A chic new restaurant a short 15-minute drive from downtown Frankfort could offer a glimpse into the city’s future.

As Frankfort looks to capitalize more on its proximity to the bourbon trail, Millville’s The Stave Restaurant and Bourbon Bar is doing just that.

Diners braved stormy skies on Saturday to pack the new restaurant, located along Glenn’s Creek midway between Woodford Reserve and Castle and Key distilleries. They noshed on novel twists to Kentucky classics and downed local booze.

The food is “modern Southern” in the words of Chef Jonathan Sanning, a veteran of Ouita Michel’s family of restaurants. Crispy chunks of pork shoulder on a white bean puree are The Stave’s take on pork and beans. Burgers topped with pimento cheese have a “nuttier, sweeter” taste because the local cattle from which they’re made are raised on a malt-filled diet of West Sixth Brewing’s spent grain, the chef says.

And, of course, there are the cocktails, including a bourbon peach Bellini, a shrub and a negroni that all feature liquor from nearby distilleries. A “Neighbor Bourbon Flight” with samples from Woodford Reserve, Glenn’s Creek Distillery and Buffalo Trace is also in the works, says Rebecca Burnworth, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Eric.

Rebecca Burnworth, co-owner of The Stave with her husband, Eric, stands outside her new restaurant, which has a barrel stave as a door handle. (Alfred Miller/alfred.miller@state-journal.com)

The Burnworths, an architect-builder team responsible for the look of much of Lexington’s revamped Distillery District — including Middle Fork Kitchen Bar, Crank and Boom, Ethereal Brewing and Goodfellas Pizzeria — are banking on drawing some of the thousands of tourists who pass through the area en route to distilleries each year. That number is expected to increase as Castle and Key prepares to open its doors later this year.

A restaurant like The Stave only “animates and elevates the experience, which is really good for the bourbon trail and tourism altogether in the region,” Lexington Mayor Jim Gray told The State Journal. Gray dined at The Stave on Saturday. Afterward, he complimented both the “attentive and good-humored” staff and the “awesome” pimento cheese grits, served with pepper jelly.

The venture will be something of a balancing act, as the restaurant caters to affluent bourbon tourists — lots of 40- to 45-year-old males traveling together, notes Burnworth — while remaining integrated in the local community.

“Pretty quickly, my husband and I realized that this community has been waiting for something of their own,” Rebecca Burnworth told The State Journal. “I feel like the Millvillians are embracing us as their own restaurant … . I get hugged a lot.”

She’s also being embraced by visitors from Frankfort. Over the weekend, the majority of Burnworth’s clientele was from Frankfort, said Burnworth, who targeted the area with Facebook ads.

“We actually had a couple that lives in downtown Frankfort come in here and say, ‘Thank goodness you’re here. Now do something in downtown Frankfort,’ ” recalled Burnworth, who says she’s enamored by downtowns. “I would love to help Frankfort if I could.”

The Stave is open Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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