We Salute Cathy Martin of Alfalfa Restaurant
Five years ago I asserted in print for the late, lamented Nougat Magazine that the real heart of my Lexington beats at 141 East Main Street, where Alfalfa Restaurant carries out its mission of "feeding vegetarians and carnivores alike with innovative and eclectic homemade eats for over 35 years."
In those days before downtown became a destination for lots of other good reasons, my article served as a kind of prose love song to Alfalfa's famous miso dressing, which I consider reason enough to visit downtown. Read all 300 words here.
Three years later, also in Nougat, I awarded Alfalfa my 2008 Valentine, and offered 14 reasons to love this place that is our own, and always has been. Read the Valentine (in 700 words) here.
I remember my first meal at Alfalfa with gratitude and astonishment 38 years after I ate it. I haven't asked her, but it is at least possible that the star of today's Savory Kentucky Bite (number 23) was there. Cathy Martin has worked at Alfalfa so faithfully, so capably, and for such a long time that she is one of a small group of people who actually mean Alfalfa to me.
Roles at Alfalfa are not always easily perceived or named. For years a lot of us hardcore Alfalfites believed the servers at the restaurant were to be properly and respectfully called "waitrons," for example. So I may err when I describe some of the roles I have seen Cathy play: night manager, problem-solver, vibe-soother, music planner and manager, server, mentor to new staff, and accessible gate-keeper. Cathy's competence includes understanding and knowing how to work within the whole quirkiness that is Alfalfa, how to keep good things happening for patrons in a busy restaurant that has always valued controlled anarchy -- at least a little bit -- as a business structure.
Recently Cathy helped me arrange for a large group of out-of-town friends and family to gather for Alfalfa's famous Sunday brunch. It was the kickoff to a big Wedding Day. I wanted to show off the excellence of the food and the special, unpretentious but still stylish feel of this beloved place. Our group grew - no problem. We included vegetarians, carnivores, and vegans - no problem. West Coasters brought their espresso drinks in with them - no problem. During the restaurant's busiest time of the week, we were so many the kitchen might have thrown up its hands - but still no problem. The food was fresh, delicious, and arrived quickly. The servers delighted our crowd with their breezy competence. It was all so very good, and Cathy, in her no-fuss way, made sure it happened just as we wished.
Cathy is married to Tom Martin, who has baked Alfalfa's fine breads and made its extraordinary desserts for decades. Tom deserves his own post, but in case he doesn't get it, I will assert that Tom makes Lexington's best desserts, and he makes them the best consistently. If you think another place in town may have better desserts, I challenge you to try Tom's Italian Cream Cake or Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cheesecake -- you lucky thing!
The wonders of Kentucky food include the devotion of people like Cathy and Tom Martin, whose fidelity to a fine, distinctively Lexington place, across decades, keeps that place fresh and good for so many of us from here -- and away.
Follow Alfalfa in twitter: @avocadogrill. If more of us follow, perhaps the restaurant will use this method to tell us when the tomato bisque is in the house (nearly all the time now!) and when the carrot cake is down to the last piece.
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