Dining: The Rackhouse Tavern

Story by Kate Horning | Photos by Keni Parks

 

The Campbell House restaurant features
bourbon-infused cuisine along with over 300 bourbons and local brews on tap.

With the celebration of their 70th anniversary just around the corner, the Campbell House has recently wrapped up a multi-million dollar renovation and a new look, which includes an innovative restaurant concept, The Rackhouse Tavern. As you walk through the doors of the historic hotel and into the Rackhouse Tavern, you’re greeted by equestrian-themed modern decor blended with Southern elegance and a touch of rustic charm. Inspired by the Bourbon Trail, the menu can be described as a bourbon-infused smokehouse with a twist on classic dishes such as Kentucky Burgoo, Lexington Hot Brown, Pulled Pork Nachos and House-Smoked Chicken Wings. “We’ve worked really hard to bring in the history of the Campbell House and put our arms around the flavors of Kentucky, specifically Lexington,” shares general manager, Rich Johnston. With a variety of seating options from oversized leather couches to high top tables, a wrap-around bar and community dining table, The Rackhouse Tavern really has something to offer every guest. “We really wanted to create something upscale and casual, so you feel comfortable whether you’re in jeans or a suit,” says Johnston. “Like friends popping over for a bourbon and a tasty meal.”

As an official sponsor of the Bourbon Trail, it’s no surprise that they’re pouring over 306 different bourbons, including their own barrel selections of Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek and Elijah Craig, as well as an impressive array of bourbon cocktails including a customer favorite, The Rackhouse Manhattan. A classic combination of Kentucky’s own Knob Creek Rye, sweet vermouth, barrel-aged and orange bitters and garnished with a Luxardo cherry. “It’s simple done exceptionally well,” shares Johnston. “And while sipping your bourbon cocktail, you’ll want to add an order of our Deviled Eggs,” suggests executive chef, Anthony Peluso. Starting with Grandma’s recipe for boiled eggs, Peluso splits the eggs, removes the yolks and mixes it with a classic and simple combination of mayo, mustard and relish. “We really want to highlight the flavor of the egg, so I keep things simple. I don’t even season the egg, I let the relish bring the flavor and salt,” says Peluso. After the eggs are filled, they’re topped with smoked pork belly for the perfect pop of flavor and pickled onions that impart enough acid to cut through the richness without taking away from the smoky essence of the dish. While the menu is constantly evolving, a dish not to be missed is the Thai Basil Pork inspired by Peluso’s travels and an adaptation of traditional Taiwanese street food. “The dish is normally served with chicken but everyone does chicken, so I changed things up with pork that’s seared on a flat top and then cubed and slowly cooked until it falls apart and melts-in-your mouth almost like pulled pork,” shares Peluso. The pork is served with basmati rice, sauteed garlic and onions, a variety of spices and then topped with fried wontons, pickled onions and a fried egg. “It’s basically my version of bacon and eggs,” laughs Peluso, “It’s so good.”

If hot browns are more your style, Peluso created his version by adding locally sourced country ham to make it more Lexington. “When people come here and see the different things we’re doing with the food, it’ll become a go-to spot,” shares Peluso.

And then there’s the old Musselman family recipe for Kentucky Burgoo. Originating out of Lousiville, burgoo is a combination of stewed meats, onions, carrots, celery and mushrooms cooked low and slow until the meat falls off the bone and the marrow imparts a delicious richness into the stew. Finished off with okra, lima beans and potatoes, it’s a hearty classic originally created to use up what families had on hand but is now a sought after Kentucky classic. “A lot of our out of town customers come in for this dish,” shares Johnston, “but the locals love it too. People come for the food and stay for the hospitality”. So whether you’re visiting the Rackhouse Tavern from near or far, it’s evident you’ll leave with a smile on your face and a carefully curated taste of Lexington Kentucky.


Q & A with Chef Anthony Peluso

What made you fall in love with food?
I grew up in an Italian family and I’ve been cooking forever. My mom and dad always cooked in our house and I always had an interest in what was going on. My mom always used to yell “Get out of the sauce”! 

Favorite veggie?
Corn that has been prepared simply or roasted brussels sprouts with a little bit of balsamic. I love to highlight the true flavor of the vegetable. 

How do you stay inspired?
I stay inspired by going to different places and eating their food. I love to go on trips and talk to the locals and find out where they go. I also worked in Europe for a bit so I got to eat a lot of different cuisines.

Favorite dish from your childhood?
Angel hair pasta with clam sauce. 

If you could cook for anyone who would it be and what
would you make?

I would love to cook for my parents again and I would make angel hair and clam sauce. They never really got to experience my cooking how it is now so I think it would be really wonderful to share what I have learned with them. 

What do you love most about Lexington?
It has the feel of a big town but attributes of a large city and it’s centrally located.  

When you're not working are you cooking or grabbing carryout?
A little bit of both, I love the restaurants here so I am always grabbing something new and then Monday when I am off, I cook whatever we’re in the mood for. 

Can you share a piece of advice for someone who dreams of pursuing a career in food?
On the record, you need to really love and be inspired by food and want to make people happy. Off the record, say goodbye to holidays and weekends. Haha! But seriously, you have to really love what you’re doing.


The Rackhouse Tavern's Manhattan

Ingredients:

2 oz Knob Creek Rye Kentucky’s Own
0.25 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 Dashes Barrel Aged Bitters
1 Dash Orange Bitters

Instructions: 
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain, garnish with a Luxardo cherry and serve.