Eating my way through the alphabet: Columbia’s Steakhouse
Published 2:30 pm Friday, February 17, 2023
By Eden Slone
Opening in 1948 and considered one of the oldest restaurants in the Bluegrass, Columbia’s Steakhouse needs no introduction. From iconic menu items served for almost 75 years to the tall tales and antics of Lexington legends eating there, it is full of history, tradition and has a reputation that precedes it. However, in 2023, with apps like DoorDash, Uber Eats, and not to mention glitzy new restaurants popping up on every corner, is Columbia’s Steakhouse still somewhere worth eating or a mere relic of the past? I visited the North Limestone location on a mission to find out.
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Although I can’t say I had the privilege of walking into Columbia’s Steakhouse several decades ago, I would assume the decor has mostly stayed the same since its origins. From my first step inside, I thought I had stepped out of my time-traveling machine and into another era. I was reminded of Cliff Hagan’s old steakhouse that my family loved visiting when I was younger. I smiled as Barbara Streisand’s voice echoed through the speakers as I went to my table, singing none other than “The Way We Were.” It was almost too perfectly fitting. I settled into my dimly lit booth with a red leather tablecloth, like from a forgotten memory of your favorite old diner. The walls are covered in comforting Kentucky faces – I gave a slight nod to the sketch of Joe B. Hall as I walked by his portrait. From basketball to horse racing, the restaurant carefully curated a selection of decor based on the things the bluegrass is most proud of. I sat a little taller in my seat with renewed pride in my home state as I scanned the walls and the menu. The front of the menu had a thoroughbred drawn on it and a note that read, “There is no company more grateful for its friends and customers than we are. For this purchase and every purchase, we thank you.”
The menu was packed from appetizers down to desserts. Fried mushrooms, hot browns, french dip sandwiches, dozens of items that you would probably select at another restaurant if you saw it on their menu, but since they were all on this menu, I weighed each one carefully, not wanting to make the wrong choice. I eventually went for their famed Nighthawk Special, an eight oz. tenderloin with garlic butter, a baked potato, and another one of their staples, the Diego salad. The Diego salad came out first and I had no idea what to expect. It was shockingly simple–a full plate of lettuce, onions, radishes, and celery, with my choice of dressing (hot take: I am a blue cheese girl, through and through). The blue cheese dressing tasted homemade, and each vegetable was as crunchy as the perfect potato chip. When the main entree came out, the baked potato and tenderloin were on two different plates: one, because of how big the potato was, and two, because of how much sauce was swimming under the tenderloin. I cut into the meat, and with zero effort–it cut like butter. The sauce, some butter-garlic concoction, made the bottom of every bite have an extra rich flavor. The baked potato was precisely how steakhouse potatoes are supposed to be: salty, fluffy, and big, three superficial but often missing qualities. I doused mine in sour cream, no butter necessary (which, in my opinion, is always a tell-tale sign of a good baked potato). I cleaned my plate and imagined what I would order on my next visit instead of focusing on being full.
The tenderloin. As someone who isn’t even a massive fan of red meat and was hesitant when I saw it come out with sauce, I was utterly blown away by the tenderness and flavor. While I was already plotting my next order with something new, I would reorder the NIghthawk Special.
Jeff Ruby’s, Tony’s, and countless others dominate the Lexington restaurant scene: is there still room for Columbia Steakhouse? Yes. 100 times over, yes. There will always be room for Columbia Steakhouse because, after visiting I realized it isn’t competing with anyone. It isn’t Jeff Ruby’s, it isn’t Tony’s, and it doesn’t want to be. It’s homey, it’s warm, it’s amazingly priced to be considered a top-tier steakhouse. It’s a taste of the past that we should all continue to enjoy in the future. In fact, as a self-proclaimed foodie and Lexington lover, I am ashamed I hadn’t been to Columbia Steakhouse before. Date night, family night, or maybe you’re like me and just have a night of curiosity, go out to Columbia Steakhouse. You won’t regret it.
201 N Limestone, 2750 Richmond Rd, or the Columbia Steak Express at 125 Southland Dr.