Lexington, KY – Alfalfa Restaurant, which has been serving Lexingtonians consistently since 1973, will celebrate 40 years in business on April 28.
“We’ll open the doors around three in the afternoon, and go til about 10,” said Jim Happ, who has co-owned Alfalfa’s with his wife, Betsey Moses, since 2003. “We will be serving a lot of the traditional Alfalfa’s food, like the Hoppin’ John and our signature carrot cake.”
Alfalfa is tied for the second-oldest restaurant in Lexington, alongside Joe Bologna’s, and these two are surpassed only by Columbia’s. Happ is excited about the event, which will draw diners, friends and employees.
“Former owners will be coming from North Carolina, New York, Oregon and California, and there may be a few surprise visitors we don’t know about,” he said.
For many years, Alfalfa served above-average, healthy and affordable dishes to the student body of the University of Kentucky campus, as well as for those conscientious eaters who wanted something tasty and healthy. For 31 years, the restaurant thrived at its previous location on South Limestone, until the iconic eatery found a new home across from the downtown branch of the Lexington Public Library on Main Street, where it has been since 2004.
“We do things a bit differently,” Happ said. “Lettuce, for instance — we don’t use it, and we use a great deal of cabbage instead. This tradition started in the 1970s, and Lexingtonians seem to like it still.”
Renowned photographer Guy Mendes will be on hand to take more of his well- known FOA (Friends of Alfalfa) pictures of the celebration beginning at 4 p.m. on Sunday. Singer/songwriter Patrick McNeese, who played at Alfalfa weekly for nine years, will be present to play with his new band, which includes Scott Stoess, Maggie Landers, Tom Martin and Tripp Bratton.
Devine Carama, a local hip hop artist, will be lending talents to the evening as well, along with one or two other as-yet-undisclosed acts.
“Nothing’s really changed,” Happ said. “The food is still prepared from scratch, using no canned goods; we’re medium-priced, so everyone has access; and we stay healthy with food like rice, beans and black-eyed peas.”
Helen Alexander, the dinner sauté cook and cookie baker, has been with Alfalfa for 24 years. She started cooking at age 10 under the guidance of her mother, who she describes as “a fantastic cook.”
“My mother was known for being the best cook in Central City. I would start the beans and cornbread while she was at work, and she would come home and ﬁnish the meal. I still make the ﬂour for the chicken the way she taught me, 50 years later,” Alexander said.
Erik May thought he wouldn’t last a day working at Alfalfa. Even though his culinary tastes were more about Burger Chef and McDonald’s, friends pressured him to apply for a job, but “I didn’t want to because I was a punk and didn’t want to hang around with a bunch of hippies,” May said.
What’s the secret to the Alfalfa salads?
“The dressings,” May said. “I follow the recipes exactly as they were at the beginning, so they’re as consistent as possible. The house vinaigrette is the most popular, with miso and blue cheese dressing following close behind. Miso dressing is one of those dressings that, once you acquire a taste for it, you can’t give it up.”
Tom Martin is the resident bread and dessert man. He is not related to this publication's editor (and McNeese's keyboardist) who does, however, enjoy desserts.
“It is a fun handcraft, and I enjoy reading baking books from the library and trying out techniques,” he said. “I have always been given a free hand. That, and being able to read audio books while I work, is why I’m still at Alfalfa after 33 years.”
Alfalfa has always prided itself on being plugged into the community, holding monthly poetry slams downtown and keeping most plates under $10. The restaurant is open to the idea of having other community events as well.
Weekdays sees them open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Brunch is held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the weekends.
Check the restaurant out online at www.alfalfarestaurant.com, or call (859)253-0014 with any questions.