It’s COUNTY Club, not Country…

… and still, I stumble over it when I say it out loud!

Can you have a crush on a restaurant?

Spouse and I stopped at County Club last night for the “Dinner” portion of a “Dinner and a Movie Friday Night”. We’ve been meaning to go for quite a while but just hadn’t been. While poking around Lexington last weekend, we drove past the restaurant and liked what we saw. Alas, it was early Sunday and they weren’t open yet, so we vowed we would go sometime this week.

We are so glad that we did. We enjoyed a wonderful meal and Spouse just wouldn’t stop talking about the food! On and on and on and frankly, I can’t blame him. County Club makes some fine food and we plan on heading back soon for some more smoky deliciousness!

On to the food, but first, a few definitions:

Poutine: a dish originating in Quebec composed of a bed of French fries covered with gravy and cheese curds.

Gravy: Yankee gravy, light brown, probably made with beef or chicken stock. This is not the gravy of my people – biscuits and gravy “gravy”, which is really a Béchamel, if you want a classy comeback when someone calls it hick food.

Cheese Curds: a solid byproduct of the cheese making process. They are not a familiar item around here, but up in the north, Wisconsin, for example, and into Canada where there has been a strong cheese industry, they became a popular snack food. Cheese curds are what you have before the solids are pressed into cheese blocks. They are meant to be eaten fresh, within hours or days of being made. They make a squeaky sound when eaten, if they are fresh, and they have a mild flavor.

We began our meal with a classic poutine. While we have both heard of poutine, neither one of us have actually had the dish before. The fries were crisp and held their own even covered in gravy. The gravy was a pale brown color and had a mild “meaty” flavor. The cheese curds were what I expected – fresh, rubbery and mild, a little salty. “Rubbery”, “mild” and “salty” are all in the nature of the cheese curd, so this is not a put down. They tasted like cheese curd I’ve had before, but with a little less squeak to them.

The curds were white, rather than the yellow to orange I’ve had before. I’m not certain if that is an important point in the cheese curd world, but it led me to believe that perhaps they are homemade cheese curds, as they can be made on a stove top – you don’t need a factory! – and I think the process is much like that in making homemade mozzarella, involving milk and thermometers, a large cook pot and rennet.

All in all, we really enjoyed the poutine and I would order it again. I thought that perhaps the gravy could have had a little more “Zing’ to it, but to be honest, as I have no idea what a classic poutine gravy tastes like, I cannot speak to how it “should have” tasted. I dipped a few fries in one of the sauces on the table and that took care of my need for Zing. Honestly though, the mild flavor of the dish provides a nice balance against the strong flavor of smoked and pickled and spicy foods you are likely to eat at the restaurant.
I think that if someone reading this review thought “That poutine was just plain weird”, I would remind them that biscuits and gravy are considered some seriously strange food and just a bad idea in general to people not of Southern origin. Give it a whirl; poutine is another form of Comfort Food!

We then ordered the smoked beef brisket plate and a side of macaroni and cheese off the menu, as well as the bourbon maple glazed smoked Kentucky spareribs with jalapeno potato salad, that were a Special for the day.

The brisket was smoky, and there were no chemical notes as I have had before with other, obviously lesser made smoked products. The smoke was not overpowering, and if anything Spouse wouldn’t have minded a little more smoke, if anything. He wants me to make a point of saying that this is not a complaint; he thought the brisket was absolutely delicious. The beef was not overly moist and if one cared to, you could dip it in one of the sauces on the table. I did dip a little meat, mostly to sample the sauces with meat, but I liked the brisket just as it was.

The brisket was beautifully plated: it was served on a large slice of grilled artisan bread and the plate was painted with a brush of mustard sauce. The dish was topped with a garnish of shaved red onions and cornichons. The bread had a nice flavor but we only sampled it. If anything, we thought of it more as decoration that as something to eat. The cornichons tasted different that the usual cornichon. It had an almost smoky flavor that might have been part of the pickling recipe or could be attributed to the meat it was served with. I am left wondering if the cornichon were homemade. The plating makes me think this was to be eaten like an open faced sandwich, but we chose to eat the brisket with a side of macaroni and cheese instead.

The macaroni and cheese was also delicious. It was a mild dish, bringing a nice balance to the smoked meat we were eating. I know there was Gruyere in the dish, but I can’t recall what other cheeses were noted on the menu. The mac and cheese was covered with toasted bread crumbs. I can’t help it, but I strongly favor bread crumbs toasted on the mac and cheese. This is not the slap-you-in-the-face neon orange boxed macaroni and cheese we all grew up with, so if you are disappointed with the dish because it isn’t, go home and fix yourself a box.

The spareribs were amazing and hands down, our favorite dish of the evening. They were really that incredible. The portion was large – large enough for us to share – and the bourbon maple glaze was very present and flavorful. The meat had a nice crust of the charred sauce on them and the meat was tender and fell off the bone. I am not one who generally orders ribs in a restaurant – they usually leave me disappointed. The ribs I was served did not disappoint in any way! I would order again if I am there when they are available.

The ribs were served with a large side of jalapeno potato salad. This was also a very satisfying and delicious dish. I had been looking for Zing in the poutine; I found it in the potato salad. Spouse also loved the potato salad, even though his need for Zing is lesser than mine. It satisfied both of our palates, which is a little unusual in terms of the management of jalapeno and other peppers. We thought the potato salad was just perfection!

We finished our meal with coffee and buttermilk panna cotta. The coffee was made with Magic Beans coffee, which we’ve never had before. The coffee was awesome. Really, really awesome! I know I’m supposed to say something smart and descriptive about the roast – and it was rich and full bodied – but awesome just keeps coming to mind. We Googled it when we got home and heck if it ain’t local. We are going to buy ourselves some Magic Beans for home use!

The panna cotta was a wonderful end to our meal. It was silky smooth, with a hint of buttermilk tang. There was a topping of macadamia nuts and black cherry sauce.

This was not one of those enormous, overly sugared desserts you will find at some restaurants. Those desserts are strumpets, strutting around the plate in platform stilettos, promising things they cannot deliver in terms of flavor.

This panna cotta, she’s been to school! It was classy and understated, and the flavor of the ingredients was very present. And there was not too much. The serving was perfect for two people to share and enjoy over coffee, or for one to eat alone and not be embarrassed and overwhelmed by the serving size.

All in all, we were very happy with our meal and we will return! Our very favorites for the evening were the Bourbon Maple Glazed Kentucky Spareribs, the Jalapeno Potato Salad and the Panna Cotta.

I would also like to address the look of the restaurant. Instead of hiding the building’s former life as a garage, the décor embraces it while still not being kitschy and cutesy. You won’t see gas pumps and garage signs, but you can see hints that the building was a worker bee at one time. I love the industrial with a chandelier décor. The dark walls evoke the smoke of the smoked meats. The front wall is all windows which opens up what is really a small space and provides a great deal of light.

We were very impressed with the use of space and loved the bar at one end. I was amazed that the business end of the kitchen was outdoors behind the building. There was something very “smokehouse” about it without it being “rustic”. There is a patio and table out front; my guess is that the umbrellas and chairs will be set up soon (thank goodness this winter is over)! I read on their site that they plan on having live music. I hope that is so.

Also, I absolutely LOVE the County Club sign, which is an arrowhead hanging from chain. It immediately reminded me of the classic National Park Service sign. I have no idea if that sign is an intentional reference to the NPS but it made me very happy, for some reason. Go figure how the mind works!

There is a Bocce Ball court on the premises, out by the smoker. Poutine. Bocce Ball – I am thinking we have some Northern influences going on around County Club!

I would also like to say that the wait staff was very friendly. I’ve read other reviews saying that they were not. I can only address our experience and it was positive. There was not a lot of perky “Welcome to ___! Right this way!!!” attitude, but I don’t find that necessary. They were friendly, helpful and answered questions that we asked. We had water on the table – loved the bottle of water, and the sauces and cutlery were right there. The paper napkins didn’t bother me at all. Plastic cutlery would have bothered me, but they do not use plastic; the cutlery consisted of mismatched stainless in lovely old patterns. I liked this touch as it adds to the personality of the restaurant.

The County Club also has a nice selection of beer and wine, as well as other beverages.

I have to say, if you read or heard that The County Club serves smoked meats and something along the lines of one of the many chain barbeque restaurants comes to mind, you are headed to the wrong restaurant.

The County Club is about smoked meats and the unexpected use of barbecue. The County Club is not about slapping some wet, sugary sauced meat on a bun and calling it a meal.

Check out the County Club website and read the information found under “About” and “Friends”, and you will see that they are interested in serving local and “responsibly raised” ingredients and that the arts of smoking and pickling foods is being explored.

Know what you’re going there for and I think you might be very happy with what you find!

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