Local restaurants: 2015 review, 2016 forecast

Scott Foster, left, and Dan Helm, right, prepared a display featuring 80-pound wheels of parmigiano reggiano cheese at the Murray s Cheese shop as Kroger prepared to open its new Euclid Avenue store in January.
Scott Foster, left, and Dan Helm, right, prepared a display featuring 80-pound wheels of parmigiano reggiano cheese at the Murray s Cheese shop as Kroger prepared to open its new Euclid Avenue store in January.

Good-bye a la lucie, Atomic Café, Natasha’s, Furlong’s, Billy’s Bar-B-Q, Bellini’s, The Dish, Yamaguchi’s Sake & Tapas, Thai & Mighty and the Lexington Dinner Train.

Hello Locals’, Kentucky Native Café at Michler’s Nursery, Sage Rabbit, Middle Fork Kitchen Bar, Crank & Boom Dessert Lounge, Lexington Pasta Garage, Buddha Lounge, Copper Roux, Street Craves and Freakin’ Unbelievable Burgers, Upstart Crow, Tony’s Steaks & Seafood, HopCat, Caldo, Meats, Broomwagon Coffee, Macho Nacho, The Press, Sorella Gelateria, The 90 and La Madeleine, another Athenian Grill and a second Vinaigrette Salad Kitchen. Whew, that’s a mouthful.

Between all the comings and goings, a few trends emerged: If 2015 was the year of barbecue and pizza, 2016 looks to be the year of hot chicken and shakes.

▪  During the past year, Pies & Pints opened in The Square; Mad Mushroom opened a second location, on South Broadway; Pie Five Pizza opened in Fayette Mall,;Blaze Pizza opened on South Limestone; and Uncle Maddio’s began building a spot on Euclid Avenue near Kroger. MOD Pizza announced it will be coming to Lexington, too, LaRosa’s Family Pizzeria is coming to Nicholasville, and Mellow Mushroom is planning a second location, at Lexington Green. And Rolling Oven’s food truck opened a restaurant in Nicholasville. Who loves pizza? Apparently we do.

▪  Barbecue offerings mushroomed in Central Kentucky. Food trucks like Bradfords’ and Lyles’ set up bricks-and-mortar restaurants, Proud Mary Honky Tonk BBQ opened on the river, Meats BBQ MKT came to Lansdowne, and Red State BBQ is expanding into downtown Georgetown. Another food truck, J. Render’s BBQ, announced plans for a restaurant in Beaumont. But the surge in sauce took a toll on the competition: Sarah’s BBQ at Henry Clay and Liberty closed, as did Billy’s Bar-B-Q in Chevy Chase. Whether you want pork or beef or you prefer sweet or mustardy sauce, there’s a barbecue place for you.

▪  An outpost of Joella’s Hot Chicken in Louisville is going into the former Billy’s site at Cochran and Tates Creek roads with a March opening planned. Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen beat them to it, opening at New Circle Road and Old Paris Pike just before the end of the year.

Another hot chicken joint, Big Shake’s Hot Chicken, will open on Broadway next year. Hot chicken, for those who don’t know, is fried chicken that’s been spiced with cayenne pepper, chili oils or hot sauce.

▪  Besides hot chicken, Big Shake’s is famous for – what else? – shakes. They will get some serious competition from Shake Shack, known nationally for tasty burgers and gourmet shakes, which will open its first Kentucky location at The Summit in 2017.

▪  The year got off to an exciting start with a spiffy new Kroger on Euclid Avenue, ushered in by University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari, but it sadly also brought about the demise of the much-loved Romany Road store in the fall. Versailles got a new Kroger, which store officials say is the biggest in the state.

Next year the grocery scene will really change, with Kroger starting online ordering at the Beaumont store on Thursday and at the Richmond Road store next month. And Lucky’s Market, an independent chain out of Boulder, Colo., will open in January off Virginia Avenue, between Broadway and Nicholasville Road by the UK hospital complex.

▪  Lexington eaters reveled in many outdoor dining events, like the Breeders’ Cup food truck competition called the Feeders’ Cup, Crave Lexington, and the Jefferson Street Soiree; turnout overwhelmed the Block Party for National Avenue.

▪  Lexington’s distillery district blossomed on Manchester Street, with the opening of the Break Room at Pepper, Middle Fork Kitchen Bar, Crank & Boom Dessert Lounge, and Ethereal Brewing. Paris-based Rooster Brew and Gastro Gnomes will open a place together on the Pepper Distillery campus in 2016.

▪  Just up the road, the former Buster’s music venue closed, then reopened under new ownership as Manchester Music Hall. Another popular music spot, Willie’s Locally Known, closed on North Broadway but plans to reopen on Southland Drive in 2016. Downtown, Natasha’s Bistro and Bar on Esplanade closed in November.

▪  Several other downtown stalwarts closed in 2015, including the romantic a la lucie’s, with owner Lucie Slone Meyers planning to open another restaurant on North Limestone, Lucie’s Red Light, in the spring. Atomic Café on North Limestone closed abruptly, with no plans to resurrect. Courtyard Deli had to leave Cheapside but found a new home a couple of blocks away on Church Street, where lawyers and courthouse regulars still could wander over for lunch.

▪  Another area seeing big turnover was Chevy Chase, with The Macho Nacho bringing life back to the corner of Euclid Avenue and High Street. The owners of Bourbon ’n’ Toulouse bought the Chevy Chase Inn next door. And the troubled Art Bar, which had been a nightclub on Euclid, sold to Tom Behr, owner of The Beer Trappe next door as well as Pazzo’s and The Village Idiot. He’s renovating it and plans to open a restaurant in the spring. Around the corner on Ashland Avenue, The Dish was replaced by The Sage Rabbit.

▪  Next year Lexington will see the opening of the 21c Museum Hotel and its restaurant, Lockbox, which will shake up the dining scene again. And there are several Lexington restaurant spots in limbo, leaving diners with some cliffhangers: Will something new go into Atomic Café’s spot on Limestone? Or Natasha’s on Esplanade? And a la lucie’s former location? What will happen to the Bellini’s building on Main Street? And will a Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse ever get built at CentrePointe? Stay tuned.