Hedge Your Bets
Home to a winning college basketball team and legendary thoroughbreds, Lexington, Kentucky, scores big in the sports world. But it’s more than hoops and horses. Fed by limestone-rich water, the fertile fields surrounding the city yield abundant crops and a majority of the world’s bourbon. It also boasts hoppin’ craft breweries, an array of dining options ranging from downhome to highbrow, and some seriously locavore chefs. It all combines to create a sure-bet culinary scene that’s giving its other appealing aspects a run for their money.
Lexington is more than just hoops and horses.
Start in recently revitalized NoLi (North Limestone), an edge-of-downtown neighborhood that’s transformed from abandoned properties to an arts hub. Fuel up for a day of exploring at Doodles, a former gas station now serving Lex-sourced breakfast staples like cornmeal-crisped pancakes drizzled with sorghum molasses. Get a glimpse of Lexington’s rural landscapes with a drive to lunch at Wallace Station, queen of Kentucky cuisine chef Ouita Michel’s homage to a New York deli. Here, in an old feed store outside tiny Midway, sandwich traditions like the hot brown benefit from her touch, and zesty pimento cheese is warmed to smother salty ham. Come snack time, head to the historic James E. Pepper Distillery District and grab a cold one—an ice cream cone or a Kentucky craft beer—at Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge.
It’s churning Kentucky dairy and other local ingredients into flavors like blackberry-buttermilk and offering “spiked scoops” splashed with bourbon. Dinner at Middle Fork, also in the Distillery District, is best shared. Order a combo of small plates (poached eggs swimming in tomato sauce), veggies (fried sweet potatoes dusted in barbecue dry rub), and meats (house-made sausages and fire-roasted chicken in sorghum), then pass them all around. Or snag a reservation at Lockbox in the 21c Museum Hotel. Sip on the bourbon-based, citrus-brightened Clearance, Clarence in the bar and ponder “Tomorrow’s Weather,” a fanciful sculpture whose glowing orbs change colors in correlation to the next day’s predictions. The forecast for the meal promises chef Jonathan Searle’s dishes spotlighting seasonal, local bounty, like spicy chicken-fried pork cheeks with sweet-pea yogurt.Finish with a nightcap at Elkhorn Tavern, the lounge and taproom for craft spirits creator Barrel House. Here, opt for the booze made onsite (try a cocktail mixed with its Oak Rum).
When in the horse capital of the world, a stop by Keeneland is a winning choice. Hooves pound the historic track each April and October, but its idyllic green grounds and facilities are open for tours year round. Sampling the region’s spirit is essential too: Visits to nearby Bourbon Trail stops like Woodford Reserve and Four Roses include behind-the-scenes looks and tastings.
Randomly placed penguins (here, they’re bluegrass blue) are statuesque symbols of the whimsy-meets- luxury style at 21c Museum Hotels. At Lexington’s location, in the heart of downtown, both the high-ceilinged, clean-lined guest rooms and public spaces (including a gallery with rotating exhibits) are packed with art and creative energy.