Carson’s Food & Drink Review

Carson's Food & Drink is a premiere restaurant and bar in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. With their large bourbon selection, abundant craft cocktails and delicious food, they are not to be missed. Read on to learn more!
Carson’s Food & Drink
362 E. Main Street
Lexington, Kentucky
859-309-3039
Restaurant Review

Carson’s Food & Drink hit Lexington’s downtown dining scene in December 2016. From day one, this east Main St. anchor has been delighting Lexingtonians with their signature pre-prohibition cocktails and their fresh locally sourced Kentucky Proud menu.

Meet Mark Fichtner

At the helm of Carson’s Food & Drink is long time restaurant industry veteran Mark Fichtner. His unknowing foray into the business began at the early age of 14. In an effort to help out his family, the young California native went to work as a dishwasher at his local Sizzler. Following a break from dish duty, he stepped back into the restaurant world, this time gaining experience in all aspects of the business, from busser to server, bartender to manager, general manager to district manager. Over the years, Fichtner continued his ascension up the corporate ladder eventually landing as president of a well-established California restaurant group.

Mark Fichtner - Carson's Food & Drink - Lexington, Kentucky
Mark Fichtner – Owner, Carson’s Food & Drink
Welcome To Kentucky!

So how did the Bluegrass state get so lucky? As it turns out Fichtner had a Kentucky connection via marriage. Timing was also a factor as the company he headed as president was about to be sold. Additionally there was Fichtner’s own growing hunger to start his own venture. And so in 2007, Fichtner and family made the move to Lexington.

While getting a feel for his newly adopted home he went back to work for a local Lexington restaurant group. Then in 2008 Fichtner decided it was time for his own venture. Timing is everything, however, and the market turmoil of 2008 left his pockets lacking the necessary capital. For Fichtner, the dream crashed alongside the market.

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Back To The Corporate Life

Down, but certainly not out, Fichtner went right back to doing what he did best for another local restaurant group. He continued there until the timing once again seemed right. Five years later, at last striking out on his own, Fichtner left others’ restaurant groups behind for good. He spent the next 2 years developing his own restaurant concept. His goal was to create a local place that was consistent, with good food and good service. Fichtner also wanted a casual and approachable environment where people could come as they are. Shorts, t-shirt, or suit; it didn’t matter.

The Bar at Carson's Food & Drink - Lexington, Kentucky
The Bar at Carson’s Food & Drink
Frootbat - Making hard to find liquor easy to buy

Carson’s Is Born

Fichtner was also adamant about building a company where he wanted to work. A company where he felt proud to be a part of; and equally important, a company where the employees wanted to work. After all of the planning, hard work, and tweaking (the original name was The Kentucky Draft House), a new concept had arrived, Carson’s Food & Drink.

Fichtner kept the name in the family. His son is not only the Carson of Carson’s, but also serves as the company’s marketing and social media director. According to Fichtner, great branding helped to put Carson’s on the map. Yet much of the restaurant’s success he credits to his staff. Fichtner explained that it all starts with a good culture and a clear vision. Then, it’s important to find a good partner who understands both. That partner for Fichtner is his protégé, Kyle Zimmerman. Part of Carson’s original crew, Zimmerman began his career as a server. For the past 5 years, Zimmerman has served as Carson’s General Manager. Fichtner proudly shared that “Kyle has taken his (Fichtner’s) vision and improved upon it.”

The Main Dining Room at Carson's Food & Drink
The Main Dining Room at Carson’s Food & Drink
Frootbat - Making hard to find liquor easy to buy

Good Investments Pay Off

This high praise from the well-seasoned restaurateur is a solid example of Fichtner’s overall philosophy. Invest in a good product and invest in your people. It was Fichtner’s investment in his staff during COVID that proved pivotal. When restaurants were shut down for dine-in business in March of 2020, Fichtner made the decision to keep his staff on the payroll. No one would be forced to draw unemployment. Rather than letting people go, Fichtner instead nixed plans for his next restaurant which had been quietly under development. As a result, Carson’s created a solid to-go business for their food and cocktails keeping product moving, people employed and customers satisfied. The added bonus to this decision was that Carson’s staff was ready to serve when indoor dining resumed.

While Fichtner credits his top-notch staff for the restaurant’s continuing success, he also acknowledges the impact of the folks that walk through the doors. “The river was flowing. We just let it fork where people were telling us to go.” A prime example of this is found behind Carson’s bar. A self-proclaimed beer guy, Carson’s Food and Drink opened with a very respectable 20 tap handles, yet only 7 bourbons and ryes. Over time that number has made an enormous about-face. Today’s they proudly carry around 150 bourbons and ryes and have become one of Lexington’s premier bourbon bars.

The Enclosed Patio
The Enclosed Patio
A New Carson’s Is On The Way

Perhaps, an even bigger bourbon selection is on the horizon. The company recently announced that at long last, its second location is in the works. Carsons #2 will take over the defunct Andover Country Club near the Hamburg area of Lexington. According to Fichtner, the second location will be very similar to the first, with the same great menu and the same great service. While the decor will differ due to the building itself, the main difference will be in size. Carson’s #2 will offer a 100 seat event space complete with its own dedicated kitchen line. The location will also have a greater seating capacity that will include an enclosed patio with open air capability, when the weather permits.

Let’s Not Forget The Food!

Of course, the whole story would be for naught if the food was not top notch; and is it ever! Carson’s Food & Drink’s menu has something for everyone. From a wide selection of starters including a delicious Grilled Brie with bourbon pear chutney to Ahi Poke Lettuce Wraps to their signature Sweet and Spicy Ribs, these large appetizers are sure to satisfy your hunger or be the perfect start to your meal. There is an ample selection of salads, along with the day’s soup. Salads are substantial and can serve as a course or as a meal. Options include Grilled Hearts of Romaine with seasonal tomatoes and blue cheese crumbles, a very fresh Caprese Salad, Spinach & Field Greens or a tangy Ceasar Salad. Chicken, Salmon, Shrimp, Ahi or a Filet Medallion can be added to any salad as well. The soup changes daily, and the Buffalo Chicken soup on Mondays is fantastic!

Carson’s also serves a wide array of sandwiches and burgers. The Carson’s Pastrami Sandwich, a personal favorite and their take on a Reuben, is topped with jalapeño cilantro coleslaw, which really “spices it up”. Other choices include the Shaved Prime Rib Sandwich, accompanied by a delicious rosemary demi-glace (which is more like a nice thick soup) for dipping or a Wagyu Burger finished with truffle butter and topped with gruyere cheese and cherrywood smoked bacon. For those who are seafood lovers, the unique Soft Shell Crab BLT or Blackened Salmon Sandwich might tempt your tastebuds. If a plated entrée is more your style, there is a wide selection ranging from pasta to steaks, salmon and creole shrimp & grits. My personal favorite combines the best of all worlds in the Spicy Pasta Filet, which is sliced filet mignon in a spicy bourbon cream sauce, with broccoli, red peppers, mushrooms & onions, and tossed with linguine pasta and topped with parmesan cheese and scallions.

Carson's Steak & Eggs - My Favorite Brunch Entrée
Carson’s Steak & Eggs – My Favorite Brunch Entrée
The Future Is Now

So while Carson’s #2 is on the way, Fichtner and his team of dedicated staff will continue to welcome, serve, and satisfy eager diners and bar-goers. Visit carsonsfoodanddrink.com for an inkling of their bravo worthy brunch menu (Fri-Sun, 10-2) as well as their luscious lunch/dinner menu (Mon-Sun, all day). Carson’s Food and Drink is a must stop. Whether foodie or food novice, bourbon nerd or bourbon newbie, Carson’s gratifies.?


Are you interested in learning about any local distilleries? Then check out our write ups on a couple of local Lexington distilleries: Bluegrass Distillers and Town Branch Distillery!

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