Bluegrass music. Bourbon. Horse racing. Basketball. Appalachian mountains. These are just a few things forever associated with Kentucky.
When you’re talking about Lexington restaurants, you have plenty to choose from. However, you could argue that none has epitomized the goodness of KY cuisine quite like the Merrick Inn.
Tucked away in the cozy apartment/townhome community on 1074 Merrick Drive off of Tates Creek Road, Merrick Inn has been dedicated to giving Central Kentuckians their fill of quality food and signature Southern hospitality for the past 38 years. After almost four decades, this icon of Lexington’s culinary scene has gotten more than a few things right.
First, there’s the restaurant’s décor – a converted mansion where the tablecloths are white, the wood chairs reveal their age in their occasional creaks and the walls are adorned with race-day photographs and equine art. You can almost hear the lyrics to “My Old Kentucky Home” playing in your head on the way to your seat. The rooms are quiet and tables are close in proximity. Sure, you can hear most everyone’s conversations in some of these rooms, but you also get the sense you could chime in and not be intrusive.
The food at Merrick Inn makes an effort to keep the classics in tact but won’t be afraid to tamper with the formula in a dish or two. Appetizers feature Lexington favorites like fried banana peppers or you can try their fried calamari, which they inject with a Far East feel by tossing it with an Asian slaw and sesame ginger vinaigrette. I gave the fried green tomatoes a shot, which was a healthy serving of sizable slices topped with a delectable ham salad and some added sweetness from a peach glaze.
After a house salad (which, to my delight, featured crumbled egg), it was time for my entrée. There were plenty of flavors to choose from. I could have gone with the pecan crusted pork tenderloin, which our server highly recommended. The seafood offerings included walleye pike, salmon and sole with red meat coming in the form of a ribeye, New York Strip, London broil or lamb chops. Finally, I went with the restaurants very different takes on a common protein: The chicken breast.
First, there was the aptly named Southern Comfort, which featured the restaurant’s legendary crunchy fried chicken and country ham with red eye gravy and a spiced peach. Choosing some thick and creamy mashed potatoes to accompany this perfectly salted main course, along with the complimentary fresh-baked dinner rolls, made this the kind of meal that could result in the loosening of a belt notch and a nap when you get back to the homestead.
Then, there was the Almond Chicken, which the waiter said was one of the restaurant’s more adventurous takes on poultry. The presentation was wonderful, with breasts served coated in a delicately flaky but crunchy crust. But the butter sauce sealed the deal with a raspberry swirl and a hint of something I couldn’t put my palette on until the server told me it was Grand Marnier. It was a welcome curveball and proof that Merrick Inn isn’t just resting on its laurels.
Dessert features plenty of favorites, like bread pudding and pound cake with a more-is-better approach to butter and sugar. This was apparent when I ordered the day’s dessert special, a butterscotch pie that was incredibly rich with perfectly browned meringue. I couldn’t finish it off and asked the server to take it away only for him to bring the last bit back in a small box without me asking. It was just an individual example of Merrick Inn’s instinctual approach to its guests’ hospitality.
The Merrick Inn makes plenty of efforts to lure the people in and keep its current clientele happy. Its patio is a must-stop when the weather gets warm. Future offerings like bourbon and cigar tastings and staples like its luaus and fish fries keep things fun. But The Merrick Inn doesn’t need these little extras to keep its doors open. It’s Bluegrass State flair to food, comfort and service is always the main attraction.