We may not be New York, Chicago or Dallas, but Lexington has always loved its beef. First, there was Columbia Steak House; then Malone’s, and assuming that he can overcome his recent “foot-in-the-mouth” rant to this newspaper, there will likely be a Jeff Ruby’s in the future.
It’s Tony Ricci, however, who has brought his eponymous Cincinnati restaurant concept to the Bluegrass and sent Lexingtonians into beef bliss.
On a frigid week night, when the Cats weren’t playing at home, Tony’s — on West Main, just a basketball’s bounce from Rupp Arena — was doing a brisk business. At the backlit bar, which takes up one side of the first floor, patrons were standing two deep, and across the center lobby, tables were rapidly filling up. The noise level may not have equaled Rupp, but if you’re looking for a place either to propose or to conduct business, this may not be it.
If you’re looking for a place to enjoy one of the best cuts of beef you’ll ever have, this is definitely it. The menu does feature some non-beef items — the pasta selection includes a cleverly named Rig-a-Tony ($30), and both the New Zealand Rack of Lamb ($41) and the Chilean Sea Bass ($38) are popular, according to my server.
Tony’s offers a raw bar and a small, but select group of appetizers and salads. My dining companion and I skipped the appetizers — though I was tempted by the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with mustard aioli and smoked paprika ($16) and the Prince Edward Island Mussels with white wine, chiles, garlic and chorizo ($15.)
Instead, we split a Caesar salad ($6) – romaine lettuce and grated parmesan with an Asiago crisp on top — plenty large enough for two people to share.
Make no mistake, however, it’s the beef that is the draw here — American beef, cut and trimmed in-house, seasoned with paprika, sea salt and pepper, and broiled at 1,300 degrees.
I opted for the 9 oz. filet — at $39, the least expensive steak on the menu, and my companion chose the Sir Barton, a 14 oz. Prime Cut New York Strip ($42). Both were cooked to perfection, and my companion even had enough left to take home with him.
Tony’s is not stingy with the beef, a good thing since the highest priced steak is $65, and if you want one of the toppings, you’ll pay an additional $3 to $8. You really don’t need one, as the beef is flavorful enough on its own. But the topping I chose, horseradish and chive butter ($3), added an extra zing.
Sides are all a la carte, but portions are so large that two can easily share them. One of my favorite things about Tony’s is not only do they not frown upon diners sharing dishes, they actually encourage it.
My companion ordered the roasted mushrooms tossed in a mixture of sherry, garlic and shallots ($8), and I had the creamed spinach (also $8), which was so delicious that even spinach-phobics would be channeling their inner Popeye.
Much has been made of how expensive Tony’s is (our dinner for two with wine came to $153, plus tip). But I’ve been to other area restaurants where the bill was about the same, and the quality of food and service wasn’t nearly as good. An extra bonus: the wine list is top drawer, and includes a few vintages by the glass for under $10.
Tony’s scores high marks on two other key factors in a pleasurable dining experience: service and ambiance. The service is top-notch — from the valet parking staff to the hostess who walks you to your table to the servers who are unobtrusive but attentive.
The physical layout of the restaurant — polished marquetry floors, brick walls, modern art and a staircase leading up to a second level for private dining and weekend overflow — is in keeping with the cool vibe of downtown’s west side.
As long as it keeps doing everything the way it’s doing it now, Tony’s should be a part of the Lexington restaurant scene for a long time.
Patti Nickell is a Lexington-based travel and food writer. Reach her at email@example.com.