Ducks and the occasional blue heron gather in and around the lake at the patio of Palmers Fresh Grill. Shrouded by shrubs and trees, water sets the stage for great dining al fresco, be it at a table, a high top or at the horseshoe-shaped bar. Indoors, simple neutral tones matched with enormous equine photos and twinkling votive candles create an atmosphere that is both warm and cool.
In short, Palmers' complete makeover from former tenant Regatta Seafood Grille's wood-paneled and wrought-iron sensibility and style has led to something airier and light.
The makeover is not confined to appearances. The cuisine, once focused largely on seafood, is now billed as a "grill." But that sounds limiting because you also will find braises and oven-roasted dishes, fried foods and salads. There is also a kids' menu, a nicety in a restaurant that in all other ways caters to grown-ups.
Whether for children or adults, and like most places in the United States, appetizers and "small plates" are generous enough to be dinner. For example, gigantic egg rolls that you could almost wrap your hand around — nothing dainty about these — were packed to overflowing with spicy pulled chicken, making them hearty but also awkward to accent with the accompanying pico de gallo. The more modest portion of six deviled eggs, with the high sweet notes of vinegar and sugar, were great, especially for mustard lovers.
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My favorite appetizer, however, was the Thai mussels. The black shellfish was slightly tough, but the red curry sauce was the perfect blend of citrus and sweet coconut, red pepper and a hint of salt.
Both salads I've tried are entree-size and then some.
Palmers might make the best grilled salmon salad in town. The fish, a dinner portion-size fillet, was moist yet flaky and perfectly seasoned. Below it in the deep, deep bowl were ripe tomatoes, mixed greens, diced red onion and chunks of sweet corn fresh off the cob. I personally am not a fan of tricky vinaigrettes like this one — lime and cilantro — because they are too assertive and tend to override the other ingredients. I would make an exception for Palmers' Cruz Bay Cobb with its tropical fruits and grilled chicken, though, because it's sweet anyway and benefits from contrast of a zingy ginger dressing.
Departing from the world of wildly embellished lettuce, there is traditional comfort food, like an entree of meatloaf slices atop mashed potatoes with gravy, crisp green beans and a few onion rings. For something more modern, try the delicate trout fillet crusted with ground pretzels — a novelty that always strikes me as a little contrived — accompanied by fingerling potatoes and sautéed spinach napped with brown butter, a touch that always delights me.
Local gnocchi from Lexington Pasta Co. were fluffy and light but weighted down by pesto amended with lots of cream. Pleasing mouthfeel? Perhaps, but such heavy-handedness also obscures the charms of perfectly good basil.
That indulgent sensibility better suits the desserts, which are fine and worth pacing yourself for. The panna cotta in berry sauce was feather-light and silky; the bread pudding, with toffee-pecan ice cream, and bourbon and salted caramel sauce, was its sinful, delicious polar opposite.
We tend to focus so much on the exciting revitalization happening downtown that it is easy to forget about The Mall at Lexington Green's quieter revolution of new businesses popping up around Joseph-Beth Booksellers' enduring presence. That is what Palmers represents to me: a fresh and pretty locally-owned dining option for Nicholasville Road.
Palmers Fresh Grill
Where: In The Mall at Lexington Green, lower level, 161 Lexington Green Cir.
Hours: 4-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 4-11 p.m. Fri., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Phone: (859) 273-0103
Other: Parking lot. Vegetarian-friendly and child-friendly Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Starters, $5.90-$14.90; soup and salad, $4.90-$14.90; small plates, $11.30-$13.90; entrees, $14.90-$25.90; sides, $5; desserts, $5.50-$6.90. Menu currently undergoing some revisions.