Hotel restaurants aren’t known for being dining destinations, especially if they’re chain hotels. But the Hyatt Regency Lexington has gone a long way to breaking that reliable stereotype with its BlueFire Bar & Grill.
Last year, amid a $7.5 million overhaul of the hotel’s 366 rooms, public gathering and meeting spaces, its owners spiffed up its lobby level restaurant, a favorite watering hole for UK hoops fans whose beloved Wildcats play next door in Rupp Arena. The overhaul also extended to the menu, which allowed executive chef Bill Thompson freedom to give it some Kentucky character.
“That’s hard to do when, in a hotel chain like this, you have to please a wide range of guests,” Thompson said, implying that hotel menus often are generic. “The menu they gave me when I came here 16 months ago really didn’t have any Southern flair to it at all. You could have put it in a hotel in Colorado or New York. I really wanted to change that.”
He started by looking for Kentucky beef, pork and lamb producers like Blackhawk Farms in Princeton, and Critchfield, a specialty meat supplier in Lexington. He also sourced Kentucky cheese purveyors and some local up-and-coming suppliers like Crank & Boom Ice Cream. And of course, he leaned on legendary flavors like bourbon, adding it to dishes “wherever it tasted good.”
Perhaps the most impressive I had was Thompson’s charcuterie platter named, “simply, cheese, meat and pickles” ($13). The board of house-made pickled vegetables, duck prosciutto, country paté and salami, along with sourced prosciutto di Parma and Kentucky cheeses is fine enough to represent on any menu in the town’s high-end spots.
The bourbon-glazed pork porterhouse ($20) is a dynamite dish and a sturdy portion. Grilled and glazed, the thick chop was served with an excellent sweet potato hash.
“I really wanted to be different with a nice starch to put beside such a good a piece of meat,” said Thompson, a New Orleans native. “The sweet potatoes also go well with the bourbon flavors.”
Already a fan of Crank & Boom, Thompson didn’t need to tell me “their product is phenomenal” in suggesting I get a couple of scoops of the Kentucky blackberry buttermilk ice cream ($6). As expected, it lived up to its high praise.
Granted, since I came to the hotel for a press visit, I’d not normally have ordered this much food, but what’s important to point out is if I did pay for my meal, it would have been just $39. Those are remarkable prices for food of this quality, especially the exceptional cheese, meat and pickles board. (Click here for the full menu.)
And with portions so generous, I easily could have split all three items with my wife, which makes it an ever better bargain in a city where dining out isn’t cheap.
I’ve always enjoyed Lexington, but as its dining and bar scene has taken off, I’ve really fallen for it in the past few years. And much as I like restaurants in many parts of the city, I particularly like dining and drinking downtown for its convenience. The ease of just parking my car and walking the area is ideal.
The three hotels I’ve visited in that time have all been great, though admittedly, I’m easy to please in this area. If the staff is hospitable, the rooms clean and the beds comfy, I’m pretty well set. But with its recent renovations and restaurant upgrade, the Hyatt has succeeded in striking that difficult balance of price, location and amenities that I like.
So when you roll in to this part of the Bluegrass Region, I recommend it highly.