Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Gratz Park Inn & Jonathan’s at Gratz Park, Lexington, Kentucky - Two Reviews

The Gratz Park Inn, Lexington, Kentucky

Flying over the horse farms of Kentucky Bluegrass Country for my first time was a beautiful sight indeed. I was attending a three-day seminar on Tea and Etiquette presented by none other than Bruce and Shelley Richardson and their wonderful associate Lois Quilligan. When I landed, Zedtta Wellman, the effervescent manager of The Gratz Park Inn, met me at the airport in grand style. On the way to the Inn, a short 15 minutes drive away, in a spotless Cadillac SUV, she explained to me proudly about the rich heritage of the region. I have friends who live there and Zedtta reflected the kind southern hospitality which all of the locals exude.

The Gratz Hill Inn is located centrally on a lovely tree-lined historic street only a stone’s throw from the birthplace of Mary Todd Lincoln. As I walked through the front door of the Inn, I knew right away I was in for a treat. As a former innkeeper myself, I could not help noticing the attention to detail shown in so many aspects of the layout, the décor, and above all, the genuinely warm hospitality.

Being a bit late and starving, I raced to the independently owned restaurant/bar, Jonathan’s (see separate review) to enjoy a Sunday brunch before it closed and before heading to my room to rest up for the seminar. The room was a comfortable size furnished with a king-sized bed, which served as my cocoon for the next four nights. The mahogany desk and bureau gave a rich feel to the room. My only negative would be the shag carpet, of which I am not a fan. The bathroom was clean, fitted with amenities the label of which are apparently changed every two years so that the many repeat customers don’t become bored. Basically, everything worked perfectly including the flat screen TV and the free Wi-Fi. After four days I still could not understand why this fine hotel had not been awarded four diamonds by AAA instead of the three it had garnered.

When I am staying in a hotel, I want cleanliness, comfort, and gracious hospitality. If that’s what you want, you will find you have landed on your feet here. I look forward to returning again and again!

Jonathan’s at Gratz Park, Lexington, Kentucky

I was completely caught by surprise from the first bite of Burgoo to the last bite of Crème Brulee over a four-night gastronomical marathon at Jonathan’s. There was no need to go anywhere else until I had the chance to enjoy almost everything on this fine chef’s menu. The offerings are so clearly regional that blindfolded, one could easily identify such classics as grits, collard greens, shrimp, braised short ribs, corn bread, fried chicken, bread pudding (and I could go on, but you get the idea), all laced perfectly with the requisite Bourbon. 94% of the world’s bourbon is distilled in Kentucky. Even as a teetotaler I was not overwhelmed or put off by this ambrosia.

As luck would have it, I managed to spend a few leisurely minutes with Jonathan Lundy himself and learn what his philosophy was for his menu creation and food preparation. He is an amiable fellow, in unusually fit condition for a seasoned chef, with a background in the culinary arts that stretches back generations. With his formal training at Johnson and Wales, his love of food is obvious as the twinkle in his eye sparkles as he delights in telling me how he layers traditional regional flavors together into a palette of very fine cuisine. Having owned and operated my own 4-diamond restaurant for eight years, it is always a pleasure and an honor to talk about food with well-seasoned chefs, of which Jonathan is unmistakably one.

For me the greatest surprises came in some of the details. I am a great believer that food should be enjoyed by all of the senses. Visually, the plates are carefully presented and invite the diner immediately to come closer and enjoy the wonderful blend of aromas. Tasting such accompaniments as risotto and pea fritters with a hint of citrus, just brought this to meal to a whole new level. I am also a fan of a carefully planned plate, not being dominated by any one part, but rather each enhancing the other. Here Jonathan excels like only a few I have known. This same skill is echoed in his use of fresh watercress and peas next to lamb chops (the only disappointment of the evening, being less than tender) with bourbon-laced white mint jelly. The short ribs are the best I have ever had, accompanied perfectly with collard greens liberally and successfully blended with horseradish. To bring the meal to a finale I enjoyed Jonathan’s brilliant Bourbon Ball Torte one night and his signature Crème Brulee brought to the table aflame with a generous pour of bourbon the next. This is perhaps one of the most amazing versions of the classic I have ever had with a concert playing continuously in my mouth right to the end.

The service staff was excellent, not being overly attentive (I hate hovering) while showing the innate ability to read their tables and the room with the sweep of an eye. Thankfully they did not commend me for my menu selections, another pet peeve of mine.

If you want to experience Kentucky cuisine at the very highest level, my bet is safely placed to win here. Thank you Jonathan for sharing your passion with us!