Combining a serene environment with top quality food, a well-curated wine list & inventive cocktails
Located in the Lexington Green shopping center, the ambiance in Palmers Fresh Grill strikes a balance between upscale and warm and welcoming. Of course there are the more observable characteristics—the lakeside patio, the well-designed interior featuring private high backed booths, finished in plush white leather, matching sheer drapery that catches the soft glow of rustic chandeliers overhead. Not to mention, locally inspired touches such as modern equestrian photography. But as General Manager Scott Hawkins can attest to, there is something about Palmers that you can’t find anywhere else in Lexington.
“Palmers was created to be an environment as well as a restaurant,” Scott explained. “We are known for our seafood, but that’s only about fifty percent of our menu, with the rest being hand cut steaks, chops, and pasta dishes.” As General Manager, Scott oversees both the front and back of the house. Palmers’ Culinary Manager, Oscar Santillan, spent the better part of a decade cooking in an upscale seafood restaurant.
Rather than emphasizing a certain type of cuisine, Palmers’ focus is on the freshest ingredients they can find, prepared for maximum flavor, using techniques like pan searing, slow roasting, and wood fire grilling. Everything on the menu is made from scratch, with many locally sourced ingredients. For example, gnocchi from Lexington Pasta is paired with basil pesto cream, sundried tomato, and shaved parmesan cheese; diners can choose from jerk chicken, sautéed shrimp or scallops to complete the dish. All draft beers are locally sourced as well.
The Ahi Tuna Sashimi is a hearty appetizer comprised of thinly sliced sushi grade tuna, barely seared to give it the sashimi style look and flavor. It’s served over a bed of coarse, crunchy Napa cabbage. In the center is an Asian style garnish of cold, crisp green onion and shredded carrots. The sauce is an Asian-inspired glaze made from Thai chilies, garlic, cilantro, a dash of oyster sauce and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. As a creative touch, the tuna is flanked by wasabi cream accented with heart-shaped dollops of sriracha sauce. “It’s rich and sweet with a tiny kick,” said Scott. This appetizer is a bestseller. It serves two to three people, and it’s light, with a lot color, flavor, and nice presentation.”
Another popular item, the Pan Seared Diver Scallops, are seasoned with salt and pepper and served on a bed of Israeli couscous, mixed with chunks of prosciutto and leeks to give a bit of crunchiness and color. Grilled asparagus is served on the side with a lemon thyme beurre blanc sauce. The sauce is very rich and brings out the natural flavor of the scallops. Scott explained, “We use U10 Count dry packed scallops that are handpicked by divers. They’re the best scallops to use for this dish because of their large size – about 2 ounces apiece. They’re pan seared on one side over very high heat and placed in the oven briefly. This makes them swell a bit and become much juicer and more flavorful, and they don’t tend to fall apart as they might with other cooking methods.” He recommends pairing this dish with a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, such as Kim Crawford, but personally prefers a California variety or a Chardonnay for a richer flavor.
Palmers Angry Mussels is a Thai inspired take on a classic dish. A great mussels entrée is a must in any seafood-based establishment, but rather than the traditional garlic butter or white wine and tomato sauce, Palmers takes a pound of Prince Edward Island mussels and pan sears them at a extremely hot temperature with their signature bourbon smoked salt & pepper mix and a little garlic, shallot and ginger. The mussels are then steamed for about a minute until they open. They are served with a complex sauce made from lemongrass, Kaffir lime, coconut, cream, red curry and ginger, and topped with toasted sesame seeds and fresh parsley. Wood fire toasted French baguette slices are served on the side. Scott recommends pairing the dish with a glass of Prosecco bubbly.
A customer favorite that doesn’t fall into the seafood category is the Steakhouse Meatloaf. Made from a savory mixture of 80/20 chuck, ground ribeye and tenderloin, the meatloaf slices are wood fire grilled, giving them the look of a sirloin. Onions, peppers, and rich brandy cream sauce accompany the thick slices. On the side is a colorful grouping of zucchini and yellow squash steamed with roasted red peppers and blackened seasoning. The meatloaf slices sit atop a bed of hand whipped potatoes, and topped with Tabasco infused onion rings. “This is one of our most popular menu items –you get savory, sweet, smoky and spicy in one dish.”
Palmers features a variety of classic cocktails, and over thirty wines by the glass, but each is carefully chosen with a little bit of atwist. “We like to keep drinks clean, elegant, and sleek, while staying true to the nature of the original cocktail. If you order anything on the rocks here, you’ll get that single Voss still water ice cube. It keeps the sprit pure and melts slowly, keeping it cold for as long as it takes to enjoy it.”
Like their food, drink ingredients and selections are handpicked at the peak of the season. “We are currently featuring Southern Belle, a Spanish wine aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels.”
With the sumptuous décor and ambient lighting, Palmers certainly has a “date night” vibe; the outdoor patio makes it a popular everyday restaurant as well, with a variety of specials offered during the week, such as their social hour menu of small plates, half price wine bottles every Tuesday, and several local beer specials. “We get a lot of diners who stay for two and three hours and just enjoy the atmosphere. It feels secluded, but it’s right in town.” And with Comedy Off Broadway and the Hilton Suites in adjoining buildings, Lexington Green is an ideal local getaway.
Like any good manager, Scott attributes Palmers’ success to the environment of creativity and teamwork he shares with his employees. “You really can’t hand the praise to one person. This concept has been developed by multiple people. We are constantly testing, tasting, and trying new things. Research and development is what this business is all about.”
Unlike many dining establishments, the employees at Palmers enjoy a sense of ownership because they know their ideas are valued. “There’s a saying in this business. When you ask how someone is doing, they say, ‘just chasing the dream’. But it’s true. We are making decisions and creating on a daily basis. Not only do I get to create, but my employees know that they work in an environment where they can bring ideas to the table. If they have a great idea, we’ll put it on the menu. We are building something special together.”
Q&A With Palmers General Manager Scott Hawkins
Where are you from?
Henderson, Kentucky. I moved to Lexington to study marketing at the University of Kentucky.
How did you become interested in food?
I come from a large family, and we’d often have 40-75 people at my grandmother’s house for potluck dinners every Saturday night. I have always been around food.
How did your restaurant career evolve?
I started as a server and worked my way up to cooking, bartending and eventually managing at a large corporate chain. Eventually, I realized that I wanted a job that allowed me to implement my ideas and be more creative. And my position at Palmers has allowed me to do that.
When you’re not working, where can we find you?
When I’m not at Palmers, I’m a family guy at home. I love spending time with my wife and 2-year old son; we’ll weekend getaway to Nashville, Chicago, or the Smoky Mountains.
How do you cope with the long hours?
They can be tough, but only if you make them tough. If you surround yourself with people who you truly enjoy working with, and an environment you enjoy working in, the hours don’t even register. There may be days where I work from 7am to 11pm, but when I leave and I feel proud of what I’ve done and what my staff has done, those long hours are just time.
What ingredients do you love right now?
I thoroughly enjoy cooking with certain herbs and spirits. My current favorite is marjoram. It’s a combination of lemon zest and fresh flowers. I also enjoy Angel’s Envy Rye. Rye is earthier, and the caramel is not as apparent as in bourbon. But Angel’s Envy is finished in Caribbean rum casks. It’s fantastic.
What are some of your favorite local spots?
We live on the South end of town, and one place that is always in our rotation is The Pub. They serve my favorite beer, The Queen’s Velvet. I also really like Distilled, and Nick Ryan’s. I think Coba is really exciting, especially with Jonathan Lundy as chef. I also enjoy Chatham’s; I feel they’re pushing the envelope of Southern Dining.
While Palmers is known for fine seafood and meat dishes, an exceptional meal wouldn’t be complete without the right beverage. Scott explained the method behind one of Palmers’ signature drinks – their take on the classic Old Fashioned. The drink starts with Voss still water, which comes from Norway and is distilled multiple times for ultimate purity. This premium water is used to create oversized 2x2 “rock” ice cubes. A true “old school” Old Fashioned is generally made with whiskey, bitters, sugar and orange zest. Palmers’ version has Maker’s Mark infused with raw vanilla beans. The whiskey is poured over the rock ice with about three dashes of Regan’s orange bitters and a little simple syrup.
The final step takes the drink to the next level: Taking a shaved orange peel, the bartender squeezes the oils from the peel while using a flame over the top of the glass. The oils ignite and burst into a small flame, infusing the cocktail with rich orange scent. “When you pick up the glass, you get that citrusy scent with a little vanilla note. Some people say it reminds them of a Dreamsicle. It takes aromatics to a whole other level,” said Scott.
PALMERS OLD FASHIONED
Infuse 1 liter of Makers Mark with 5 split vanilla beans for 3 days
2oz Vanilla Maker’s Mark with ¼ oz Simple Syrup
3 dashes Regan’s orange bitters
Pour ingredients over VOSS cube into small impression glass and stir. Flame kiss glass with orange peel and drop in into glass.
859.273.0103 | palmersfreshgrill.com | The Mall at Lexington Green
Monday-Thursday 11am-9pm | Friday & Saturday 11am-11pm | Sunday 11AM-pm