As our readers know, Kentucky chef Ouita Michel is our Lady Boss of the month. If you haven’t checked out her interview with us yet, it’s simply a must! And guys she even shared her coveted Hot Brown Recipe over here too so what are you waiting for? This post is all about her newest venture in Lexington, Honeywood in The Summit at Fritz Farm.
Ouita’s achievements always blow me away and Honeywood is no exception. With a slightly different concept than her usual spots, this eatery has a more modern atmosphere — hinting at the fact that she has begun to delegate some control in her enterprises, but has in no way stepped out of the picture entirely. Now with eight restaurants under her belt, she’s learned she can’t do everything herself anymore. But letting go has been a bittersweet new horizon for Ouita, giving her time to work on new projects like writing a book and opening new avenues in her brand. It has also taught her that collaborating with new talent offers a wealth of creative growth for everyone involved.
Michel’s first priority is always community, which her businesses reflect wholeheartedly. Listening to neighborhood feedback is essential to her success, as is the community of chefs, managers and staff that she has built. When the vision for Honeywood came about she knew she wouldn’t be in the kitchen — but she also knew instantly the chef she would want at the helm was Josh Smouse. This also meant giving him complete control over the menu; her only request: make sure there’s chicken salad. Smouse has certainly not disappointed, taking this vision and making it the perfect combination of taste and true talent. There is truly something to be said about Ouita’s motto of “community over competition.”
As soon as you walk into Honeywood you can tell it’s an Ouita Michel venture. Her magic touch of making every eatery feel like home is still strikingly apparent, but she’s modernized this space with slick leather booths, high ceilings and windows flooding the room with light. The menu is also aglow in her influence, highlighting local items as much as possible and classic pairings of meats and veggies. But Smouse is clearly at the wheel putting his touch on this successful brand. His Beetloaf, a vegetarian version of everyone’s favorite meatloaf, is a refreshing and wholesome twist. And you’d be hard pressed to find a better steak than his, basted in duck fat and topped with a dreamy bordelaise sauce beckoning you to come back again and again.
As in all of Michel’s restaurants, you will have a pleasantly difficult time deciding what to get! But whatever you choose, you know it’s an experience you’ll want to tell your friends about, which appropriately is what brought us to Honeywood this week in the first place. I have a few friends in town for the Kentucky Derby, and since I’ve already taken them to Wallace Station and Windy Corner in the past I wanted to see what they thought of this Michel’s latest concept.
We didn’t have a lot of time and the place was packed when we popped in; gearing up to celebrate their one year anniversary. Clearly, the word is out. We decided to grab a drink at the beautiful wrap-around bar, complete with an open view of the kitchen that adds to the welcoming vibe. I couldn’t decide what I was in the mood for and my guests were in total Derby mode, so the bartender delighted us when she said they were offering a special drink this week. The Chocolate Orange Mint Julep: I think “yes please” came out of my mouth before she even finished the name! As soon as I took the perfectly chilled first sip I knew I had to have this recipe. (Being friends with Ouita definitely has its perks… and she was even generous enough to let me share it with you, too!)
I really can’t recommend going into Honeywood enough. Whether just for a drink or for the Chicken & Gnocchi I can’t stop craving, it’s an experience you just can’t get anywhere else. If you’re in Kentucky for Derby, it’s worth the trip this week alone to see what Chef Smouse is whipping up for his anniversary specials. And if you’re not local, we can at least give you and all your guests at your Derby festivities a recipe for the tastiest Mint Julep this side of Dixie!
Thank you to Ouita and her incredible staff for letting us in on all the secrets this month!
Chocolate Orange Mint Julep
2 oz Woodford Reserve
1/2 oz Orange Syrup*
1 dropper full Woodford Reserve Chocolate Bitters
5-6 min leaves, torn
Dry shake all ingredients (without ice), pour over crushed ice and garnish with fresh mint.
1 C sugar
1 C water
3-4 orange slices
Combine all in a saucepan, bring to a boil. Cool in fridge at least 12 hours — the longer, the more the orange will be prominent.