We Add Another Brilliant, Beloved Sponsor: Welcome, Alfalfa Restaurant!
Alfalfa opened in 1973, just as I finished one stage of my life and headed off to serve in the U. S. Peace Corps in the gorgeous Republic of the Philippines. My life changed, and when I came home to Lexington, Alfalfa was the first place I went. That set a pattern that held for decades: any out-of-town trip required a visit to Alfalfa's after returning home, in order to get properly re-grounded. Alfalfa, I now recognize, was home to me.
I went to Alfalfa on my first post-hospital trip after my son was born. I celebrated post-hospital freedom by wearing a long red dress spiked with little yellow flowers. I remember the happiness of the new baby and the sweetness of the familiar restaurant.
Alfalfa is the place of choice for taking any out-of-town guests we really like. I think that includes all out-of-town guests we have ever had, but if you have stayed with us and we did not go to Alfalfa or send you there, we need to talk.
At Alfalfa, I learn of friends' divorces and new loves, pregnancies and new jobs, health and illnesses. I mean, friends talk about life changes while we eat our House Salads with Miso on the Side and sip our Red Zinger and Iced Berry Teas. But it is also true that for a long stretch I could keep up with who was seeing whom just by looking around Alfalfa on weekends, checking out the couples. Before facebook, status updates appeared at Alfalfa.
Alfalfa was my first teacher about restaurants that commit to cook with the foods local farmers grow. That's a commitment that Alfalfa made before any other restaurant in Lexington, as far as I know. Today, more than ever, Alfalfa supports local growers. See the "About" page of the restaurant's fine new website, which states, accurately, "We were local before local was cool."
Once the Lexington Farmers Market reopens outdoors in April, look for Alfalfa's brightly painted wagon on Saturdays. Alfalfa people collect fresh eggs, vegetables and fruits and then use the ultra-fresh, ultra-local ingredients in that day's brunch menu.
Alfalfa is the only restaurant I know that has survived with these organizational characteristics: At the start, I think, it was a cooperative. It has had solo owners and groups of owners. It has gone through long stretches with no management other than staff themselves, operating as a self-managed system that surely would have worked nowhere else. Some of the current Alfalfa staff have worked there almost the entire time of the restaurant's existence, yet new people are always coming in. At times Alfalfa's owners have invested in it, sustaining it with personal funds, as if it were a charitable institution, keeping it going for the benefit of people like me who cannot imagine life without it.
Before I was a food writer, I wrote about urban living for the late, lamented Nougat magazine. Writing about Alfalfa's signature miso dressing as a feature of the urban landscape helped me find my way to writing about food more constantly, so it pointed me to the work I love.
Savoring Kentucky awarded Alfalfa a Valentine in 2008. In 2010, we saluted Cathy Martin's decades of fidelity to the restaurant and its customers. and hinted at a piece, not yet delivered, about Cathy's husband Tom Martin. Most nights every week for more than 30 years, Tom has come to the restaurant to make its fine brown bread and most of its inimitable desserts.
Alfalfa is going through a promising time, deepening its commitments to its long-time values while broadening its reach and appeal. One example of pure Alfalfa: the upcoming "history dinner" (my name for it) celebrating the life of Casimar Pulaski, the Polish nobleman who may have saved the life of George Washington and who gave his own life fighting in our revolution. Pulaski County, Kentucky is named in his honor.
Alfalfa plans a special Polish meal on Friday, March 9, to commemorate Pulaski's March 6 birthday. Two highlights:
- Kentucky Marksbury Farm Kielbasa slowly simmered in beer, then grilled to perfection and served with sauerkraut, apples, sour cream and house made mustard.
- Sauerkraut and house made potato cheddar pierogies sautéed in butter with onion and served with sour cream and scallions.
Oh yes—and Polish beer.
Savoring Kentucky expresses heartfelt gratitude to Alfalfa for its sponsorship. May the Hoppin' John and the Chicken Talese and the Avocado Grill Sandwich and the Italian Cream Cake live forever.