Friday October 22, 2010
The Grey Goose and I'm not talkin' vodka
People who know me know that I abhor chain restaurants. From Starbucks to P.F.Chang’s, I thumb my nose at their fakery.
It’s not snobbery, though, that motivates my wrath, but rather self preservation.
I trained at the Culinary Institute of America, which means I need Lexington to have a thriving independent restaurant community so that I, and my friends on the savory side, can actually work. I need to know that restaurant owners will hire me to make banana pudding from scratch, not force me to plate desserts made at a factory in Jersey. I need to know that local farmers have a place to sell their lush produce. I don’t, under any circumstances, need another bleeping Applebee’s.
Not to mention, chain restaurant food blows.
I can’t even think of them as proper restaurants. More like super fancy microwaves equipped people to nuke the food and dish it out for you.
So when I hear scuttlebutt on a new independent restaurant, I get all nosy. Not quite a year ago, I noticed my friend Kurt Wujcik’s Facebook status had something to do with moving back to Kentucky and getting a job. Kurt and I worked together years ago at the now defunct Emmett’s and I knew if he had found a kitchen in Lexington worth working in, I would find it worth eating in, and I needed more info STAT.
The difference between the Grey Goose, an actual neighborhood joint, and a corporate America behemoth masquerading as the little guy becomes crystal clear when you walk through the door.
The latter is nothing more than a set piece, built virtually overnight, the food a semi-edible prop. The former? Situated in an historic building, lovingly refurbished by people invested in the community. Chefs work in the kitchen, making (not microwaving) your food to order. Knowledgeable waitstaff who know the menu inside and out. And food that rocks.
My first night at the Goose, I made a bee line for the kitchen. Kurt swooped me up in a bear hug and gestured behind him. The kitchen sparkled. A small, almost psychotically clean galley. I swore in admiration.
A little less than year later, when Rosco and I dropped by to take some pix, nothing had changed. Clean, clean, clean. The sparkling stainless steel turned out somewhat of a lighting nightmare for Rosco at first, but soon he was in the groove and so was Kurt.
The menu at Grey Goose has a no-frills, “let’s get to it, shall we” sort of vibe; almost militantly concise, fitting on one side of one page. A handful of fun appetizers (mini corndogs?!), hand tossed pizzas, grown-up burgers. The touches elevate: heirloom tomatoes, local greens, whole milk mozzarella.
Brevity of the menu notwithstanding, you won’t find yourself agonizing any less over what to order. Blue cheese burger? Fried egg pizza? Or should you go for the classic bacon cheeseburger? Or just a pepperoni pizza? Since every item’s a virtual home run, choosing proves more difficult than the menu length would suggest.
During the summer months, and into the fall, the restaurant often appears empty. This puzzles at first, until you realize the party’s out back on the huge sun drenched patio, where everyone has their drink on. At the open air bar, Paul Borntraeger pours everything from cocktails of his own creation to Kentucky Ale and Stella Artois.
As we photographed the happenings on the patio, Paul thought we looked lonely all empty handed and sent over a Tree House to amend the situation. I went over to the bar to say thanks and to investigate.
The first thing you’ll notice about Paul is his epic mustache. The second thing you’ll notice is that he really knows what he’s doing. I started hearing tales of his professional bar-tending competitions, homemade mixers, and unusual ingredients.
Paul shies from titles like “mixologist” but I don’t know what else to call him. Bartender just doesn’t seem to cover it. Paul quite literally competes on the national level when it comes to tending bar.
Bombay Sapphire flew him out to Vegas to compete on their behalf after one of his drinks, featuring the eponymous gin, won a competition in Louisville.
He calls it Sapphire Con Diablo. At first blush, it seems something like a gin fizz, in that it contains whipped eggs and gin. But with Paul’s homemade simple syrup, infused with fresh jalapeno and cinnamon, and a twist of spice dusted lemon, the drink clearly stands in its own category.
He made one up for us, and placed it on the bar just as the sun started to set behind the patio. I took my first sip, amazed at the body of the drink and totally in love with the sweet and spicy flavor. The heat of the jalapeno played against the spice of the cinnamon, all tamed together by the simple syrup. Lastly, the gin’s smooth herbal aroma and the bright note of lemon.
Excitingly, Paul is currently competing for the title of “America’s Favorite Bartender” with GQ Magazine. If you’ve been to the Grey Goose to enjoy one of his tasty drinks, or if you just love the Grey Goose, vote for him by texting “GQ6160” to 88704. (Voting ends on November 18th!) Update: 12/5/10 Out of over 1,000 bartenders across America, Paul placed 6th! Visit the Goose and congratulate him!
Lexington is lucky to have a spot as unique as the Grey Goose, which is why I’m so pained to see people flocking to chain restaurants night after night. I don’t understand the appeal of mass produced food served in cookie cutter locales, the same from one city to the next.
We should all celebrate the unique facets of Lexington, the places built and nurtured by people who call this city home. We need to patronize the restaurants that make our city different, instead of those that have locations in all fifty states. I’m proud to know some of the guys at Grey Goose, and proud at what this little Jefferson Street restaurant has grown to in the last year.
I promise I like places in Lexington that don’t have a Jefferson Street address. I know we went to Cuppa on Jefferson for our tea and fruit tart post. And then up the street just a bit to Wine + Market just a few weeks later. But Grey Goose stands almost exactly half way between the two and I could not, in good conscience, skip over it.
So much goodness on one little street!
Check out the Grey Goose Facebook Page for more info, or visit Urban Spoon:
So while you won’t normally find Kurt tossin’ pizza out front of the Goose, you will find amazing pizza, burgers, and drinks inside.
What’s your favorite thing at the Goose? I know I’m not alone on the Fried Egg pizza thing. Why is it so addictive? Has anyone tried any of Paul’s other concoctions?
(Update, January 2011: Kurt no longer works at the Grey Goose, he’s moved across the street to the newly opened Nick Ryan’s. We still love the Goose, but just wanted to keep everyone updated on Kurt’s move!)
10 comments and counting
Oct 23, 2010 · 10:28 AM
I am happy to find this blog! As a Lexingtonian who now resides in NYC I like to keep up with what’s happening down there. Cheers!
· evel · http://evelknevel.wordpress.com
Oct 23, 2010 · 11:47 AM
I’m glad you found us! Check out the archives to see the article on Wine + Market, it was started by a NYC restaurateur who moved to Lexington. It’s like a switcheroo! This is such a great time in New York, I hope you can enjoy some Hudson valley apples!!
Oct 28, 2010 · 10:12 AM
Hey, at least there’s that really cute bench on the sidewalk, right? I do get that sense of having let the cat out of the bag, though. I’ve had two or three e-mails from people saying they went in to try it! Thanks for stopping by, Paula!
Oct 30, 2010 · 10:51 AM
So glad you guys went! Can’t wait to hear what you got…
Nov 02, 2010 · 10:57 PM
I am so glad I found you. I love your voice and your story telling! Thanks for being here!
· the urban baker · http://theurbanbaker.blogspot.com
Nov 25, 2012 · 4:26 PM
What a very interesting read. Grey Goose sounds awesome – I hope it is still doing well. I’m not a fan of chain restaurants luckily in Ireland we have many great places and not so many chains. Long may it last. We also have lots of bakeries that sell home made cakes & pies (but not banana pudding!!!)
Nov 25, 2012 · 8:47 PM
Hi Enie! Ahhh! I wish I could come visit you in Ireland, that would be fabulous. I’d happily trade all the banana pudding for a higher ratio of homemade shops selling wonderful old fashioned foods. Lots and lots of chains here, though I’m happy to report Grey Goose is still going strong.