lexington’s most atmospheric places to dine, book a table at the Merrick Inn. Hidden away on the leafy grounds of a suburban apartment complex, it dates back to pre-Civil War days and was a former Thoroughbred farm, home to the legendary Merrick, who finished in the money 157 times. Merrick lived to be 38, and you can see his gravestone in the circle in front of the inn, which eulogizes him as being “worthy in deeds and noble in character.”
Worthy and noble might also be apt descriptions for the restaurant’s take on its food and its patrons. This is not a place where the culinary team is on an ego trip. If you’re looking for a chef who loves to experiment with avant-garde techniques and is all about turning out dishes with ingredients one wouldn’t normally think of putting together — octopus in tacos with mole sauce, for example — don’t book a table at Merrick Inn.
For the Merrick Inn is nothing if not a bastion of traditional Southern cooking, unapologetically offered to those who love such.
For starters, there’s the signature Southern fried chicken, always voted Lexington’s favorite in annual foodie polls ($16.50 for two pieces; $20.50 for four; additional charge for all breast meat).
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Tender, crispy and sinfully succulent, it couldn’t taste any better if your grandmother made it.
The same can be said for the Merrick hot Brown (sorry, Grandma) with country ham, fresh turkey on toast points under a blanket of chef Patrick Jones’s mornay sauce with tomato, bacon and Parmesan ($16.50). Each ingredient offers its distinctive flavor yet manages to come together in satisfying harmony.
Another dish sending diners into a frenzy is the 12-ounce frenched pork chop, gussied up with hickory bacon, red onion and cranberry compote with a trace of Four Roses bourbon ($26.50).
Entrees are served with a choice of two sides, and you can select from a cup of soup, a salad or a baked potato, although I’m not sure why you would want to when other possibilities include perfectly seasoned southern green beans and a fluffy corn pudding, both delectable.
Instead of a salad or soup, you might want to save your pre-entree ordering for one of the appetizers: Trick’s beer cheese (Wisconsin cheddar and smoked jalapeños, stirred with West Sixth Brewery’s IPA, $9.75) or if you prefer bourbon to beer, the Maker’s Mark shrimp, wrapped in bacon and basted with Maker’s Mark barbecue sauce ($12.50).
I’ve tried several of the appetizers and have found them as pleasing as the mains — the only disappointment being the nachos ($13.95). It was described on the menu as a lobster and crab salad with a variety of cheeses (goat, smoked cheddar and fontina), corn salsa and chipotle sour cream atop the nachos. You might well wonder, what more could I want?
For one thing, more lobster and crab. I was hard-pressed to find any among all the melted cheeses and sour cream.
Desserts, on the other hand, are superlative. My group of six opted for two — the strawberry shortcake with mounds of fluffy whipped cream, and Miss Libby’s Southern bread pudding. The latter changes on a daily basis, with that night’s version containing pineapple and chocolate. Yum!
Merrick Inn also excels in service and ambience. The former is attentive without being obtrusive, and the latter offers both inside dining in several well-appointed rooms and outside dining on a lovely patio.
Another plus is the wine and spirits list, especially regarding bourbon; it is one of the few local establishments that have 10-, 12-, 15-, 20- and 23-year-old Pappy for your tasting pleasure.
Merrick Inn has a lot going for it, but its primary lure is that it offers Southern comfort in both food and surroundings.
Patti Nickell is a Lexington-based travel and food writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Merrick Inn
Hours: 5:30-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat., bar and patio open at 4 p.m.
Address: 1074 Merrick Drive, off Tates Creek in the Merrick Apartments.
Payment: Major credit cards accepted
Other: Reservations recommended; valet parking available.