An old cotton mill gets a new life and Lexington gets a destination dining experience.
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Chef Nick Brock, who trained at Johnson and Wales and was employed at Magnolias in Charleston and The Blue Marlin in Columbia before becoming a partner at Cotton Grill, points out that everything at the restaurant is made fresh to order. When it comes to “having it your way,” that means a salad can become an entree salad by adding anything from buttermilk fried chicken to grilled Atlantic salmon to the pan-seared southern jumbo crab cake. Made with lump crab and claw meat, other ingredients that make the crab cake worth coming back for are the bacon and the scallions.
For the half-pound angus burgers, 17 add-ons are available for $1 each. Choices include pimento cheese, applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, fried green tomato and goat cheese crumbles. The restaurant also lives up to its name by presenting From the Grill, featuring a choice of protein — such as 21-day aged prime rib or lamb sirloin — a selection of eight sauces, and two sides.
Brock grows his own herbs, and purchases what is in season and as much local produce as possible, as well as Adluh grits and flour. He describes Cotton Grill’s culinary style as “American cuisine with a Southern flair.” The 15 sides are decidedly Southern, including Rawl Farm’s greens, butter beans and Adluh white stone cheese grits.
Favorite desserts are seasonal cobbler topped with an Adluh crust and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, and rich chocolate bread pudding topped with fresh whipped cream.
How did Cotton Grill get its start?
Charleston business partners Laban Chappel and Ryan Condon bought the old cotton mill, built in the late 1800s, and gave the buildings an award-winning renovation. The mill sits on Lexington Mill Pond, which is surrounded by dense groves of trees on three sides. The goal for Chappel and Condon was to have the rustic brick, massive exposed beams and original floors to serve as a backdrop for specialty shops, offices and a restaurant. They partnered with Brock, who was experienced in the casual fine dining restaurant business. Cotton Grill opened in November 2009.
What does the place look like?
Chappel and Condon’s interior designer chose antiqued mosaic and blown glass colored lighting to complement the natural elements of the old factory, including the enormous copper blower that now serves to heat and cool the restaurant. Square tables are decked with white cloths and linens. The regular dining room serves upward of 108, while 40 can be seated in the private Charleston dining room, 48 on the screened-in porch, 28 in the bar area and 42 on the deck, which overlooks the lake.
“It’s beautiful inside the restaurant,” says Brock, “but then outside they can dine while looking at the water and the fountain, and it feels like they are somewhere other than near downtown Lexington.” On one wall are photographer Clark Berry photos on canvas capturing architectural elements of the old cotton mill.
Who eats here?
“Mayors, the sheriff and politicians, who might sit here for a few hours, the Red Hat Ladies, and many locals,” says Brock. “This is a fine restaurant that people in the Lexington area can enjoy that is close by, plus it is a destination place for some coming from Columbia.”