Before there was a restaurant renaissance along Jefferson Street, there was Stella’s Kentucky Deli. The mustard-colored Victorian-style cottage with lime-green trim and tomato-red awnings has been a fixture on the street’s south end for decades. Its flamboyant color scheme would probably make Chip and Joanna Gaines scratch their heads, but its unfussy take on traditional deli fare continues to attract Lexingtonians in droves.
This popularity can be a bit problematic in that despite the addition of extra indoor space and the opening of a patio for outside dining, wending one’s way through the tightly packed tables in Stella’s main dining area usually involves a lot of bobbing and weaving (the servers seem to have it down to a fine art).
Stella’s carries the banner for Kentucky Proud products and for all things locally and organically grown. That means pork and beef from Stone Cross Farm in Taylorsville; stone-ground grits, flour and cornmeal from Weisenberger Mill in Woodford County; Lexington’s Bluegrass Baking Co. for bread; and Lexington Coffee and Tea for organic, fair-trade coffee.
Stella’s has a regular clientele who wouldn’t go anywhere else for their midday meal, but others, including myself, sometimes tend to overlook it when picking a restaurant. Two recent lunchtime visits made me aware of just what a mistake that is.
On my first visit, I was tempted to try something intriguingly called a candy bar sandwich (peanut butter and Nutella on French bread, $5.50), but I sensibly opted for the homemade pimento cheese instead ($7.95).
Mounds of creamy pimento cheese on a choice of bread, along with lettuce, the ripest and most luscious tomatoes you’ll see this time of year, and bacon (for $1.75 extra), make for a delicious and satiating meal.
I was impressed with the size of the sandwiches, considering the modest prices. The most expensive things on the lunch menu are the four specialty burgers, all priced at $9.95.
On my second visit, I consulted the chalkboard and selected one of the daily specials — a turkey and goat cheese sandwich, dressed with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and pine nuts ($8.95). It was one of the tastiest sandwiches I’ve ever had, and so generous that I took half of it home.
I confess that I am one of those people who chronically suffer from fellow-diner envy, meaning that often after I have placed my own order, I find myself salivating over what those at the next table selected instead.
I was completely satisfied with my pimento cheese. But I thought the chicken salad (lemon and rosemary seasoned chicken salad served as a sandwich or over local greens as a salad, $8.50) ordered by a woman at an adjoining table looked mighty tasty indeed.
At the same time that I was wolfing down my turkey and chevre sandwich, I was eyeing the fried green tomato BLT with basil mayo ($8.50).
I must say I was a little less impressed with the dessert I chose. The pecan pie ($3) lacked the rich texture and moistness usually associated with that dish.
True confession: I have not eaten at Stella’s for dinner, but after hearing friends talk about their favorite dishes and seeing menu items including slow-roasted pork shoulder with Weisenberger cheese grits, baked apples and molasses BBQ sauce, and blackened catfish with grits and fried green tomatoes with housemade remoulade (both priced at $16), that’s a situation I intend to remedy soon.
So should you, if Stella’s Kentucky Deli isn’t on the radar the next time you decide to head to Jefferson Street in search of a culinary experience.
Stella’s Kentucky Deli
Address: 143 Jefferson Street
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon. and Tues.; 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Weds. and Thurs.; 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat.; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Payment: Cash and major credit cards
Other: Parking is available on a (tiny) lot during lunch hours during the week, and from 5:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. Weds. to Sun.