“New year — a new chapter, new verse, or just the same old story? Ultimately, we write it. The choice is ours.” — Alex Morritt

“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.” —Rainer Maria Rilke

By now, it has become fairly clear that John, my husband, and I are truly enamoured with Lexington, Kentucky. Part of the reason could be due to the fact we both have family roots tied to the Bluegrass state. It could also be the part Appalachian/part southern hospitality that puts us at ease — including the great food.

Then again, it could be its size, as Lexington is big enough to have a few “big city offerings,” and likewise small enough to not feel overwhelming. Plus, like home, it still has plenty of hills, farmland and areas of natural beauty.

Our previous Airbnb hosts, David and Dawna, had incentivized a return visit. We had only recently stayed in their Uptown Retreat, a cozy accommodation perfect for couples, for a few days during Thanksgiving week. Therefore, we made a fairly last-minute decision to see if these same gracious hosts had a few days of availability for the New Year’s holiday. As luck would have it, Uptown Retreat was not available, but The Corner Pocket, a larger two bedroom/two bath property — complete with pool table, was available, and at a very reasonable price point.

While the rainy, chilly weather was a bit of a bummer, The Corner Pocket did not disappoint. It was meticulously clean with a full-size, fully stocked, updated kitchen. As they did with their Uptown Retreat property, David and Dawna offered plenty of thoughtful touches to make renters feel right at home, including plenty of snacks, coffee, tea, toys for kids, cards/games for all ages, three large flatscreen TVs with access to all your favorite subscription channels, plenty of paper and toiletry products, and so much more.

They even had an old-fashioned, coin-operated candy dispensing machine loaded with jelly beans, and a cup full of pennies!

The property is located in an attractive, well-kept residential area with plenty of places to walk, jog, and/or ride bikes, and it is conveniently located to nearby downtown Lexington as well as multiple shopping/dining attractions. Plus, did I mention how attentive David and Dawna are to their renters? While they live right next door, they respect your privacy, but if you find you need anything, they are Johnny-on-the-spot.

Since the weather, except for the first full-day, was not conducive to out-of-doors explorations, we took advantage of the time to hunker down a bit in the comfortable accommodations and to also explore several of the Lexington shopping areas. These areas included Lexington Green, Fayette Mall, The Summit at Fritz Farms, and Hamburg Pavilion.

Each of these attractions offered numerous shopping, dining, and entertainment options. While each location had its own personality and appeal, depending upon the established and desired purveyors, all were attractive, offered ample and convenient parking, and were easily traversed.

As self-ascribed foodies, John and I, with our divergent food interests, were once more like kids playing in a food park wondering which ride to choose --our known favorites or new thrills? It pleases John that Lexington offers plenty of the three Bs: beer, bourbon, and barbeque. Meanwhile, I prefer more plant-based options; and, due to celiac disease, I need gluten-free offerings. No need to worry in Lexington!

Of course, we patronized our old favorite, Pies and Pints, (gotta support a WV based business) and our new favorite, Carson’s, in which bartender/waiter extraordinaire, Kyle Ostrander, was once again at our service! Dining at Carson’s, John was able to enjoy a massive plate of mouthwatering ribs, ma-n-cheese and fries. Meanwhile, I was able to once more get my tummy filled with their wedge salad (with a few modifications for me) and, from their Vegan and Gluten-free menu, Chickpea Curry — so, so good!

While exploring The Summit on New Year’s Day, John discovered a restaurant called World of Beer. We were greeted and waited upon by Owen Weyl and Kasey Belleman. These two good-natured and gregarious souls were warm and welcoming, especially considering they were working on a holiday! They offered outstanding suggestions and tips. John warmed up with a bowl of chilli while I noshed on their Spring Greens and Kale salad. Thanks to Owen and Kasey, as well as our yummy food, this is sure to be spot we will want to visit again!

We traveled to Wild Eggs for brunch the following day. Janelle Foltz was our waitress, and we had a blast chatting with Janelle as she is a new transplant from Florida who loves to hike (of course, we shared several spots in Kentucky in which we loved to explore, but we also could not say enough about all of the offerings found in West Virginia and Ohio).

And, yes, by the way, the food was delectable, once again, at Wild Eggs! John enjoyed the An Ace of a BLT — avocado, cheddar, egg, bacon, lettuce, and tomato eat-with-a-fork super-sized sandwich that was served with a side of cheesy, chorizo and bacon grits. Meanwhile, Janelle brought me the gluten-free menu, and, with a few modifications, I was able to dive into the Surfer Girl, veggie-loaded and sprout topped, egg-white omelette served with a fruit cup and surprisingly tasty gluten-free bread.

One really nice touch that David and Dawna offer at their Airbnb rentals is plenty of information, brochures, pamphlets and menus of popular Lexington and surrounding area attractions, restaurants, and establishments. Additionally, in a booklet they created for each rental is a listing of their local favorites, one of which is a restaurant called Nick Ryan’s.

Located in what appears to be a former home, Nick Ryan’s is a quaint and beautiful restaurant with an expansive food and drink menu that appealed to both John and me. Our super-sweet bartender/waitress, Skylar Mays, a UK senior, was attentive, affable, and at-the-ready with suggestions if asked. In fact, it was Skylar who said we would love our appetizer, The Trio Dip. It was a classic combo for John and me including beer cheese, red pepper hummus, cucumber dip, tortilla chips, baby carrots, and celery sticks. No need for a dinner salad after this! What’s more, John was surprised to discover he liked all three dips, not just the beer cheese.

Meanwhile, for dinner, John savored the Local Smoked BBQ Pork Butt. This dish offered generous chunks of pork butt, slow smoked in-house, and it was served open-faced on Texas toast with BBQ sauce, country green beans, mac-n-cheese, corn fritters, and cole-slaw.

I dug into the Quinoa Vegetable Bowl overflowing with sauteed, seasonal vegetables on a bed of quinoa, and topped with sweet chili sauce. Given the atmosphere, attentive service, and ample, and scrumptious food, Nick Ryan’s is sure to be another Lexington restaurant John and I will want to visit again.

Once more, Lexington proves to be a close-to-home getaway for food, shopping, and adventure. There are numerous out-of-doors and historic adventures/attractions still beckoning us, and of course, John has yet to visit any of the local Lexington distilleries and/or breweries. In fact, he’s already spied a beer trail walking tour, Lexington on Taps tour as well as the Brewgrass Trail. Of course, with the Rupp Arena at the heart of downtown, University of Kentucky, nearby horse farms, and numerous other attractions, Lexington has much to offer visitors.

Hmm ... I wonder when we can return?

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net. Or you can check out her website, stephsimply.com.

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