We May Have Found a Bread Pudding Better than Keeneland's. Guess Where?
Updated: Sep 11, 2019
Walking into Carson’s Food and Drink, you will notice the warm tones of brick, wood and leather; you will see the sparkling oversized chandeliers; you will hear lively jazz sung by the old crooners Sinatra and Bennett; seated at the tables will be people drinking hand-crafted cocktails and Kentucky’s most-loved spirit, bourbon, as plates of delectable food are brought from the kitchen by servers in suspenders; and what you will feel is “home”. For the past two years, this inviting haven at the gateway of downtown has consistently provided an excellent dining experience, one that makes you want to return again and again.
Lexington’s restaurant scene is constantly changing. It seems that restaurants come and go so quickly here and for a variety of reasons: poor planning, staff turnovers, insufficient financial backing, location, etc. So when a place like Carson’s comes in and not only survives, but thrives, it is a testament to the person at the helm, and in this case it’s the founder of Carson’s, Mark Fitchner. Hailing from Southern California, Mark came to Lexington, like so many people, for the horse industry, bringing with him 40 years’ worth of restaurant experience. Dreaming of opening his own place, he did his due diligence for two years before settling on 362 Main Street, in the former Coach Craft space. The vision he had for his restaurant was one of rustic elegance, a place that people could come as they are for special life moments like birthdays and anniversaries, or even the mundane moments like Tuesday lunch with coworkers. Using design materials recycled from nearby horse farms, he brought his vision to life and decided to name it after his son Carson who now handles the graphic design and visual marketing for the restaurant.
The place has a lot of special touches that make it unique. There are hand-painted murals adorning the walls depicting the rolling green pastures of our horse farms, and the giant Buffalo Trace mural above the fireplace plays homage to one of our most beloved distilleries. The bar running the width of the place with its industrial pipes and Edison bulbs is packed with spirits from all over the world. The patio just beyond the rolled-up garage doors is the place to be and be seen, surrounded by beautiful planters brimming with flowers sitting atop bourbon barrels. The most special attribute is one you can’t see, however, as it is the family Bible that was buried at the corner of the building to recognize Mark’s dedication to making Carson’s a place where everyone feels welcome and blessed.
Moving from the exquisite atmosphere, let’s talk about my favorite thing…food. Having a menu that is both familiar and adventurous can be difficult, but Carson’s combines the two magnificently and is able to do so on a consistent basis. I’ve eaten there many times, and each time it has exceeded my expectations. Even so, I thought Leigh and I should go back in preparation for this blog and try some of our fav dishes again just to be sure. We started with some of their cocktails. In honor of Kentucky’s history, we had their best-selling Woodford Rye Old Fashioned. If you’re a lover of this drink, you will want to check out their Old Fashioned Happy Hour Monday through Friday from 3-6 pm. Bourbon not your thing? That’s okay, you can have a meal and a drink at the same time when you order one of their Bloody Mary’s. The best time to try those is during their brunch served every Saturday and Sunday from 10-2. If you’re more of a wine person, Carson’s has you covered. Feel free to ask their knowledgeable staff which would pair best with your meal; trust them, they know their stuff.
Moving on to appetizers, the grilled brie with bourbon pear chutney, candied pecans, and seasonal berries served with a warm baguette and truffle butter is to die for. And what Kentucky menu would exist without beer cheese? Carson’s elevates the typical beer cheese platter by pairing it with soft braided pretzels and spicy house mustard. If you’re wanting a lighter dish, get the ahi poke lettuce wraps. The ahi tuna sashimi is the freshest around. If you’re craving some meat, the sweet and spicy ribs will be your go-to item. And ladies, don’t be scared from ordering these. They’re so tender, you can pick the meat off with your fork and avoid getting your hands all messy. But then again, licking the sauce off your fingers is one of the best parts of eating ribs, so dive right in. Another good option to start your meal is with one of their homemade soups. I often come in for lunch and just sit at the bar, have a delicious bowl of their tomato basil soup with a big chunk of bread on the side. It’s much better than any drive-through!
There are so many wonderful entrée options that it would take me into next week to highlight them all. Three of my favorites are the grilled salmon served Oscar style, the Bernaise burger, and their shrimp and grits, but they have eight steak dishes, pasta, as well as seafood, all locally sourced when possible and shipped in frequently to provide you with the freshest taste. For those with food sensitivities they have gluten-free and vegan entrees. Truly, there is something on their menu for everyone!
Please be careful, however, that you do not overindulge on these delicious dishes and make the big mistake of passing on dessert. This is not the place to pass on dessert. I’ve said for years that Keeneland had the best bread pudding, but after having the banana bourbon bread pudding at Carson’s, I’m not going to be able to say that anymore. The sautéed bananas and caramel that rests atop their perfectly baked bread pudding is what edges them into first place. Even if you don’t like bread pudding, I ask you to at least try it; I firmly believe it could win over any palate. They also serve the classic Kern’s Kitchen Derby Pie, a triple layer chocolate cake, seasonal cheesecake and ice cream martinis. See what I mean? How can you say no to that line-up? You may leave with tighter pants, but you will also leave extremely happy and satisfied.
At the beginning of the piece I said that the feeling you have at Carson’s is one of being “home”, and this is the best way to describe it. The place evokes an ambience that makes you want to come in and linger, share some stories, meet new people or catch up with old friends, kind of like that old bar in Boston depicted on TV that also started with the letter “C”, where everybody knows your name, but this one has much better food.