Horse Capital of the World
Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography courtesy of Brett Hait,
Niki Goldey, Josh Johnson, Kevin Leighton and VisitLEX; Mark Cornelison, University of Kentucky; Honeywood; and Kari Hopkins, Restaurant Manager of Lockbox at 21c Museum Hotel.
On a recent beautiful sunny day a friend and I drove from Jackson to the lovely city of Lexington, Kentucky (pop: 321,000). I had not visited Lexington in several years. What a vibrant city! (Our drive of 340 miles took about 5 1/2 hours or so via I-40 E and I-65 N.)
Horse lovers agree: this is the place. Whether you are an experienced equestrian, a racing fan or just appreciate the beauty of horses, prepare to be thrilled at the stunning landscape they inhabit in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky. If your schedule permits, be sure to take a country drive and explore the Horse Country back roads. Head out in any direction from the center of town, and soon you’ll be surrounded by the rolling bluegrass pastureland that you’ve heard so much about. Neatly mowed fields trimmed with black or white fences stretch to the horizon. Pick up a “Bluegrass Country Driving Tour” at the Visitors Center downtown.
I arrived in downtown Lexington mid-afternoon just in time for the last tour of the day at the new James E. Pepper Distillery located in the popular Distillery District downtown. This historic distillery offers guided tours that tell the lost story of an iconic American brand and include a tasting of their award-winning whiskey. The Pepper family brand is an iconic Kentucky bourbon produced from the American Revolution through 1958. Out of production for decades, it was re-launched in 2017 at the site of the original Lexington distillery of 1879. What a story and it is a really interesting tour that concludes with whiskey and chocolate! www.JamesEPepper.com
After this tour I stopped by Ethereal Brewing next door to James E. Pepper. Ethereal has set its sights on perfecting Belgian farmhouse and American craft beers. With a philosophy of “making the best possible beer we can, sparing no expense on ingredients of our process,” you may expect both traditional craft staples and ambitious out-of-the-norm brews exploring the “funkier side of farmhouse brewing.” It is the only brewery in town with a dedicated yeast lab. www.etherealbrew.com. Note: Inquire at the Lexington Visitors Center about A Brewgrass Trail passport in Lexington, KY.
Nearby I spied a Crank & Boom Craft Ice Cream shop located at 1210 Manchester Street in the downtown Distillery District. I ordered a scoop of yummy Bourbon Ball ice cream. This creative ice cream shop even offers ice cream cocktails!
After a long day of traveling and touring, I was ready to check into my hotel — 21c
Museum Hotel in downtown Lexington. More than a hotel, 21c Lexington welcomes both visitors and locals to experience rotating exhibitions, participate in programming and enjoy culinary offerings in the Lockbox. The hotel features contemporary art exhibition spaces that are open free of charge to the public. Guest rooms also feature unique art.
A former 1920s bank, the 88-room boutique hotel is very contemporary and sleek. My corner guest room, which overlooked downtown, was spacious and attractively appointed.
At 7:00 p.m. a friend and I enjoyed an excellent, creative dinner at Lockbox in the hotel. I love the convenience of dining in my hotel after a long road trip. Lockbox offers fresh farm to table options from acclaimed chef, Jonathan Searle, and an accommodating staff. While you’re there, notice “Tomorrow’s Weather,” a multimedia work of art that hangs from the ceiling.
After a light cocktail creatively named Temper Tantrum, my dinner partner and I shared an excellent appetizer of warm ricotta and summer squash, slow roasted tomato, basil and grilled bread. My entrée consisted of scallops, creamed corn, country ham, crispy okra and mint. For dessert we shared a Berry Peach Cobbler with creamy corn black raspberry ice cream served in a cast iron skillet. Note: See recipe for Clearance, Clarence beverage in this article. (Of course, it contains bourbon!) www.lockboxlex.com
The following day I was up early as I had a full itinerary. A few blocks from the 21 c Museum Hotel is Doodles. “Comfort food with a conscience” is its slogan. This remodeled gas station has become a trendy spot for breakfast and lunch, specializing in local and organic ingredients when possible. Get breakfast a la carte, including fresh buttermilk biscuits and beignets or try any of their signature items from the “dirty” shrimp and grits to the often limited-quantity strata casserole. Address: 262 North Limestone Street. www.doodleslex.com/
Personal Note: What a super idea to convert an old gas station into a restaurant! In downtown Jackson we just lost to the wrecking ball a perfect building for a Doodles at the corner of Highland and Deaderick. Hopefully, the roundabout will make up for this loss!
Next came a quick tour of the 345-acre University of Kentucky Campus and Stadium. Over 30,000 students were busy moving into their dorm rooms and walking or biking to classes. I drove by Kroger Field Stadium, which is huge. Note: See some tailgate recipes from UK in The Art of Living article in this issue.
Guy Ramsey, Director of Strategic Communications for UK Athletics had this to say: “From UK’s first All-American, Clyde Johnson, to its most recent, Jon Toh; from Professor A.M. Miller to Coach Mark Stops; from old Stoll Field to Commonwealth Stadium to Kroger Field; and from the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association to the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky football holds a unique and storied tradition that began in 1881. That tradition is supported by a fan base known far and wide for its passion and loyalty. The Big Blue Nation loves its “Caturdays,” turning the area surrounding Kroger Field into an all-day celebration of Kentucky football. Kentucky fans are friendly and welcoming to visitors, at least until their Wildcats step between the lines.”
Make time to tour Mill Ridge Farm near iconic Keeneland Racetrack, and experience a farm renowned for raising and selling first class Thoroughbreds. Owner Alice Headley Chandler’s father, Hal Price Headley, was the main force in the founding of Keeneland, and the first President of what is considered one of the greatest racetracks in the world! It was said of him that “every brick and stone at Keeneland has a drop of Hal Price Headley’s blood on it” After his death in a Keeneland barn in 1962, Alice inherited the land that would become Mill Ridge Farm. Just six years later she became the first woman to breed an Epsom Derby winner in SIR IVOR, and since 2000, Mill Ridge has raised and/or sold 34 Grade 1 winners including 7 Breeders’ Cup winners, 5 Horse of the Year Titleholders, 1 Kentucky Derby winner, 1 Santa Anita Derby winner, and 1 Bluegrass Stakes winner. Visitors are encouraged to see the land that inspired the heart of the Headley family in the late 1800s.
Named for its location atop the highest point of Bowman Mill Road, your Mill Ridge tour begins in the Breeding Shed where you will gain an understanding of why this land is so uniquely suited for the Thoroughbred and participate in the storytelling of the Headley family involvement in the industry. Contact Horse Country, Inc. Address: 2800 Bowman Mill Rd, Lexington, KY 40513.
Horse Country is a new organization that is helping farms open to the public for tours. If interested in booking farm visits contact Horse Country, Inc. Email: email@example.com. Website: visithorsecountry.com
“Our members cover the entire journey of the superstar athletes of horse country; stud farms, nurseries, clinics, even a feed mill—from foaling barn to finish line, you can see it all.”—Anne Hardy, Executive Director, Horse Country, Inc.
My last stop on this busy itinerary was lunch at Honeywood, joining acclaimed chef/owner Ouita Michel’s family of local restaurants. Honeywood is dedicated to using as much locally-grown meat and produce as possible in its menu items. This attractive restaurant offers an extensive menu featuring everything from sweet potato beignets, which I sampled, to a duck-fat basted New York Strip.
I ordered a light cocktail called Pamplemousse consisting of gin, grapefruit, St. Germain (love it!), lemon, mint and soda. Then I had a Fried Green Tomato BLT served with herb-salted fries. My lunch partner ordered an entree called Florida Fishing Cottage featuring wild-caught grouper over a Southern casserole of creamy sliced potatoes, tomatoes, red pepper, onion and spinach, topped with lemon butter sauce. Chef Josh presents daily specials and offers a special brunch menu on Sundays. Sixties music played softly in the background.
Honeywood is located at 110 Summit at Fritz Farm, Suite 140. The Summit at Fritz Farm is located at the corner of Nicholasville Road and Man-O-War Boulevard. It is a one-of-a-kind finely curated mixed-used destination that blends retail, office space, a boutique hotel and a residential component. Honeywood is a first-class destination for visitors looking for a unique shopping and dining experience. Website: honeywoodrestaurant.com Phone: (859) 469-8234. Tip: Pick up a Visitors Guide (with a Calendar of Events) and a Dining Guide entitled “Beyond Grits” at the downtown Visitors Center.
There is so much see and do in the vibrant city of Lexington, Kentucky. Years ago I toured Ashland, the Henry Clay 17-acre estate and I wish my schedule would have permitted me to re-visit it. Clay was an important statesman in early 19th-century American politics. Take time to visit his estate at 120 Sycamore Road. Tours are offered on the hour Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm and the estate is open on Sundays April through November from 1-4 pm. Admission charge. No charge to visit the formal English parterre-style garden, a favorite spot for local artists, or walk the lovely wooded grounds. (859) 266-8581. www.henryclay.org
Another lovely historic attraction is the Lexington Cemetery, which I discovered by accident on the trip. Since 1849, over 60,000 people have been buried in this beautifully landscaped park-like cemetery west of the downtown business district. It is nationally known as an arboretum and garden. Most visible is the 140-foot tall Henry Clay monument.
All too soon it was time to head home. I could keep you busy for days in Lexington. I encourage you to stay long enough to explore horse country in the Bluegrass Region!
What to Know
VisitLEX (also the Lexington Visitors Center)
215 West Main St., Lexington, KY 40507
The Visitors Center is open 7 days a week.
(800) 845-3959 or (859) 233-7299