Lexington has been a town of foodies in search of a scene. This summer, the town will blossom, with new restaurants popping up all over.
It's part of a trend. Nationwide, the restaurant industry is booming, too, said Mary Quinn Ramer, president of VisitLEX, the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"People are craving authentic experiences, and the sharing of culinary offerings is such a powerful way to experience a place," Ramer said. "Lexington's culinary heritage is vast, and the bounty of our artisan agricultural products is second to none. And people love sharing really good food and drink with others. Dining is meant to be a shared, social experience."
Many of the new restaurants will build upon the momentum coming out of the Jefferson Street corridor, the National Avenue scene, the Distillery District and enthusiasm for downtown dining, all of which will appeal to locals and tourists alike.
Never miss a local story.
"There is no question that Lexington's robust — and evolving — culinary scene will be a selling point with our visitors," Ramer said. "Visitors love the opportunity to experience a destination like a local restaurant. ... We are fortunate we have so much to share."
Here's a selection of some of the new places to try and perhaps share with some of your out-of-town guests:
Middle Fork Kitchen Bar, 1224 Manchester St. Opening second week of June.
Middle Fork Kitchen Bar will be opening in the former James Pepper Distillery on Manchester in June. The restaurant grew out of owner and chef Mark Jensen's food truck, Fork in the Road, and was financed with a Kickstarter campaign.
Jensen has been building much of the interior himself and the menu is almost ready, he said recently.
The lunch menu will be similar to what he's offered Fork in the Road patrons, with a more expansive dinner menu that will focus on locally sourced vegetables and meats.
The open kitchen will show off the cooking process, and feature a wood-fired grill in the heart of the restaurant. But it won't be all about the meat, he said.
"The menu will be dynamic and seasonal," Jensen said. "We shouldn't even have to say that anymore in this day and age."
Jensen and his staff have done much of the build-out, too, including upholstering about a dozen bar stools from a single cowhide (including the brands, which give the seats an authentic touch) that goes well with the polished concrete floor and tin-covered bar, which will serve a full range of spirits and wine.
The tables are handmade from reclaimed lumber, including some slabs of ginkgo.
The restaurant has an outdoor patio that stretches to the bank of Town Branch, giving Middle Fork about 100 seats. The restaurant shares the outdoor space — and an indoor service window — with Ethereal Brewing, a craft brewery that has a tap room next door.
Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge, 1210 Manchester St. Opening mid-June.
Next door to Middle Fork will be the Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge, the bricks-and-mortar incarnation for Toa Green's popular ice cream, which also started as a food truck.
The building on the Pepper campus is undergoing an extensive renovation, about $100,000 according to the city building permit.
The restaurant, which will serve ice cream, pastries, chocolate bar (think truffles you can drink and adult hot chocolates), beer, wine, espresso, coffee and tea, will be opening in June.
"Coffeehouse feel by day, dessert lounge feel by night," Green said. "We will make everything ourselves but will bring in some special pastries from our favorite local bakers. All the ice cream, toppings, sauces, drinking truffles will be made in house. Coffee, tea, and espresso also will be brewed on site."
Lussi Brown Coffee Bar, 1170 Manchester. Opening in September.
Sarah Brown, who is partnering with Olivia Lussi, will open this coffee bar on the ground floor of the former barrel warehouse on the Pepper distillery campus.
"We are going to be a full-service coffee shop, which we have quite a bit of experience in that, and in the evening will feature coffee-infused and tea-infused cocktails," Brown said.
They also will have a small venue so they can host musical acts, and will feature sweet and savory treats from Pig & Pepper Pies, baked by Rian Davis, she said.
The Sage Rabbit, 438 S. Ashland Ave. Opening early June.
Chef John Foster, the culinary chair at Sullivan University's National Center for Hospitality Studies in Lexington, will once again have a restaurant, just a block down the street from his former restaurant, Harvest.
The new place will have a similar feel to Harvest, Foster said, with a strong vegetable lineup, but at a slightly more affordable price point. A sample menu posted outside the restaurant had local, artisanal offerings heavy on fresh produce and local meats, pasta and seafood.
In the location formerly of The Dish, Foster will serve lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday, with a full bar, too.
"No well drinks," he said. "Everything will be brand name. Not cheap but very good."
Kentucky Native Café, at Michler's Nursery, 417 E. Maxwell St. Open now.
The outdoor cafe will be open for lunch as weather permits, featuring a mostly vegetarian menu, with an emphasis on herbs and seasonal produce for about $10, said Robin Michler.
The food is a collaboration between chef Erin Lynch, who will work in the cafe, and Dupree Catering's Eileen McCormick, who is consulting on the menu, he said.
The seating is an oasis of tranquility, inside the framework of a former greenhouse, with additional tables around a path through native plantings. They also will serve craft beer from local breweries on tap.
"What we envision is having a selection of fresh salads, and bread, and pretzels of course for the beer garden," he said.
There will be parking in a lot on High Street behind the greenhouse, too.
"We expect people to get used to coming in that way," Michler said. "Once we get open we'll put up directional signs."
Buddha Lounge, 109 N. Mill St. Opening in June.
Chef Nick Lagagsorn is bringing sushi and Asian-style tapas to downtown Lexington, with a restaurant fitted into a former office building with the help of architect Rebecca Burnworth. They envision something cool and chic, with a big city, fun atmosphere. The rustic-modern look has natural wood floors and black wood slatted ceiling.
Besides a 30-foot walnut bar topped with polished concrete top, Buddha Lounge will have an alcove for a lounge and a semi-open kitchen "so everybody gets to see what's going on," Lagagsorn said.
The lounge will be open for lunch, happy hour, dinner and late-night dining.
Caldo, 309 N. Ashland. Open now.
Chef Allison Davis, owner of Wild Thyme Cooking School, has opened a hot bone broth bar, with smoothies, salads and house-made granola, inside Centered, a yoga studio. Caldo is a kind of broth made with pasture-raised chicken and beef and slow-cooked with vegetables, Davis said. Open Monday through Saturday, Davis will sell broth by the cup and quart, with add-in items for additional health benefits and flavor. "At Caldo, every ingredient has a purpose," she said. "Our food is layered with health and flavor."
Locals', National and Walton. Opening in August.
A former drive-through, Sportsman's Liquor store is being transformed into a neighborhood hangout with American fusion food prepared by chef Darren Pirozzi, and craft beer, called Locals'.
The bar-restaurant will seat about 130 people between its indoor and outdoor seating.
"Everything's got a little flavor," said Seth Boyd, one of the owners. "Nothing will be bland." The target price for lunch will be $10 to $11, including a drink.