Last fall I had the opportunity to visit Lexington, Kentucky, with Travel+Leisure. Growing up in the Midwest, I always give small towns a chance to impress me, and boy did Lexington exceed my expectations. There is so much cool stuff going on in Lexington right now.
The great thing about smaller cities is that they are so affordable. You can own a home much more easily than in cities like DC, LA, San Francisco, New York, etc. Everything is just much less expensive — including spaces for businesses. The low cost of living and low barrier to entry for businesses gives anyone with a business or restaurant idea to actually be able to afford a space for it. The cool thing about that is that it means there can be a ton of thriving local businesses and restaurants, and that is exactly what I found to be true in Lexington.
Another thing I found interesting, I met two people who previously lived in New York City for 10 years, but had recently moved back to Lexington. When I asked why, the thread of their answers was similar — the amazing cost of living, family, and business opportunities.
Back to the food — I ate a lot of delicious food in Lexington. Now, there’s only so much you can eat in 3 days, but I think I got a good taste of a few local places.
I stayed at the 21c Museum Hotel (which is gorgeous, more on that in another post) but upon my late night arrival, I ate at the restaurant in the hotel — Lockbox. The pimento macaroni & cheese was so delicious, I had it a second time. I’m actually still thinking about it and want it right now.
I recommend Lockbox beyond just if you are staying at the 21c Museum Hotel. The ambiance is great, and the food and cocktails are delicious. Plus you can take a walk around the museum while there. If you have something going on downtown, it’s a great spot to get dinner before or afterward.
Enoteca was a dinner to remember. I highly recommend snagging a spot on the string-lit patio (it was rented out the evening I ate there, so I ate at the bar). My favorite thing besides the cheese, bread, and Marcona almond app was the meatballs a las madrileñas with a red wine tomato sauce and the brussels sprouts in a Manchego sauce. MANCHEGO SAUCE. I’m obsessed with Manchego.
The bartender also introduced me to a new wine that I absolutely loved — Zuazo Gaston Rioja Crianza Tempranillo. I will not tell you how many glasses I had…
If you like wine and tapas, I highly recommend Enoteca!
WEST SIXTH BREWERY
Next up is the West Sixth Brewery. One of the owners, Brady Barlow, just happened to be there while I was there and he gave me a tour of the 90,000 square foot building which they rent out to a few other businesses. The building was an old bread factory and Barlow said at first they weren’t sure what they’d do with all the space. Something that was really important to them as a company was making sure that they were a good place to work for the employees. It was clear to me that this company is really invested in the community, it’s employees, and the beer is delicious!
One of my favorite parts of the brewery was the open air seating area where you could bring your dog while you enjoyed the beer and food. Anywhere you can bring your dog, I’m in!
Doodles is not your average breakfast spot. I’m still dreaming about the biscuits and homemade gravy. That gravy will change you. It’s a farm-to-table restaurant, or as they like to say comfort food with a conscience. I just happened to meet the owner who told me someone has to come in a 6 am (usually her) to make the gravy every day, and it sells out every weekend — I can see why.
In addition to the famous biscuits and gravy, I couldn’t resist the Pigs & Puffs (bacon and beignets). My mouth is literally watering right now.
A CUP OF COMMONWEALTH
I had one of the best lattes I’ve ever at A Cup of Commonwealth. Now I’m going to be asking for the syrup mix they call Basilnut at my local coffee shop. It’s a mix of hazelnut and vanilla syrup and trust me — it’s amazing. I had to know the meaning behind the name Basilnut and the barista told me it was because a former employee named Basil, made up the drink and would always drink it herself so they started calling it Basilnut. So no, it doesn’t have basil in it.
It was easy to get a sense of the community in Lexington at Cup of Commonwealth. It was my first experience with a Pay it Forward Board, where you can purchase a drink for someone, or a type of person, you write who it is on the coffee cup sleeve and pin it on the wall. Then people can come in and redeem them. Sometimes they are for a specific person, sometimes they are more general. One said, “For someone from Missouri.” Others would say they were for someone who worked at a certain place or was part of a certain club. There had to be hundreds of them pinned to the wall! I quickly learned they weren’t the only place that does the Pay It Forward board as I saw it in several other places in town.
NORTH LIME DONUTS
I mean, I’m a donut girl. Forget cupcakes, I’ve always been a donut girl. A great local spot of donuts in Lexington is North Lime Donuts. Let’s just say I bought 9 and tried bite of them all…
CRANK & BOOM
And if you haven’t had enough to eat yet, you can find delicious ice cream at Crank & Boom. Anywhere that does ice cream sampler flights already has my business. I tried four flavors and honestly could NOT pick a favorite. Not only do they have homemade ice cream, but they also serve beer, wine, coffee, and cocktails. There’s something for everyone.
Do you live in or know some great spots in Lexington? Leave your food/restaurant/drink recommendations in the comments!
Photos by Meg Biram