Lexington, Ky., is known as the “Horse Capital of the World.” With rolling hills, celebrated horse farms, Keeneland Racecourse (home of horse racing’s 2015 Breeders’ Cup this October) and the Kentucky Horse Park, you can understand why visitors are drawn to its lush rolling hills. 

Foodies are now discovering this central Kentucky gem for its unique array of independent restaurants and markets, locally sourced foods and opportunities for tasting locally made brews and bourbons.

Take a Tour

Laura Mize, owner of Bleu Plate Tours, realized the culinary riches of Lexington and aims to provide a balanced sampling of the city’s most well-known restaurants and the food that made them famous. Starting with innovative spins on regional comfort fare and giving way to late night bites of local watering holes, the tours focus on sampling foods that represent culinary trends as well as discover hidden gems. This results in a walking food tasting tour that incorporates history, culture and a memorable taste of the Bluegrass.

Bleu Plate Tours serves up several food tours including the Jefferson Street Tour. This tour takes you through the recently revitalized area to explore several new popular restaurants. While the itinerary is a tad secret until you sign up, you will not leave disappointed (or hungry) with stops at an eclectic casual food restaurant, a wine and tapas bar, a walk-up fish-and-chips shop, and a European shop featuring meats and cheeses. In addition to the places to have a nibble, you’ll tour a local craft brewery, visit a sustainable tilapia farm with greenhouse and learn about the historic buildings transformed into thriving businesses.

Reservations in advance only. 

Exploring on Your Own

Windy Corner Market and Restaurant is a great place to dine, but it is also a grocery store highlighting local foods. It aims to honor local farmers and offer innovative menu items and a diverse range of products for purchase. The restaurant features several specialty Po’ Boy sandwiches on locally made brioche, baked goods and dinner items from locally made pasta to catfish. The Kentucky Boy includes slow-cooked, smoked pork in bourbon barbecue sauce and the Fried Oyster Po’ Boy features oysters fried in locally milled Weisenberger cornmeal with remoulade sauce. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Using Kentucky ingredients in their recipes adds a regional flair and Kentucky produced products are available for purchase. Among the items you’ll find on the shelf are Sheltowee Farm Mushrooms, Hosey Honey, Kentucky Ale and Browning’s Country Ham.

Owner and Executive Chef Ouita Michel was asked if the community has become more engaged with the concept of eating local. “Absolutely. Our whole concept at each location is to reflect back to our guests the community they live in or are visiting, so we emphasize local agriculture, meats, vegetables and staples such as honey, four and sorghum.” 

Michel says, “We want our menus to say Kentucky in both an old-fashioned and a new generation way. We have received tremendous support in this mission.”

As for tourists making their way to Michel’s eateries? Business partner Roger Solt reports seeing license plates from every state except Hawaii in their lots.

Michel also owns these other local eateries: Smithtown Seafood, Wallace Station Deli and Bakery and the Holly Hill Inn (Woodford County).

Hands-on Fun

Boone Creek Creamery is one of a handful of urban cheese makers in the county. Cheese Master Ed Puterbaugh makes a variety of artisan cheeses using traditional methods and the results yielded include flavors such as Sassy Redhead (spicy English cheddar with peppercorns and red pepper flakes) and Kentucky Derby (a bourbon-infused cheddar with a sweet oakey flavor). Check in advance for the next cheese-making class, stop by to shop or join the cheese-of-the-month club. 

Wild Thyme Cooking School and Phil Dunn’s Kitchen offer up the chance to learn recipes that will make you the top “foodie” in your kitchen. Dunn was chosen as the chef to England’s Queen Elizabeth II when she first visited Lexington and you’ll learn tips and techniques for crafting your own meals. Wild Thyme offers classes for all cooking levels with themes, including “Cooking with Kentucky Bourbon.” 

Thirsty for More?

Microbreweries and distilleries have become popular in many areas and that holds true in Lexington as well. Kentucky is Bourbon Country after all!

Country Boy Brewing and Tap Room near Rupp Arena opened in 2012 and has been a leader in the locally sourced movement by using local fruits, vegetables and hops in its brews. With unique samplings such as Jalapeño Smoked Porter and Cliff Jumper IPA, you’ll want to try a flight where you can choose from 12 of their own brews.

Want to try more? Follow the Brewgrass Trail and check out more craft beers.

Barrel House Distilling is small batch distillery and part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. They use quality, locally sourced corn, wheat milled at Weisenberger Mills in nearby Midway and mountain spring water from King Springs in Rockcastle County to produce its RockCastle Bourbon, a small batch straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey 10 years in the making. 

From microbrews to cooking schools, and, yes, even grits are still cool—pack your tummy and head to Lexington soon!