By Blake Hannon
Photos by Keni Parks
Personally, I think you’re going to have a hard time finding many foodies or even casual Central Kentucky diners opposed to the farm-to-table culinary trend. Restaurateurs support local farmers and obtain fresher products, while diners can rest assured that what’s on their plate didn’t have to travel that far to get there, it’s a situation where everybody wins.
Many of Lexington’s eating establishments have become Kentucky Proud in an effort to get the majority of their food from farms and suppliers in the state. Then, there’s Graze Market and Café, which gets the majority of their food from farms and suppliers…just down the road a bit.
Graze Market and Cafe came to fruition thanks to a chance meeting and a shared culture. Chef Craig Devilliers and owner Laurentia Torreabla were both born and raised in South Africa before making their way to the states. Devilliers isn’t a classically trained chef, but learned the tricks of the trade from his family and working in the kitchen before becoming executive chef at Bellini’s in downtown Lexington. Torreabla is owner of Colibri Farm, where she raises sheep in eastern Clark County. Torreabla recognized the South African origin of Devilliers last name and when the two met, they eventually settled on the idea to open Graze in the 130-year-old post office building of Douglas Owens, owner of Brookview Beef Farm.
Graze is aptly named, considering it’s surrounded by farm land on the line between Clark and Fayette County. The restaurant seats approximately 15 people (definitely make a reservation for dinner), with very modern clear plastic chairs tucked next to grainy wooden tables and a few stray pieces of art on the walls. You feel less like you walked into a restaurant and more like you stumbled into someone’s house.
You’ll find a refrigerator full of Colibri Farm’s lamb that you can purchase and take home with you and a small kitchen in the back right corner where you can see Devilliers and his sous chef preparing every dish. If you want to know what the restaurant serves, you’ll have to look up at the restaurant’s chalkboard, which has a small lunch and dinner menu that changes every day to take advantage of seasonal ingredients.
“The chalkboard menu is what we can get and it’s what the local people have,” Devilliers said. “The regulars I’ve spoken to like it because it’s something different all the time.”
Aside from a traditional paper menu, you’ll also notice something else missing from Graze. You won’t find a single deep fryer, heat lamp or microwave. Devilliers admits it is a challenge, but he likes the idea of diners being presented a dish that Devilliers and his cohorts just finished cooking.
As for the food itself, Devilliers says you can see the influence of his home country, which utilizes all sorts of ethnic cuisines. Graze offers dishes like beef, lamb, bison or elk burgers, salads, soups, pizzas, omelets and hashes at lunch at around $6 to $12 and entrees often include lamb chops, pork loin and other dishes based on available ingredients and themes like pasta night or seafood night ranging from $16 to $30.
Considering the restaurant is located on a cattle farm, it’s no surprise that beef is almost constantly on the menu. On this particular visit, the featured appetizer was bone marrow from a cattle bone, which had a rich, smoky flavor and gelatinous texture, served with crostinis. Their scallops and lo mein entrée was a standout, featuring a trio of sea scallops with a great sear, perfectly cooked noodles and a great combination of flavors between the sweet and saltiness of the noodles and the peppery spice of Korean-style pickled vegetables.
The strip steak they served that day had a simple and rustic presentation. Served on an iron skillet with a few seasoned potato wedges, it looks like something you could have found on a chuck wagon. But between the steak’s juicy tenderness and a fantastic pepper cream sauce, it’s probably one of the best cuts of meat you’ll find in Central Kentucky.
There’s more to this restaurant than just appetizers and entrees. Graze has a full selection of bottled and canned beers, wine and cocktails and a few desserts each day prepared by pastry chef Emily Novak. Not only will she make you something delectable like a Nutella cheesecake with layers of the popular hazelnut spread and dark chocolate on an Oreo crust, she’ll also probably be the one that brings it to your table since she’s one of the restaurant’s five servers.
Graze has a homey charm and a chef given unlimited daily creativity with some of the best meat, dairy and produce Central Kentucky has to offer. In a century’s old building in the middle of Kentucky farmland, Graze Market and Cafe really seems to have found something pure… and quite delicious.