In modern cuisine, “local” has become something of a byword. It suggests sustainability and geographic integrity. For today’s diners, farm-to-table isn’t enough; now it’s farm-to-fork. So, any restaurant that names itself Locals’ better be prepared to deliver.
For the most part, this National Avenue newcomer does. Sure, the potatoes for the hand-cut French fries might be from Idaho and one of the cabbages for the slaw from Napa, but the vegetables and salad greens are locally grown; the fish and chicken are battered in local craft beer, and our signature beverage is also used in several of their special sauces such as Peach Bourbon BBQ and Maple Bourbon Glaze.
In under six months, Locals’ seems to have captured the imagination and loyalty of locals. Both times I was there, a lively crowd sporting University of Kentucky garb huddled around TV sets tuned to various sporting events, and noshing on some of the shareable plates: deep-fried wings, tempura vegetables and Blue & White nachos.
I opted for the nachos ($6 for small and $10 for the large), and unless you are a table of four, I suggest the small; it will be plenty. I really wanted to like the nachos, covered with white chicken chili, white cheddar, jalapenos, green onions and tomatoes, and served with the restaurant’s own smoky salsa. I have to confess, however, that I didn’t.
It’s a matter of preference, but I prefer my nachos crisp for dipping, and these, buried beneath the chili and melted cheese, were soggy and difficult to maneuver.
I fared better with the cheeseburger, listed under the category “One handers,” presumably sandwiches you can manage with one hand. The house-made burger ($5), was slightly larger than a traditional slider, and topped with melted white cheddar, was moist and delicious.
Spotting the fried Oreos on the dessert menu ($6), I couldn’t resist. A word of warning: if you eat all three that come in the order, you might lapse into a sugar trance, but it will have been worth it. Resembling New Orleans beignets, they are fried to a golden hue in a sweet batter, and paired with a glass of milk — for drinking or dipping — your choice.
On my second visit, I started with a healthier alternative — a salad of local mixed greens, slivered almonds, strawberries, radishes and croutons ($6). Since I couldn’t make up my mind between the six available dressings, I asked for a taste of two, the Gorgonzola Cream and Blueberry Vin, and both were zesty and delectable.
Equally delectable was my entrée, the deep-fried craft beer-battered whitefish, crispy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside ($6 for one filet; $10 for two). For my side, I chose the country green beans ($3 small plate, $6 large). Since they were slow-cooked with country ham, I expected them to be flavorful in the extreme. Alas, they proved disappointingly bland.
Locals’ has daily seasonal specials for those who want a more substantial dinner choice. Currently, they offer Chef’s choice flank steak on Sunday ($25); a half fried chicken on Tuesday ($18); grilled Teriyaki salmon on Wednesday ($20); 10 oz. pork chop on Thursday ($18) and meatloaf on Friday ($18).
Substance is something you don’t have to worry about. On both of my visits, I found the portions to be generous for the very reasonable prices, and the wine, beer and spirits list is impressive for such a modest eatery.
Service was inconsistent on my two visits. On the first, the server wasn’t rude, just a bit inattentive. On the second, the server was attentive and cheerful, happily making suggestions about menu items.
As for décor, Locals’ website uses the word “unpretentious.” I would use spare, with tables, chairs and booths more reminiscent of a high school cafeteria than a restaurant in what is being groomed as Lexington’s next trendy locale. In all fairness, I have yet to try the expansive roof terrace which seems a perfect place to enjoy a burger and craft beer on a sunny summer day.
While not fancy, with its generous portions and good value, Locals’ might very well turn out to be a local favorite.
Address: 701 National Avenue
Phone: (859) 523-3249
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; noon-5 p.m. Sat., Sun.; dinner 4:30 p.m.-close Tues.-Fri., 5 p.m.-close Sat., Sun.
Payment: Major credit cards accepted.