Glen Willis, the historic landmark building on the outskirts of Frankfort just down from Buffalo Trace Distillery, has in its 207 years of existence been a private home (one of its owners, Revolutionary War veteran and politician Humphrey Marshall, was notorious for having fought a duel with Henry Clay when both served in the Kentucky House of Representatives), a tearoom and a catering event space.
Since August, it has been the newest addition to the Frankfort dining scene.
The Limewater Restaurant (so named to honor the limestone and clear water which are the life blood of Central Kentucky), is described by its owner Isabelle Hay as an American bistro.
“We like to say we offer casual fine dining, “says Hay. “True, we do have white tablecloth service, but we also have Motown and classic rock as our background music.”
Hay is a native of Nantucket Island, but her Kentucky roots are legit, as her father Robert is a native of the commonwealth and a direct descendent of bourbon legend Colonel E. H. Taylor.
To say that The Limewater is a family affair is an understatement. Isabelle has restaurant experience in Nantucket and New York City and is a certified sommelier.
Robert’s expertise is in architectural drafting and his daughter says he has done much of the handy work himself.
Robert’s wife, Kathleen, one of America’s leading interior decorators, is responsible for the restaurant’s exquisite furnishings. I especially loved the bayou-themed wallpaper in the vestibule and her elegant touches in the intimate bar.
Not to be left out, another Hay daughter, Madeleine, a graduate of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, is responsible for the restaurant’s graphics and promotional materials.
While Chef Axl Wheeler isn’t a family member yet, he will be when he and Isabelle tie the knot. Until then, he’s cooking away in the kitchen like he’s …. well, one of the family.
Wheeler’s credentials include working with a James Beard Award winner (Jeff McInnis, Best Chef South) and a Top Chef contestant (Janine Booth.)
Wheeler sources his food locally and will change his menu seasonally. Some dishes, such as local mushroom linguine (Lexington Pasta Company linguine, grana Padano, truffle butter and chopped parsley), Shrimp & Stone-Cut Grits with roasted tomatoes, and Sig Lusher beer jus and scallions are on both the lunch and dinner menus.
On the day I went for lunch, they were serving a delicious spicy pork and chicken soup, finished with kale, scallions and olive oil, accompanied by cheddar scallion fritters with aged cheddar and poblano crema. I’m not ashamed to say I practically swallowed them whole.
If you have room for dessert, I strongly recommend the Blondie Tart, a seven-layer cookie with caramel, bourbon and whipped cream.
Together, the Hay family plus Wheeler have created a dining experience sure to attract a legion of loyal patrons.
But be forewarned, with only 11 tables which can seat 50 people (between the bar and intimate dining rooms) it’s best to get your reservations in early.
Isabelle says that by early October they hope to have the expansive back porch ready for table service, but until then patrons can order a drink – try the signature Limewater (Castle & Key gin, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and Aquafaba, a vegan sub for egg whites which give it a nice foamy texture), sink into a chair on the porch and watch the Kentucky River flow lazily by.
This is a dining experience you won’t soon forget.