With more than 40 years of experience in the food industry, Mark Fichtner knows a thing or two about running a restaurant. And that experience is evident in every detail of Carson’s Food & Drink.
The modern American restaurant and bar, located at 362 E. Main Street, has been incredibly well-received by downtown residents and out-of-towners alike. A native of Southern California, Fichtner has worked as a restaurant consultant and has designed around 20 different concepts and opened over 80 restaurants. His son, Carson, serves as their graphic designer and handles the restaurant’s visual marketing.
Fichtner developed the menu himself and emphasized the importance of creating an experience that was familiar and a bit adventurous, but not too intimidating. He describes their offerings as “recognizable food that takes you to a another level”. For example, you’ll find a BLT on the menu, but with the unexpected addition of soft shell crab. “We get our soft shell crab from Japan because the water is so cold and clean,” he said. The fish is breaded in a blend of panko and rice flour and comes with a side of their seasoned fries (made with a secret blend of 14 ingredients). All of their entrees come with a choice of sides (smoked gouda mac n’ cheese, béarnaise asparagus, jalapeno cilantro slaw, garlic mashed potatoes and more) for a customizable experience.
While Carson’s menu features plenty of Southern and American classics like chicken and waffles, steaks, burgers and benedicts, they also offer plenty of vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian items. A standout in that category is the Grilled Brie, served with a pear, apple and cranberry chutney and fresh blackberries, raspberries and candied pecans. It comes with a delicious white truffle baguette and black truffle zest butter. The Portobello Mushroom Stack, a completely vegan and gluten free entrée, is a healthy choice that somehow manages to be full of decadent flavor at the same time.
Fichtner hired Chef Larry Hunter, a Lexington native with decades of experience, to run the kitchen. Hunter makes everything from scratch and uses the freshest, best quality produce he can find. And the accolades have been rolling in—Carson’s won Best Entrée at Taste of the Bluegrass for their Shrimp and Grits, and their Banana Bread Pudding took home Best Dessert. They were also the recipients of several Open Table Awards, and last year, Carson’s was selected as Lexington’s Best New Restaurant in the Reader’s Choice Awards. “We are grateful,” said Fichtner.
"It’s a fun but difficult menu to do. We make sure the food is excellent and consistent.”
He added that another goal was for Carson’s to be a “come as you are” environment. Diners can show up in a suit or their favorite jeans and enjoy a great lunch, dinner or drink after work. The décor, showcasing hand-painted murals of local horse farms and reclaimed wood, evokes a feeling of old Kentucky mixed with the elegance and ambience of Ralph Lauren. Carson’s features an indoor full bar, along with a full patio with roll-up garage doors. Guests are welcome to sit by the fire during the cooler months and enjoy the breeze in spring, summer and fall. It’s the best of the Bluegrass, all under one roof. “We try to meet you where you are, and then take you where you want to go,” Fichtner said.
Q + A with Mark Fichtner
What is your favorite seasonal ingredient right now?
Pork Belly - haha! I love summer when all the vegetables are so abundant; veggies always seem to taste better in the summer!
What is your current favorite dish at Carson’s? Favorite drink? Our shrimp and grits and our banana bourbon bread pudding
with our Old Fashioned made with Woodford Rye.
What was the last thing you cooked at home?
Tomahawk steak with truffle butter and Caesar salad!
Favorite food from your childhood?
Home made ice cream and fresh pasta that my mom and dad made. It was the best!
On days off, what do you like to do?
I love to hang out with my dogs Johann and Willow, rescued them from Kentucky Save.
What would surprise people to learn about you?
I acted in Los Angeles when I was younger and was Danny Zouko in the musical Grease in a local theater group in California.
Food-wise, what is your guilty pleasure?
Bourbon and chocolate by a fire.
What is a quote you live by?
“It takes a lot of hard work to get this lucky”.