Restaurant News & Reviews

Julep Cup gets it mostly right

The whole, they say, is greater than the sum of its parts.

Restaurateur Lucie Slone- Meyers' numerous ventures have been proof positive. Soaked in an easily identifiable, good-times atmosphere — ornate furniture, ubiquitous knickknacks and slightly decadent touches like swags and beaded lampshades — every venue has reflected her personality. The total experience far exceeds any of the individual elements.

The latest Slone-Meyers venture is in the former home of Woodlands Grill, once a force for ladies who lunched, in The Woodlands. Now, the space's east end is The Julep Cup, heavily colored in puce, with tables, booths and seemingly countless equine touches. The west side of the space houses Seahorse Lounge, a bar as blue as the Julep Cup is red, where abundant seashells create a maximalist marine effect.

Behind the scenes, executive chef Lindsay Brooks, whose culinary style is at one with the concept of casual Southern hospitality, oversees the kitchen. Her diplome from Le Cordon Bleu is displayed at the entrance. The menu offers everything from beer cheese to Jell-O salad, shrimp and grits to veal liver and onions, green tomatoes to mac and cheese.

I have eaten in both settings, with some good and some great moments, a few less than great. While it is hard for me to overlook errors like sloppily edited wine lists and intermittently slow service, it also feels inappropriately exacting in this setting to sweat what many would consider the small stuff.

The Julep Cup's Sunday brunch ($12.95) is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Its buffet offers sensible oatmeal and fruit that are overshadowed by perfectly cooked applewood smoked bacon, savory sage sausage and pearly grits. I would pass, however, on the startlingly yellow but simperingly bland scrambled eggs and the limp roasted potatoes.

Under "salads," there is pan-seared salmon ($12), a healthy but ordinary dish. The fillet was overcooked — somehow, the order had been written "well done" — and the salad mix looked past its prime. The accompanying green goddess dressing gave more emphasis to anchovies than herbs; its color was exactly that of green Benedictine spread, which I am guessing was intentional.

In my single experience, the best way to do brunch here is with brunch food (although a tipster told me on his way out that the hot Brown was excellent).

But the truth is, I preferred the vibe in the lounge, where the same menu is available. The noise level is social — a mere lively buzz — the tables are the right distance apart, and the music, also ideal volume, ranges from sultry '40s standards to John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. All of which set the mood for grazing and dining.

A simple beginning were the two tiny beef tenderloin skewers with a puck of a potato pancake ($9), piping hot, with strands of cheese and thin slices of scallions.

If it's Wednesday, the special is good fried chicken — about half a bird — with crunchy skin and tender meat. This entree ($13) is served with two sides, such as classic mashed potatoes and long-cooked green beans, which, after all these years in Kentucky, are still an acquired taste for my California-raised taste buds. Forgoing the potatoes, I substituted several long stalks of lovely grilled asparagus.

Another Southern comfort dinner is the chunky simmered pork shoulder ( $12). Its thin but flavorful broth was loaded with tender white beans, apples, carrots and onions. Gritty greens were the dish's only blemish.

Lemon cake ($5), a nice finish, was homemade but needed a little more time at room temperature to lose the chill.

So, Slone-Meyers' latest endeavor has two personalities. Take your pick. But, since the menu remains the same in both, when I am in the Seahorse Lounge, one plus one equals three stars.

Dinner for two, excluding tip and tax, was $63; brunch with a lovely mimosa was $36.

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