Honeywood is the most recent addition to Chef Ouita Michel’s ongoing seminar celebrating regional cuisine with locally sourced foods.
She started with the white tablecloth Holly Hill Inn in Midway, which after 17 years remains a go-to place for special occasions in the region. Further ventures include the more down-to-Earth country cafes of Wallace Station and Windy Corner, and the just-a-bit-more-than-a-food truck Smithtown Seafood that serves the West Sixth Brewing crowd near downtown Lexington.
But, while Michel’s themes are consistent, she doesn’t repeat herself. Honeywood is her first venture into a suburban shopping mall — the upscale Summit.
In a way, it’s an ambitious undertaking. The restaurant must satisfy shoppers looking for an affordable break, south end diners searching for something better and more distinctive (but maybe not much more expensive) than the chains that surround them, and the younger crowd looking for a place to get an innovative cocktail and good bites.
Honeywood must do all this while showcasing the local foods that are central to Michel’s brand and dear to her heart.
After two recent visits to Honeywood it seemed to me like Michel and Executive Chef Josh Smouse are close to hitting the mark. The place is very inviting — no hokey southern or rural décor, it’s a clean, bright environment where you can see the food but never feel like you’re under a glare.
And the staff, as promised in promotional materials, was uniformly pleasant and accommodating. When we wanted a soup and then a dessert split two ways it happened without complaint (or extra charge!), when we asked questions about the menu they were readily and knowledgeably answered. And food — this is a restaurant review after all — was generally very good, sometimes exceptional, occasionally it felt more like good comfort food, once only disappointing.
Let’s start with the appetizers. I tasted two soups, both of which I’d happily have again. The gazpacho ($3) was a standout. It’s blended so it doesn’t have that salad-like look of some gazpachos. Even if you couldn’t see the vegetables, you could taste them. Honeywood’s reliance on fresh, local produce shone through, the tomatoes, cucumbers and array of herbs sang out from the cool, tasty soup.
On another day I had the vegetarian gumbo ($4) despite some reservations about how that could work out. But, again, a real treat. The roux was creamy and complex, it had a distinctive spicy note and the okra was abundant and good. Very good but not quite as exciting to me were the savory sweet potato beignets ($7) and the Tokyo fried chicken ($10). Each had a nice counterpoint — sweet and sour chili sauce with the beignets and mixed pickles with the spicy chicken nuggets. And both were generous servings, easily enough for two to share.
For main courses we tried Howard’s Pork chop, served on creamy grits. The chop ($11 for one, $15 for two) is sliced thin but it was cooked just right, not at all dry or tough. An apple butter pork jus was sweet but not overpowering, a nice compliment to the pork (recognizing one of the great classical pairings of regional cuisine: apples and pork).
Likewise, Honeywood did a great job with the pot roast ($16) that was beautifully caramelized on the outside from slow cooking in red wine and very tender inside. It was clear that the potato gratin and glazed carrots that accompanied it had been in local soils not long before.
At lunch I tried the fried green tomato BLT ($12) that came with an abundant serving of French fries. The bacon was great — here’s where good ingredients make all the difference — and in addition to the breaded and fried green tomato there was a generous slice of tasty red tomato, a leaf of fresh lettuce and a house-made mayonnaise. Wonderful.
The big disappointment among the main dishes was Florida fishing cottage ($25), a casserole of sliced potatoes, tomatoes, red pepper, onion and spinach topped with a generous serving of grouper. Someone must have forgotten this dish in a very hot oven because the grouper was way overcooked. Even the vegetables weren’t very satisfactory, whether from excessive cooking or simply because the potatoes overwhelmed the others, I’m not sure.
Dessert was more successful. Sweet cornbread skillet cake topped with salted caramel ice cream ($8) was a delightful mix of sweet and salty, creamy and just slightly gritty from the cornbread. Unless you are a huge desert eater, one serving can suffice for two. We also shared a sorbet and prosecco, a lovely summer dessert with the dry prosecco a pleasant complement to the sorbet.
And, finally, speaking of summer, try one of the Honeywood’s seasonal cocktails. The elderflower spritz that I had was very good, bright, balanced and refreshing. My dinner companion had the rose sangria, which was also nice but a bit sweet for my taste.
110 Summit at Fritz Farm Suite 140
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
Handicap accessible, all major credit cards.
Vegetarian options available.