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So Long Lexington

Hello Everyone!

After two years and, uh, a year away from the site, I have moved to Denver to start anew.

I’d like to thank everyone for helping me with this site, from the beginning where I was lucky to get a hit a week, to where the site now gets no less than 200 hits a day. I never expected that for this blog, and even though it’s a modest number for some, it means the world to me to know I could help out anyway I could.

I’ll never forget Lexington, especially Bourbon & Toulouse, Meadowthorpe, Charlies and Old San Juan, among others. Each one offered an experience that was as enjoyable as they were unique.

I’d like to thank all the people who subscribed to this blog and made it fun to be a part of. I’d like to thank every restaurant that responded to my reviews and either thanked me for the kind words or asked me to come in and speak with them about what changes needed to be made, or asked me to come in and try a new item. I went from being laughed at by the Herald-Leader’s blog to having some of their staff – and some of the best restauranteurs in town – follow my blog. Again, it meant the world to me.

Unfortunately I now have to move onto a new chapter in my life that’s been nearly a year in the making. It was a horribly kept secret that I worked for WLAP in Lexington, and now I attend the University of Denver while working part time for their news station KOA. I hope one day to come back to Lexington and visit my favorite places, and recapture the thrill of eating some of the finest food I’ve ever experienced.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank all of you. If anyone would like to take over the site, let me know, and I’ll gladly hand it over to you. Until then, keep trying all Lexington has to offer. You never know what you’ll find around the corner.

Sincerely,

John Gallagher

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2013 in Restaurants

 

The Lunch Box

http://thelunchboxlex.com/

When I first heard of the Lunch Box, I pictured two things: the loose meat sandwich hawking restaurant from “Roseanne”, and a children’s eatery. Now while I wouldn’t have been disappointed if it was the former, I’m much more appreciative of what it really is about.

I’ve been in Lexington for nearly six years now, and I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t realize this place was so close to another Lexington favorite of mine (seems like I have a lot of those) in Charlie’s Seafood. Had I known that sooner, I would have finished off my white fish sandwich for lunch and walked down Henry Clay Boulevard for some of the most exquisite food in town.

Don’t get me wrong: The Lunch Box isn’t fancy. However as I and countless others have said before, good food doesn’t always need fancy ingredients or impressive presentation.

Walk inside and get lost in your youth: toys are abundant, as are, well…lunch boxes. Every campy TV show or superhero you can think of is well represented, adorning the walls and reminding the patrons of a simpler time. My only complaint is that I didn’t see any Green Lantern lunch boxes, although I thought I saw a Justice League.

The seating is a little miss matched. Among the booths and regular wooden tables there was one set that was more suited for something you’d find on a patio than inside a restaurant. It wasn’t uncomfortable, mind you, just odd.

When it comes to the food, however, few could have legitimate complaints. Every time I went – whether it was the sirloin burger, home-made pizza or open face turkey sammich – we had a meal that was near perfection. I feel silly going on about an open-face turkey sammich, but this was the first one I’ve ever had that made me crave for a second. It all tasted just so fresh, and so good! No complaints at all.

However my favorite was the home-made pizza. I ordered something out of the ordinary: goat cheese, basil pesto and turkey. I know, I SWORE I would never try pizza in Lexington again because I’m too critical, but this…this was divine! Our waitress, Elizabeth, helped me decide between oil or pesto as my sauce, and I say she made the correct call. I also absolutely loved the crust as it was beautifully cooked. One personal pie was more than enough for me, and with all the additional toppings and everything the whole pie only cost $5.95 total!

Two things I recommend you try: The Loaded Chips and their dip of bacon horseradish – not together, of course. I took the chips to go, and even though I had to wait ten minutes to eat them, I loved every blue cheese-covered bite. The bacon horseradish wasn’t for me, although I appreciate it and I think it would be perfect for plenty of palates out there.

They also offer a wide variety of other dishes, including five cheese grilled cheese, pulled pork, hot browns, skirt steaks and much more. In fact, that originally made me nervous: through my experiences, normally when restaurants have so many items on a menu, they tend to just be mediocre across the board, instead of focusing on the items of their smaller menu. However there’s no slacking here, as everything I had was near perfection.

I loved the Lunch Box, and I hope you will to. While you’re there, see if you can convince them to purchase a Green Lantern (old school GL, btw) lunch box, can ya?

Overall – A

- John G

The Lunch Box on Urbanspoon

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2012 in Restaurants

 

Indi’s

You may have noticed that I haven’t updated the blog in a while. Or, more likely, you had no idea. However it’s been a crazy few months, with UK winning the title, UK baseball playing like the top team in the nation and with me saving up for a long trip to the west coast, I haven’t really had time/money to do the reviews. Don’t get me wrong – I love doing this. In fact starting in the middle of June I’ll be back to my usual two reviews a month, so make sure to stop on by!

As we proved with Charlie’s Seafood, great food doesn’t always have to be expensive. In fact, Indi’s has a lot in common with Charlies: cheap and delicious food, great reputation around town, and it’s in a location that is just a pain in the butt to get to.

Like Charlie’s, Indi’s has an annoying habit of being filled up quickly, even though it has a drive thru. I’ve never been there when it wasn’t busy, so let me just say to everyone you CAN go inside and order, you don’t have to go through the drive thru. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve passed Indi’s and the line for the drive thru is next to the street, meanwhile no one has parked to go inside. Just because the building is straight out of the 1970s doesn’t mean you’ll fall into the “Springfield Mystery Spot” like Ozzie Smith and disappear forever.

As for the food, the decor says it all: it’s simple. Indi’s menu consists of fried chicken, french fries, fried fish, fried everything. They also have all comfort food side dishes that you’d expect, such as green beans and mac & cheese. I’ve eaten here roughly a dozen times since I’ve moved to Kentucky, and I will say that Indi’s is the REAL KFC, not that colonel fellow. Do yourself a favor and try the spicy wedges and spicy chicken wings – trust me, you’ll love it.

The chicken has always been perfectly cooked, always perfectly seasoned, and always served quickly as possible.Not only that, but it’s pretty inexpensive. If you can deal with the traffic, it’s worth the wait.

There are also Indi’s in Louisville which look similar, so I’m pretty sure this is a chain and therefore against the point of this blog. However it appears it’s a Kentucky-based chain that serves down-home meals and doesn’t face the usual chain pitfalls of moody teenage waiters and frozen, tasteless food. One of the reviews I read online had some guy complaining a location in Louisville had Indian owners who were “posing as serving authentic southern cuisine”, which is the biggest “derp” I’ve seen in quite some time. Indi’s could be owned by Daleks for all I care, just as long as the food stayed great.

Go check out Indi’s, either in Lexington on North Broadway or in Louisville at any of their locations. It’s worth it. However if one is actually owned by Daleks, be careful.

Overall – A

-John G

Indi's Fast Food on Urbanspoon

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2012 in Restaurants

 

Charlie’s Fresh Seafood

http://www.charliesfreshseafood.com/


It’s pretty easy to overlook Charlie’s Market.

Located off Winchester Road, it’s situated on a plot that’s easy to miss driving out of Lexington, and essentially invisible coming into town.

The parking lot can hold maybe six cars, and if you are able to pull in you’ll probably find it difficult to get back into traffic.

The building itself is unassuming, with its dark red exterior, completely void of all pretensions concerning a fancy meal. Hell, if half the sign fell down, you could mistake it for a hardware store.

Charlie’s does one thing and one thing only: seafood. Whether it’s crawfish, clams, shrimp or crab, Charlie’s is known around town as the place to get the best damn fish sandwich in town.

It’s just a fried whitefish filet on a bun, and yet it just works perfectly. Here, simplicity leads to perfection. If you’re looking for something for the foodie in you, go somewhere else; Charlie’s is the place for your stomach, not your brain…uh, except for that whole “fish is brain food” thing.

In fact that’s my dilemma with reviewing this place: Look at how I just described it. Pretty hipsterish, right? I hate myself for typing that, however there really is no other way to explain Charlie’s; it’s simple, and it’s delicious.

Every meal comes with your choice of fries, coleslaw and hush puppies. I always make sure to take the hush puppies, as they’re easily the best I’ve ever had. They go heavy on the onion with these, and they’re a little overcooked, which is how I like them.

The fish itself is just fried fish. No real seasoning added to the batter, but boy are the portions plentiful. One crawfish platter filled up my entire styrofoam container. It came with three ramekins of cocktail sauce to boot, so for about $12, I got:

A large container’s worth of crawfish
A Large portion of fries
Five Hush Puppies
Three things of cocktail sauce
A small cup of coleslaw

Trust me, it’s a lot of food.

If you’re just looking for something cheap and good, check out Charlies over on Winchester Road. You’ll be happy you made the drive.

Overall – B

Charlie's Fresh Seafood on Urbanspoon

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Deli, Restaurants

 

AZUR Restaurant & Patio

http://azurrestaurant.com/default.aspx

What else can be said about AZUR?

No, seriously. Everything that can be said about AZUR and it’s executive chef Jeremy Ashby has already been printed, typed, blogged, written and tweeted.

For me, AZUR represented a new challenge. The food is intimidating; not in a “mystery meal/what the hell am I eating!?” type of way, but rather in insecurity in myself to do it justice.

You see, while every restaurant (hopefully) puts plenty of preparation into their dishes, much of the other places I’ve reviewed can’t necessarily be called “fancy”. “Fancy” may be a subjective label, as for what I may consider fancy many could consider “relaxed”, and vice versa.

However with AZUR’s presentation, I’m a long way away from paper plates and cups. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of them, mind you.

When I received a gift certificate to AZUR and checked out their menu online – followed by a few reviews – I knew I was in for a treat and a test. (Note: I received the gift certificate through my company – NOT from anyone associated with AZUR)

On our first visit, Kat and I decided to try their daily appetizer special, which was lamb with some seafood wontons. Trust me – I’m not going to do this plate justice, as it was much more elaborate than I’m describing. However, I will say this: the lamb was so delicate, so juicy and tender that it basically melted in my mouth. While eating it you felt awful, not from the taste but because there was now one less piece for you to savor. My only wish was that there was more of it, but then I would have ruined my dinner.

That would have been the true travesty, as I had ordered the berkshire pork chop. Served with goat cheese macaroni, brandy apples and walnuts, the pork chop was – and this isn’t hyperbole – the best I’ve ever had. With a slight char and perfectly seasoned, the pork was delightfully savory. Kat had ordered the mozzarella chicken (prosciutto wrapped, mozzarella stuffed chicken breasts) and after the first few bites we just gave one another a look which we both understood as “This is too good”. Our waiter was elusive, but we didn’t care as the food was so distracting.

The dessert – butterscotch banana pudding – was fine, but we couldn’t stop talking about the dinner. My pork chop was worth more than the $26 price tag, as I would have gladly paid $30-35. It was that good. A perfect meal, while eating by candlelight and listening to live music: a fantastic way to spend a Saturday night with someone you love.

We went back the following Tuesday to try their lunch, hoping to get something on par with the pork. For starters we ordered the truffle fries, which are shoestring fries with truffle oil, romano cheese and herbs. Enjoyable, especially since they incorporated the whole dish with the herbs and oil, which is something that so many places fail to either consider or execute.

For our entrees, Kat ordered the caprese sandwich and I had the wild boar bolognese. Kat said her sandwich was delicious, if slightly heavy on the vinegar. I wasn’t a fan of the bolognese as I found it kind of bland. Overall we were kind of disappointed, especially after our experience a few nights earlier when everything was divine. Also this time we were seated at a booth instead of the tables, and there is way too much room between the seat and the table. I’m a big guy and even I had room to spare.

After that meal – and also because we were the only people there eating at 1pm – we figured that perhaps AZUR is more of a dinner spot, focusing their best efforts for the heavier traffic. Also we always go to a place at least three times (except in one instance) before we review it, so why not go back at dinner where we had such an amazing experience the first time?

On this third visit, we tried another special appetizer for the day: a pizza with garlic, oil, arugula, mozzarella, a sunnyside up egg (a nice nod to Chef Ashby’s radio show, “Sunnyside Up”) and dried beef on home-made dough. Perfect! We devoured the pizza in about five or seven minutes, using the dough to soak up the left over egg. Honestly, it could have been our entire meal itself and that would have been fine.

For dinner I ordered the brisket with a sausage and potato hash. I loved the sauce and the brisket was brilliantly cooked, however my favorite part of this dish was the hash. A simple sausage, potato hash with carrots, onions and celery and yet it was divine. I’m not really sure why I enjoyed it so much, but those ingredients just worked, especially when dipped into the horseradish aioli. Kat ordered the macadamia crusted salmon with a roasted garlic risotto. She enjoyed the salmon, but said the risotto was bland. I tried some and had to agree. Outside of the pizza and hash, the best part of this trip was our waitress, who was engaging and attentive.

It’s a shame that we didn’t enjoy our subsequent visits as much as our first, and perhaps it skewed our expectations. While the later meals were good, they couldn’t compare to what I ordered on our first trip, when I had one of my favorite meals ever.

Do yourself a favor and go down to Beaumont’s Lakecrest Circle on a Saturday night and try AZUR for yourself. It was an experience I’m glad I had, and one I will undoubtedly have again soon.

Overall – B+/A

-John G

AZUR restaurant & patio on Urbanspoon

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2012 in Restaurants

 

Village Host Pizza & Grill

http://www.villagehostlex.com/

I’ve become weary of trying pizzerias in Lexington.

Yes, I’m a pizza snob, tried and true. Sadly that has effected my ability to fairly grade Lexington’s pizzerias, so unless I review Goodfellas I’m not going to be kind. Just because I don’t like Joe B’s and Fat Katz doesn’t mean no one else will. Although I didn’t really care for Joe B’s other items either, so…um…lets move on.

Village Host’s pizza wasn’t bad, really, it just wasn’t good either. It was very similar to Joe B’s, however the crust was crisper. Go try it and see for yourself, as my review wouldn’t be fair. However I’d like to add this:

When I ordered an individual pizza with pepperoni and garlic, the way they constructed the pizza itself kind of irked me. The garlic was from a can – understandable as they require large quantities of it – but that’s not what bothered me: the garlic was just plopped onto the pizza in globs. It wasn’t spread around evenly; actually it wasn’t spread around at all. There were just mounds of it on each slice. I love garlic, but not so much as to crave a mouth full of it. You have no idea how petty and stupid I feel complaining about this, but spreading it around would have taken two seconds.

After this meal I made the decision to never again review pizza. I’m overly critical, and the ability to offer an unbiased opinion is extremely important when it comes to reviewing any restaurant. Lexington pizza isn’t NY or Chicago pizza, and it never will be, so I have to make sure I stop grading it on a curve.

On other visits we enjoyed their vast salad bar, which offers pretty much everything you’d ever need for a salad at a fair price. We also tried their Garlic chips, which was essentially garlic cheesy bread. For some it may be a little oily, but that’s to be expected since it’s brushed with garlic butter.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the bartender(s) at Village Host really knows his or her (their?) stuff. I’m not sure if it’s one person or if Host just does a fantastic job teaching their staff how to properly mix a drink, but I’ve never had a bad drink here. The Long Island Ice Tea was nice and strong, with not too much sour mix or any other ingredient. The Woodford Old Fashioned was perfect, as was the Lemon Drop Martini. If you’re of age and you enjoying drinking, check out their selection, as it’s both expansive and moderately priced.

The only real complaint I have with Village Host was the service. On our third visit, it took five minutes for them to even greet us at the door. They weren’t busy – or at least not “five minutes of customers standing near the door alone” busy – and yet we didn’t even get looked at until a waitress walked by and noticed we were just standing at the entrance, looking around.

On each visit, our waiter/waitress attended to us in what can best be described as “spurts”. We would go five-ten minutes without seeing anyone, then we would see our server three times in three minutes. this happened the first two times we were there, while the third time our waiter was a little bit more attentive. They were all friendly, but we kept thinking they died half way through our meal.

One such visit, it took 14 minutes for our appetizer of cheese fries. I honestly don’t know why it would take so long for these to reach our table. Lets break down the ingredients to cheese fries

1). Fries
2). Cheese
3). Bacon

Now the bacon bits are precooked. The fries should take about three to five minutes to cook, and then the cheese and bacon should be placed on top of the fries, then thrown into a microwave or placed under a heat lamp so the cheese can melt. There was barely anyone at Village Host at the time and the serving size didn’t warrant such a long wait. It was also one of the smaller portions of cheese fries we’ve ever received.

So what did I like at Village Host? The atmosphere and the meatball sandwich. The Meatballs are cooked daily, and they tasted great! From anything on the menu, I’d recommend this over all. The bread was nice, the sauce was canned but that’s fine, but the meatballs were just perfect. Kudos!

As for the atmosphere, Village Host is perfect for a UK game. Some establishments claim that there are TVs for everyone, but at Village there truly is a TV for everyone, practically one TV for everyone four or five people. Large TVs, great drinks and a friendly (albeit somewhat flighty) staff make it a favorite of many a Lexingtonian.

So while I didn’t like the pizza – don’t listen to me. Go try it and judge for yourself! If you don’t like it, wash it down with a nice Woodford or – my favorite – Wild Turkey Honey. Lexington pizza isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go.

Overall – Lets say a C.

- John G

Village Host Pizza & Grill on Urbanspoon

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Bars, Restaurants

 

Old San Juan Cuban Cuisine


What is Cuban food?

Before I decided to try Old San Juan, I was like most Americans: indifferent to the differences between Latin American/Caribbean cuisines.

We all think we know what would consist of a dish from this region: rice, beans, with some pork or goat. Unfortunately, when we think like that we deny ourselves an opportunity to experience another culture, another way of life from our own that is both unique and yet similar to our own.

Personally, whenever I heard of someone eating Cuban food, I thought it was just rice, beans, maybe some chorizo and plantains. I gave it very little thought, like most things in my every day life. Perhaps they were eating a Cuban sandwich; a sandwich that I knew was on long, flat bread…and that’s all I knew. Probably some pork.

In fact growing up all I had heard about Cuba was that it was a place that Americans couldn’t go. I left it at that, and moved on.

Before I thought of reviewing Old San Juan for the blog, I never considered it as a viable dining option. Old San Juan, on Surfside Drive next to a laundromat with a broke front window, suffers from being one of those places that some wouldn’t frequent unless they were convinced by word of mouth from a close friend.

When I first walked into Old San Juan, I was a little skeptical; there was a TV showing a band playing and yet the TV itself was muted, few tables, and I was uncertain whether I was supposed to order at my table or at the counter. We decided to sit at the table and look at the menu, and that’s when a lady who worked there came over to take our order. The staff speaks very little English, however the international language of “pointing at the menu” sufficed.

First meal up was the ropa vieja, aka “Old Clothes”. Yes, it is Spanish for “Old Clothes”, and I have no idea where the name comes from. Actually, no one really does; the story goes that a man was so poor that to feed his family, he tried to boil some old clothes for a meal, and when he took the clothes out of the pot, out came some delicious food. Sounds…reasonable. The dish originates in the Canary Islands, so maybe you should ask them. Ropa vieja is shredded beef with onion, green peppers and garlic in a light tomato sauce (most Cuban food has a light sauce), and since it was the lunch portion it came with white rice, black beans, two slices of Cuban bread and two pieces of sweet, sweet plantains. Now remember, this is a lunch portion. There was enough food for three meals!

I take back everything. I’ve never said anything bad about Cuban cuisine, but I regret those days where I didn’t care about trying Cuban food. This…this was divine! It’s a bit pricy ($12) but you’re getting enough food for two or three people. Goes great with a Coke, which I’m sure is what the originators of this meal were going for.

The REAL star of this meal, however, was what I ordered as a side dish: the papas rellenas. These little puffy potato pockets are stuffed with spiced ground beef, and fried to golden perfection. Picture a knish stuffed with ground beef, and that’s exactly what this is. If you don’t know what a knish is, I don’t know what to tell you. If I wasn’t so full of old clothes, I would have ordered more of these. The best part about the papas rellenas – besides their price ($2 for two) – is that they’re portable, meaning you don’t have to sit down at a table to be able to enjoy them, as they’re actually street food in Cuba.

Another visit had me ordering a to-go item: a Cuban Sandwich. What I received was more of an ironing board than a sandwich, as this thing was long and heavy. This one sandwich fed me throughout the entire day, and I’m a pretty big man. A Cuban sandwich consists of pickles, chorizo, Swiss cheese, mustard, ham and pork on Cuban bread. The Cuban bread was extremely salty, which I’ve learned is the norm. I enjoyed the whole thing, although I would have preferred more meat in the sandwich.

But again, the side item was bigger and better than the meal itself. The real deal was the Mamey milkshake; Mamey being a type of sweet fruit that grows in Central America and kind of looks like a fuzzy orange. I ordered a medium shake for only $1.25, and I finished the entire thing during my five-minute drive to work. It wasn’t that small of a cup, but I just couldn’t stop drinking it. I know others have said “you have to try the milkshakes” but really…you have to try the milkshakes. I have had the Mamey, the Mango and the Pina Colada, but the Mamey is the one I’d follow into a burning building.

Of course it wouldn’t be a fair review if I didn’t go back for at least one more meal, and on my last meal I ordered a simple dish, the roast pork. Topped with onions and spiced with some pepper and garlic, it was decent. It was somewhat of a let down from the first two meals, but not enough to deter me from going back, which I have several times – for some more papas rellenas.

I went into Old San Juan with little appreciation and even less care towards a cuisine and culture I knew little to nothing about. I left there with a curiosity and zeal for learning more and more about what I was eating, and what influenced that cuisine. That’s what food does: it forces us to either sit back and rest on what’s comfortable, or to test ourselves and experience what the world has to offer. Before a few weeks ago, I had neither a need nor a want for Cuban food. Now it’s hard to imagine anything more delicious.

Overall: A

Old San Juan Cuban Cuisine on Urbanspoon

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2012 in Deli, Restaurants

 
 
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