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Restored after a devastating fire, the restaurant serves high-quality food.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
July 16 began as an ordinary Saturday for me, but it soon developed into a day of delectable surprises. While talking to a friend I found out that the Southern Inn in Lexington was open for lunch, and when I told my husband the news, he exclaimed, “Let’s go!”
Actually, Southern Inn, which has been open since 1932, officially reopened the day before , little more than a year after a lightning-triggered fire devastated the original restaurant.
As we entered the Southern Inn dining room, the hum of conversation and clinking of flatware against dishes reminded me of old times. Most of the tables were filled with people enjoying the pleasures of food and a special occasion.
The restored Southern Inn on Main Street evokes the same feel of the original, with dark wood booths in front and freestanding tables in the dining room and bar. What is different is the open kitchen with the cooks and equipment on display and the one range that survived the fire occupying a prime position among the stoves.
Two large restrooms are located down the hall, while in front of the glass-enclosed kitchen, a short flight of stairs leads up to the new mezzanine dining area. Pastry chef Brigita Simanis creates her sweet delights and breads in the bakery downstairs.
We drifted to our table and ordered a glass of wine while looking over the lunch menu. One of the menu changes includes half portions of many items at half of the full price.
The Southern Inn specializes in contemporary American food served in stylish presentations. The menu appeals on many levels, with plenty of mainstay favorites as well as new seasonal selections such as fresh oysters.
The lunch menu begins with soup of the day ($4), followed by appetizers, including beef empanadas ($8), Mountain View Farms cheese plate ($10.50) and homemade spring rolls ($7.50). Each selection provides an adequate portion .
Salads range in price from $4.50 for half to $8.50 for a full portion. Heading the list is the Virginia Gold Asian pear salad with pecans and baby field greens, followed by the well-seasoned Southern Inn Greek Salad, a Caesar with crisp romaine lettuce , and the popular spinach salad topped with Gorgonzola cheese.
Five lunch entrees take in several satisfying $10 specialties such as blackened chicken penne pasta tossed with fresh spinach, roasted red peppers, pine nuts and sun dried tomatoes. Mashed potatoes and sautéed seasonal vegetables accompany three of the most popular main courses, Southern Inn fried chicken, meatloaf, and grilled calves’ liver with bacon and sautéed onions ($9).
The more extensive dinner menu adds white wine steamed mussels ($8) to the appetizer list, while salads remain the same as described for lunch. There are great sandwich combinations, including falafel with baby field greens served on grilled pita bread with salad and tzatziki sauce.
Specialty dinner entrees with complementing sides are all cooked to order and bring forth roasted chicken breast ($20), grilled New York strip ($32), grilled bluefish taco ($18), roasted duck breast ($25), pan-seared sea scallops ($24), grilled pork loin ($17), grilled sirloin steak ($20) and seared Atlantic salmon ($34).
Other entrees embrace a variety of generously portioned, reasonably priced dishes including the Southern Inn fried chicken ($15), meatloaf ($15), calves’ liver ($15) rigatoni with traditional Bolognese sauce ($15), grilled steak salad ($17) and country-fried rainbow trout ($15).
Six of eight desserts are priced at $6.50 and encompass Southern pecan pie, Grand Marnier crème brulee, individual flourless bourbon torte, bananas Foster and a layered bread pudding with poached pears. Dessert options change from time to time.
The wine list
A broad range of wines from the United States and around the world is always available by the glass or bottle, and servers are knowledgeable about wine selections and prices for enhancing dining pleasure.
What I ate
For the first lunch, I ordered half of an Asian pear salad and a perfectly constructed grilled salmon club sandwich ($11). My husband decided on half of a Caesar salad and a hefty, flavorful hamburger ($9) made from locally raised beef and topped with Havarti cheese and bacon, two of six toppings offered at no extra charge.
For dessert I savored every spoonful of the silken crème brulee while my husband relished creamy, homemade vanilla ice cream.
At another lunch, I ordered the reuben ($9), featuring shaved corned beef, braised red cabbage and Swiss cheese on rye with a side of potato chips. I liked the contrasting textures and flavors of the ingredients, which I had to enjoy with a knife and fork because of its unwieldy construction .
Four of us enjoyed delightful meals at dinner a few weeks later. For starters, half a Greek salad with a generous amount of fresh vegetables dressed in well-balanced oregano vinaigrette refreshed the palate. Empanadas offered a tasty combination of pastry filled with chopped beef and vegetables and complemented by roasted Roma tomato-chipotle sauce. Mussels steamed in white wine and seasoned lightly with garlic, leeks, country ham, tomatoes and butter ($8) were wonderful.
The kitchen did a nice job on the entrees, with all of the food served hot and on a timely basis. Grilled New York strip steak , cooked to a turn and served on mashed potatoes with local beans and Gorgonzola cheese was a simple, satisfying meal. Grilled calves’ liver , a meal we order only at places we trust , fulfilled its potential for tenderness and light flavor.
Pan-seared scallops came with cheese grits, braised seasonal greens, country ham, leeks, tomatoes and garlic herb butter ($24). These deserved more time on the flame so the juices could caramelize , adding flavor as well as doneness.
Southern Inn is the place to order duck , a preparation featuring crispy skin sheltering fully cooked, tender meat. It is a fabulous combination of textures. The accompanying sweet potato gnocchi and Asian pear chutney are the stuff of poems.
The bottom line
Owner-chef George Huger, along with his wife, Sue Ann, and their staff, have remained true to their focus of serving meals based on locally obtained, high-quality, fresh ingredients. The dishes are simply prepared and elegantly presented. Combined with knowledgeable service, the Southern Inn achieves my expectations of a first-rate restaurant.
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