”Local People, Local Food.“
That is A.P. Roots' credo, and what better mnemonic for this casual neighborhood bistro that values the pleasures of the table and sustainable agricultural practices?
The mind behind the place is Robert Meyers, a chef whose Winchester restaurant, Robert's Café, closed and caused mourning among Fayette County foodies. And with good reason: At A.P. Roots, Meyers bakes bread, merges Mediterranean with Middle America, caters to locavores, and is creative without being intimidating or annoying (not as easy as it sounds).
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Such details notwithstanding, A.P. Roots is a great addition to informal dining at reasonable prices in Lexington's Chevy Chase area.
Around noon, the crowd might run the gamut from people celebrating birthdays to singles using laptops, suggesting a vibe that gives space — physically and metaphorically — for diners to be themselves.
A perfect lunch is the savory tea-smoked chicken sandwich ($7.95, including one side item) for its tender meat and terrific tomato relish with bites of grapey sweetness and a spicy kick.
At dinner, start with the caponata ($3.95) — Italy's sweet and salty dip of eggplant, tomatoes, capers, whole pitted kalamatas and celery — served with thin grilled slices of the chef's fabulous sourdough bread.
My favorite salad has been the wilted baby spinach ($4.95) with local shiitake mushrooms, onions, tomato, a chopped hard-boiled egg and a light applewood bacon dressing. It makes a picture-perfect first course.
The kitchen turns out a fine spinach pappardelle ($9.95), thin, flat ribbons of pasta tossed with sautéed wild mushrooms, squash and tomatoes and melted blue gouda (perhaps an overly piquant touch).
The ”pot roasted“ chicken ($12.95) was tender and juicy, with squash, leeks and fork-smashed potatoes. It was napped with a silky, slightly sweet roasted hazelnut sauce. Quite similar was the more exotic fricassee of locally raised rabbit ($17.95) — same potatoes on the side — but this dish was topped with a rich brown sauce and a generous helping of those wild mushrooms.
A.P Roots isn't without a few puzzling incongruities, though: a limited selection of by-the-glass wine offerings from Kentucky vineyards, an uneven hand with salting, the curiously dull potato salad ($2.25), or the limestone Bibb salad ($4.95), wonderful but full of whole leaves that were a hassle to navigate on the little plate.
But back to the good stuff. Dessert might be a slice of orange chiffon cake ($4.95) reminiscent of a genoise with creamy frosting and candied orange peel; or ”crème caramel“ ($4.95), light as a flan scattered with berries.
Thanks, A.P. Roots. It feels good to eat with a clean conscience, close to the land yet right around the corner.
A four-course dinner for two, with beer and tax but no tip, was about $46.