Food & Drink

New restaurant from chef Ouita Michel opens in downtown Lexington

Lexington’s old courthouse is really cooking now: Zim’s Cafe, the restaurant from renowned chef Ouita Michel in the renovated Old Courthouse in downtown Lexington, will open on Monday.

Fittingly, for a tourism hub, it will showcase favorites from other restaurants of one of best-known chefs of the Bluegrass.

Michel has been nominated for James Beard Foundation Awards multiple times for her Holly Hill Inn and other restaurants, all of which focus on providing Kentucky-grown meats, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. Besides Zim’s and Holly Hill Inn, she also operates Honeywood, Smithtown Seafood, Wallace Station Deli, Windy Corner Market and Restaurant, The Midway Bakery, and Glenn’s Creek Cafe and Catering at Woodford Reserve Distillery.

“It’s a casual restaurant that we’re locating here in the courthouse for families ... very friendly for everybody ... so it’s not fine dining, it’s very casual,” Michel said. “It’s the best of Wallace Station and Windy Corner together in an urban location.”

Love the big brown burger at Wallace Station Deli? You can now get it at Zim’s, as well as the Cubano. Crave the po’boys at Windy Corner? They’re now at Zim’s, too. Long for the pies at Midway Bakery? They will be at Zim’s, as are the country ham, cheddar and chive scones and cinnamon rolls.

Zim’s, named for Michel’s great-grandfather Aaron Rufus Zimmerman, features Michel’s greatest hits and much more for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“We’ll open at 7 in the morning, 7 days a week, and we close at 9 p.m.,” Michel said.

On a bright and light palette, Zim’s is decorated with folk art from Kentucky artists Lonnie and Twyla Money, Lavon Williams, Tim Lewis, Minnie Adkins and Jo Ann Butts, some of which is for sale in the market area.

“Hopefully a real expression of the fun-loving nature of Kentucky,” Michel said. “It’s a big stone building and can kind of be intimidating to people so we wanted to create a space that was really colorful and bright and friendly.”

The restaurant features original wood floors and natural light from the large windows, which overlook the Cheapside Pavilion that hosts the Lexington Farmers Market on Saturday.

The menu has a “retro” look, which fits the location. Lexington’s historic courthouse, which underwent a $32 million restoration, opened to the public earlier this year.

The 119-year-old building features the Limestone Hall event space under the dome, offices for the Breeders’ Cup organization on the third floor and VisitLex, the city’s tourism bureau, on the second floor with the main tourism center in one corner of the first floor.

Now Zim’s will fill out two more corners with its dining rooms and airy kitchen. Nick Zaluski, who has been sous chef at Honeywood, will be the executive chef at Zim’s Cafe. The general manager will be Devin Armstrong, formerly of Windy Corner Market.

Like Windy Corner, Zim’s will have lots of Kentucky Proud products such as sorghum, Weisenberger Mill grits, jams, and honey for sale in the wide entryway where customers can also get baked goods from Midway Bakery and pick up to-go orders.

The fourth corner of the courthouse first floor will have The Thirsty Fox, a bourbon bar that Michel will open next week, featuring lots of wood and copper decor.

All of the business ties together, Michel said: you can order food from Zim’s in The Thirsty Fox, and get drinks from The Thirsty Fox in Zim’s. There will be a walk-up window for picking up orders at The Thirsty Fox and table service for Zim’s.

“Many people told us they really wanted that, table service,” Michel said.

The cafe has seating for 86, the bar has seating for 60 and when it warms up there will be tables around much of the courthouse’s stone balcony.