Copper River Grill In Nicholasville Tries Hard, But Misses The Mark

Copper River GrillLast month I had the opportunity to dine at Copper River Grill, one of Nicholasville’s newest restaurants just off of Nicholasville (Lexington) Rd. I first noticed the construction for Copper River Grill late last winter and through my research, I learned that Copper River Grill was the name of restaurants originating in South Carolina.

Inside Copper River GrillSeveral years ago, founder Jimmy Rogers and CEO Dan Angell envisioned a restaurant reminiscent of an Alaskan mountain lodge serving up a wide array of food choices and “Providing exceptional food and service, one plate and one customer at a time”. They named this restaurant Copper River Grill and opened the very first one in Seneca, South Carolina in 2005. The Nicholasville location is their 7th Copper River Grill and the first one out of the state of South Carolina.

Copper River Grill Bar AreaAt the time of writing, it seems Copper River Grill is still quite popular among the Nicholasville locals. Indication of this is due to the reported sightings of large groups of people still waiting outside the restaurant during dinner hours. Popularity like this is a common occurrence for new restaurants, so it’s no surprise that a wait for a table during peak dinner hours is at least 40+ minutes. But the true test is whether the popularity is due to the food which I had high hopes for.

The dining party comprised of me, Haley, and her parents. Upon arrival around 7 PM, the typical crowds of folks were gathered just outside the building. We ended up waiting about 45 minutes for our table. While waiting, I took the opportunity to walk around and admire the atmosphere. Having been to many lodge-themed restaurants, Copper River Grill is one of the nicer ones. One thing that differentiates it from the other similar-themed restaurants is that Copper River Grill makes use of very large windows. This in turn compliments the large, rustic cabin atmosphere… especially during sunset. The warm lighting, the copper accents, and the earthen tones make for a very cozy atmosphere.

Copper River RedsAfter being seated, we were greeted by our waitress who throughout the evening provided consistent service. We started off with two appetizers consisting of “Copper River Reds” ($5.99) and an appetizer portion of chicken tenders ($6.99) served with honey-mustard BBQ sauce. The “Copper River Reds” are Copper River Grill’s version of the blooming onion. The main difference is that instead of a bloom of heavily battered, sweet yellow onions, you instead get a plate with a heaping pile of lightly battered, pungent red onions with a moderate seasoning of salt and pepper.

Chicken TendersThe chicken tenders comprised of white meat chicken strips that are breaded in a house blend of seasonings and fried to a golden brown. What I particularly liked about Copper River’s chicken tenders is that the batter was light, not heavy. In my opinion, nothing is worse than having a batter coating that’s thicker than the actual meat of the chicken.

She-Crab SoupIf that wasn’t enough, I also ordered the “She-Crab Soup” ($5.99) for myself. “She-Crab Soup” is a rich soup (similar to bisque) that is a regional specialty of South Carolina & Georgia. The soup was pleasantly sweet, thick and creamy. A moderate amount of crab meat floated throughout the soup. The soup reminded me a lot of lobster bisque, which was equally delicious.

It wasn’t until the entrees did the enjoyment of the food start to decline. For my entree, I opted for the 14 oz. ribeye steak ($18.95) with the waitress’ recommendation of the cheese mashed potatoes and a house salad (mixed greens, chopped eggs, tomatoes, bacon & ham) with the house dressing (honey mustard and hot bacon). Haley chose the “Grilled Breast of Chicken Salad” ($8.99): “tender chicken breast grilled and sliced to order over mixed greens, chopped Kalamata olives, diced tomatoes, chopped scallions and artichoke hearts”. With the salads came a croissant covered in “Glacier Sauce” (which to me tasted like honey butter).

The House SaladThe house salad was the first disappointment. The term “Hot Bacon” dressing brings me memories of the first time I experienced it at the restaurant Rafferty’s. Hot bacon dressing is supposed to be a sweet concoction of crispy, crumbled bacon pieces mixed with at least brown sugar, vinegar, and bacon drippings (via most recipes). The variant of “Honey Mustard and Hot Bacon” that I ordered is similar to the above dressing but adds honey-Dijon mustard. Nowhere on my salad was a dressing like any of those mentioned. All I got was a salad with an abundant amount of chopped eggs and plain honey mustard dressing.

My second disappointment was my side of cheese mashed potatoes. I like butter, I like cream, and I like cheese… but these mashed potatoes were just too rich for my taste. They tasted like they were made with butter and whole milk… and then drenched with a thick cheese sauce. I’ve had a similar experience before in terms of richness… it was when I took a sip of heavy whipping cream to see what it tasted like.

14 oz. RibeyeLast but not least… Copper River Grill describes their steaks as the “finest Midwestern beef, custom trimmed and aged to our exact specifications.” With a description like that, you would expect it to be a great steak but my experience was the opposite. When I specifically ordered it medium-rare earlier in the evening, the waitress informed me that Copper River’s medium-rare temperature actually means rare . She suggested that if I wanted medium-rare, I should order my steak cooked medium. I took her advice but instead got an overcooked steak that was borderline medium-well to well-done.

Very upset, I sent it back to the kitchen without taking a bite. Thinking about it now, I probably should have taken at least one bite from it because the replacement steak I received was the blandest piece of steak I’ve ever had. Aside from parsley sprinkled on top, the steak had no seasoning at all… not even a pinch of salt. I’m not sure if this is how all their steaks taste or if it was just because I had to have another one cooked up for me. Either way, I’ve had more flavorful and better quality steaks at those family buffet joints like Golden Corral and Ryan’s.

As much as I wanted to like Copper River Grill, I can’t justify returning again. I will credit that the atmosphere is nice, the appetizers are decent, and the price is very affordable, but the quality of the main course was too poor. I at one point thought that I would give them one more chance by trying one of their other items such as burgers, salads, or pastas… but then I realized that other casual dining restaurants in Lexington, such as Cheddar’s, Applebee’s, and Chili’s have equivalent menu items that taste much better .

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Copper River Grill
501 KeeneCenter Drive
Nicholasville, KY 40356

Bill Total: $48.40 For Two w/ Tax

Copper River Grill on Urbanspoon

Food:2.5/5.0 ★★½☆☆ 
Service:3.5/5.0 ★★★½☆ 
Atmosphere:4.0/5.0 ★★★★☆ 
Price:4.0/5.0 ★★★★☆ 
Overall:3.5/5.0 ★★★½☆ 

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