Eating and Running in Lexington

Anyone who’s hung around John’s enough knows that our conversations don’t go on very long without returning to food. Everyone likes eating, not the least runners. Serious runners need lots of calories to sustain their training regimen, recreational runners sometimes run to justify eating more. I’m in the middle of the two. Here I’ve combined two passions and compiled a menu of sorts of some of my favorite local run-and-restaurant pairings. Pardon any bad puns.

“Island Hopping”

The Island and Athenian Grill
Chevy Chase – Map

The route: For those hill lovers like me, this is a nice, rolling route. Take Fontaine to Henry Clay High School, turn onto Lake Shore and continue down to the Island neighborhood. Exit through Edgewater Drive and take the road that runs parallel to Alumni down to the synagogue. At the top of the hill, you’ll find a footpath that connects onto Moreland in the Lakewood subdivision. Turn onto Lakewood Dr. and return via Tates Creek.

The Food: It is to our great fortune and distraction at John’s to have Ilias’s restaurant located so close to the shop that often we can smell the specials on any given day. Athenian Grill’s white and blue color scheme recalls the iconic domed buildings of Mykonos or Santorini and his selections are just as iconic. Unlike some other businesses with their genesis as a food truck, Athenian Grill’s transition to brick-and-mortar has been seamless; they’ve only solidified the appeal of their more ambulatory beginnings. Try the classic gyro of lamb and beef sheared directly from the spit, or the spanikopita. Avoid a common political-charged faux pas when ordering a demitasse of traditional Greek (not Turkish) coffee to finish your meal.


“Shoes and Choux”

U.K. Arboretum and Gumbo Ya Ya
South Broadway Park – Map


The route: Park in South Broadway Park shopping center and run across the bridge on Virginia Avenue toward South Campus. When you reach University, take advantage of the wide road and run in the bike lane against traffic. Cross into Shawneetown and take the legendary wheelchair ramp into the parking lot of Central Baptist hospital. Enter the Arboretum the back way via Shady Lane and return by taking the road that runs behind the stadium back to Cooper Drive.

The food: Gumbo Ya Ya is a sibling of Chevy Chase’s Bourbon & Toulouse and their history are intertwined. Everyone has their preference of one over the other, and both have their dishes at which they excel. At Gumbo Ya Ya, be sure to sample the Maque Choux, the Spinach and Mushroom or the Surf, Turf and Jerk. If you’re having a hard time deciding, go for 1/2 and 1/2 option!


“A (North) West Side Story”

The Legacy Trail and Maria’s
North Broadway & Loudon

Photo courtesy Brian Lauer

The route: Run west along the single track on Loudon Ave just past the Subway. Eventually you’ll come to the North YMCA on the right. Hit the trailhead and continue on to your heart’s content. For those who have never run the Legacy Trail before: It’s a great paved surface that provides the best traffic-free runs in Lexington but, in its current iteration, it is a 12-mile out-and-back to the Kentucky Horse Park.

The food: Maria’s is an authentic Mexican taco stand on North Broadway. There’s only outdoor seating so this one is ideal for summertime or take-out. Try the tacos or the tortas al pastor and don’t forget the lime and the salsa! Wash it all down with the cinnamon and rice based drink, horchata.


“Don’t Figgit The Pizza!”

Figg Lane and Sim’s Drugstore
Main Street in Wilmore – Map

Photo courtesy TripAdvisor

The route: Although this route is a ways out of downtown, it might actually be more convenient for those living on the south side of town. It’s the same one that I posted about in a previous article, and as I said before, it’s pretty doggone difficult. But it’s beautiful, the air is fresh and it might be a good vacation for those looking for a change of scenery.

The food: I’ll be the first to say that I’m skeptical when people talk up a restaurant in Lexington. I always check reviews and ask someone I trust first because I hate to waste my time and my patronage on mediocrity. Just today, in fact, I went to a spot in town that has a bit of a cult following and is ostensibly frequented by Coach Calipari. For propriety’s sake I won’t say the name but it sucked. Really bad.

Sim’s Drug Store in Lexington has changed names a time or two but it has retained its 1950s classic soda bar charm since, well, the 1950s. The pharmacy’s lineage actually dates back to the late 19th century. Ask anyone who lives in town and they will tell you: the main event here is the pizza. It may very well be the best pizza in the Bluegrass—the crust is thin and baked to perfection, the cheese-spice-sauce ratio is spot on. It’s perennially eat-able—New York-style—not like the culinary heavyweights in Chicago that demand you eat with a fork. Even if pizza’s not your thing, there are plenty of other things on the menu and this place is so darned charming that it warrants a trip. Grab a malt if you have a sweet tooth.

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