Restaurants come and go in Lexington and pretty much any city. However, some establishments that close shop leave behind a loyal clientele and a sense of longing from people who fondly recall the experience the place offered.
This is how a lot of people think of the Jefferson Davis Inn (JDI for short), whose original location on West High and Limestone was a popular watering hole and live music venue before it closed in 1996. Nearly two decades later, it has been reborn as the JDI Grille and Tavern on S. Broadway and Cedar Street, and it seems intent on paying homage to the original while leaving a big and lasting impression all its own.
The JDI’s latest incarnation was opened by Jason Morgan, along with his twin brother, Jeff, and their mother, Karen. Since opening nine months ago, the restaurant and bar’s new location had a reception similar to when an old friend moves back home.
The JDI is an admirable establishment on its size alone. The three-story structure has beautiful brickwork on the outside and enough rich floor-to-ceiling woodwork that you can smell it when you walk in the door. The first floor includes big screen TVs and outside seating and the third floor is designed for private dinners and events. The in-between floor is where you’ll find the bourbon bar called Bar 24, a name based on the numbered bin at the Wild Turkey Distillery that JDI refashioned into a wood mantle that hangs above a cozy fireplace (not to mention it’s where you can try the restaurant’s 70-plus bourbons, including a $150 shot of Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year).
But according to Jason Morgan, it was equally important for JDI to be a place people would want to frequent to tip a few back or just grab a fork and dig in.
“What we wanted to do was have a bar that honored the JDI and had the same feel but was also a restaurant that worked with downtown Lexington,” Morgan said.
The JDI has honed in on a menu that works. It features a mix of gastropub-style food, a few Southern comfort staples and some more upscale dishes you don’t find on your typical casual dining menu. One of the standouts on the appetizer menu are their quesadillas filled with slow-roasted pulled pork made in-house. These thick pockets of tasty pork and cheese are good by themselves and even better with the homemade guacamole kicked up with jalapenos.
One thing you’ll notice at JDI is you won’t be complaining about your portions. They have a black and bleu steak salad so large you could swim in it, and you very well might with its mixed greens, tomatoes, bacon and two kinds of cheeses (parmesan and bleu cheese) tossed with Caesar dressing and topped with some perfectly cooked filet. Speaking of meat, they serve plenty of that, whether it’s inch-thick bone-in pork chops, beer-battered chicken and fish, a JDI burger with two 1/3 pound patties or their 12 oz. Black Angus strip steak with perfect accompaniments like creamy smashed potatoes and seared asparagus.
Even though JDI never set out to be a place to get great pasta, they certainly have that, too, including the roasted vegetable pasta with oven roasted yellow squash, zucchini, red onions and bell peppers tossed in olive oil, garlic and white wine (this protein lover liked it even better with the addition of some spicy grilled shrimp).
When it comes to dessert, this JDI certainly takes some creative liberties. If you like funnel cake (and, seriously, who doesn’t?) try the funnel cake fries dusted with cinnamon sugar and a cream cheese icing. Since a lot of people basically eat dessert for breakfast (donuts, pastries, etc.), JDI decided to put breakfast on the dessert menu with its banana foster waffle. This soft and sizable waffle can feed at least two, but with its flambéed and sliced bananas topped with banana liqueur sauce and two scoops of vanilla ice cream, you might not want to share.
With the menu, Morgan said he doesn’t see it changing much. He’s got some winners on here, and he would rather focus on sticking with what works and giving people the same quality with every visit.
“We do what we do and we do it the same way people like it because it’s good,” he said.
The JDI Grille and Tavern certainly has some good things going for it on the inside, behind the bar and back in the kitchen. What’s old is new – and now, even better -- again.