Tasting the Past: Recipes from Lexington’s Closed Restaurants
Lexington loves local restaurants and reminisces about favorite dishes from closed restaurants that we want to try again. So we dug into the Herald-Leader archives, contacted local chefs who ran some of Lexington’s most popular restaurants, and reached out to seasoned recipe collectors to put together a collection you can bring to your table. Enjoy.
The Saratoga Restaurant was one people always thought they would come back to because it had done so many times before. Then the building was demolished.
And even today, people talk about the Saratoga restaurant with nostalgia. So we had to seek out a recipe from Chevy Chase’s neighborhood haunt to share for our Tasting the Past series highlighting lost local restaurants.
The thing was that the menu wasn’t really special or unique or fancy. As the late Don Edwards said in a column he wrote in February 2000, “The Saratoga were his characters.”
Totsie Rose opened the restaurant on East High Street in Lexington near Euclid Avenue in 1953 and named it after the famous New York racetrack. The popular restaurant changed hands several times before closing permanently in 1995.
The essence of Saratoga, Edwards wrote, was “the bookies, the college professors, the town hall types, the Monday meatloaf, the gin rickies and the whiskey sours – and the threshold of the front door worn and smooth by the thousands of feet that crossed the threshold of 856 East High Street.
Edwards reviewed the restaurant in 1982 and said it was like stepping into 1952 or a Damon Runyon novel.
In its heyday, the ‘Toga was known for its industrial-strength cocktails, $2.50 sandwiches, and daily specials like chicken and dumplings, salmon croquettes, and meatloaf.
Ted Mims, owner of the Saratoga from 1977 to 1989, told Edwards that regulars didn’t like the menu changes. “Once we took the olive nut spread off the sandwich menu,” Mims said. “This lady raised nine kinds of hell until we finally put it back together.”
Luckily, one of those regulars was Lexington cookbook author Barbara Harper Bach, who managed to convince a former waitress to give her the recipe for this olive nut spread. If you’re unfamiliar with olive nut spread, it’s not a condiment, consider it a sandwich spread, like chicken or tuna salad.
The building was demolished in 2000 as part of the revitalization effort that helped breathe new life into the Chevy Chase business district. The new building became a variety of new restaurants, but nothing lasted more than a few years: some people call it “the curse of Saratoga.” Maybe that’s why it’s now a realtor’s office.
But even those who welcomed the redevelopment acknowledged that something special had been lost. As one Saratoga regular said in a 2000 article about the impending demolition, “It was a good place.”
Collected by Barbara Harper Bach
This story was originally published May 5, 2022 6:00 a.m.