If you have 10 free evenings and $250, you can have some of the best food Lexington has to offer. From sushi to bourbon-braised beef, diners may enjoy meals at more than 40 local restaurants July 25 through Aug. 3 for $25 each during Lexington's first Beyond Grits: Lexington Restaurant Week.
The event offers an opportunity to try new restaurants and cuisines at an affordable price. Each participating restaurant will serve a prix fixe, or fixed price, menu that includes specially prepared chef's creations, dinner for two or multicourse dinners, depending on the management.
The idea for Beyond Grits Restaurant Week — and the guide that accompanies it — was prompted by came from Jim Browder, president of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau. He challenged Mary Quinn Ramer and her marketing staff to address a very common question the Visitors Bureau receives from tourists: "Could you recommend a great local restaurant while we are in town?"
"We did not feel we were qualified to judge quality and service," Browder said. "But we needed to address the culinary interests of our visitors, and we have an incredible selection of quality, independent restaurants in Lexington."
Ramer, vice president of tourism marketing for the visitors bureau, began the project with a Beyond Grits brochure, listing local restaurants.
"We began our process with a great deal of research about restaurant weeks in other cities," she said. "And then we met with the restaurateurs. Based on their enthusiasm for the idea and their commitment to support a restaurant week concept in Lexington, we committed to launching the city's inaugural restaurant week.
"The goal is to showcase the rich culinary history and heritage of Lexington while celebrating the abundance of independent and diverse local restaurants. The hope is that everyone will get out and try a new restaurant during the celebration.
"We are fortunate to have so many new spots in town, and we want to support these restaurants," she added.
Participating restaurants range from out-of-the-way ethnic spots to upscale fine dining establishments. Some restaurants are new; others have been around for a while and have followings.
Restaurateurs such as Art Howard, owner of The Ketch Seafood Grill on Regency Road, said he has a steady neighborhood crowd. But this event is "an excellent opportunity to gain exposure with new customers and provide an interesting alternative for our regular guests as well," he said. The Ketch has been open since 1987, and the Howard family has owned it since 1995.
David Jones, co-owner of House Food & Wine on South Limestone, is participating in the event because his restaurant is new.
"Since we just opened in June to a soft opening, we think it is a great way to showcase our food and setting to an audience we have not reached yet," he said.
"As we are an 'upscale casual' restaurant and already at a very moderate price point, we also feel that the prix fixe menu for restaurant week will allow all of our customers — both current and new — to come in more than once and sample a variety of entrees and appetizers they may not otherwise think of. We are looking forward to showcasing our concept to a new crowd that hasn't heard of us yet," Jones said.
Lindsay Brugh, chef at The Julep Cup on Woodland Avenue, said she has taken note of these events in other cities.
"I know ... that there seems to be a certain excitement and energy about local restaurants during these events elsewhere," she said. "So, it would be nice if Lexington were to embrace this opportunity to go out and enjoy locally owned and operated establishments.
"Maybe some people who normally frequent chains will check out something different," she said, adding that The Julep Cup would serve its normal menu as well as the prix fixe menu.
"I chose to do a prix fixe with customer favorites at The Julep Cup with a hope that those who have not been to my restaurant might try some of the dishes we are known for," she said. "Like, beer cheese, fried green tomatoes, salmon croquettes, shrimp and grits, and beef bourguignon.".
Go to Beyondgrits.com to check out the menus and make reservations.