Dudley’s on Short has been a Lexington icon since it first opened its doors in 1981 at its original Dudley’s Square location. Walking through the doors of the gorgeous two-story restaurant and former Northern Bank Building, Dudley’s home since March 2010, you feel immediately welcomed. It’s precisely what you’d imagine a quintessential southern restaurant might look like inside. With horse racing photos and paintings adorning the classic, dark red walls and fresh florals throughout, the atmosphere is cozy without feeling crowded even though the restaurant can serve nearly 300.
Being named one of the “South’s Best Restaurants” several years in a row (including 2019) by Southern Living Magazine is a huge accomplishment for any restaurant. However, this doesn’t mean owner Deborah Long is sitting back and admiring the many accolades she’s acquired. Her Executive Chef, Mark Richarson agrees. “We don’t like to rest on our laurels; we want to be the leaders in the Kentucky and Southern culinary scene. I am always striving to be better than the day before and am never satisfied. I always want to look at how I can make a dish better. There aren’t a lot of other professions where every day you’re critiqued by hundreds of people. I have to be at the top of my game. I strive for perfection, knowing that I can improve each day and that is what I enjoy,” says Richardson.
What most might con- sider a late start to the restaurant world, Pikeville native, Richardson, didn’t even start cooking until the age of 24. He originally moved to Lexington to attend the University of Kentucky. Just before graduation from UK he decided to attend the Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts instead, where he found his passion and graduated at the top of his class. After gradu- ation, Richardson worked in restaurants in Arizona, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, New York City and Paris, France before accepting the position of executive chef at Dudley’s in October of 2015. “I’ve been very fortunate to have traveled the world and worked in great places with great chefs before moving back to Kentucky to raise my family. Lexington is such a great up-and- coming food town and I am excited to be part of the group that puts Lexington on the map” says Richardson.
Richardson’s award-winning cuisine is best described as a cre- ative American approach with local and southern influences. “We try to keep it regional and local and simply make good food. We’re not a steakhouse but we do really good steaks. We’re not a seafood restaurant and we do really good seafood,” states Richardson. He makes it his mission to get his hands on the best product he can find and use cooking techniques that let each ingredient shine. “We don’t want to muddle the dish up. We take a fun and creative twist but focus on simply highlighting ingredients which can sometimes be harder. Our passion for what we do really shines through.”
An example of Richardson’s passion and style shows in the Halibut with Local Summer Squash, Brown Butter Crumb, Fennel, Tomato & Oil Emulsion. The dish begins with local heirloom tomatoes cooked with onions and garlic and then emulsified with olive oil which is reminiscent of a rich tomato bisque when it’s finished. The hali- but is seasoned and seared to perfection and the baby squash and zucchini are sautéed, letting their delicious flavors come through.
Another favorite on the menu is the octopus. This dish is a combination of grilled octopus with young potato and pole bean salad served with frisée and local herb salsa verde. “It’s simple yet everything works together so well. It’s one of those dishes that is so stupidly simple but so good. Fresh shaved fennel over the top adds a nice crunch,” notes Richardson.
If you’re looking for something a little more southern-inspired, the Fried Smoked Quail may be up your alley. Marinated in buttermilk and then fried and served up with house-fermented coleslaw, spicy aioli and confit liver gravy for a fun twist on classic fried chicken. “You won’t find anything like it anywhere else,” comments Richardson.
The Wilted Brussels Sprout Salad, Pasta Dudley and Steak Frites are considered classic staples and are not to be missed. All three have been on the menu since the beginning and are favorites of locals as well as newcomers alike.
No matter what draws you through the doors, the crew at Dudley’s strives to make the restaurant accessible to everyone. “We have great energy. We have a bar menu with everything from chicken wings created by our kitchen crew to wagyu beef hot- dogs with spicy sauerkraut aioli as well as a rooftop Sunday sup- per with three courses for $30. It’s a great way to try new dishes. We want to create the experience here where our guests relax and enjoy themselves so much they can’t wait to come back. So come visit us and then, come back,” laughs Richardson.