Dining in gas stations has never been at the top of my list, but after some creative rehabilitation, some spent gas stations have been turned into some nice restaurants.
Billy's Bar-B-Q used to be a Sunoco station (I know because I used to get gas there and, in some instances, I still do); Mulligan's Gardenside Café and the Donato's Pizza on East Main Street used to be Ashland Oil gas stations (we used to get a smoked-glass goblet or tumbler with every fill-up); and Charlie's Seafood on Winchester Road used to be a gas station.
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The latest entry into Lexington's restaurant scene, Doodles, I was told, was an old gas station, but I remember it as a liquor store.
Doodles is a beautiful rehab and looks like a brand-spanking-new gas station, circa 1940, with a rooster on top. Inside, it's simple, with bare two- and four-top tables that are too close together.
Doodles is a breakfast- and lunch-only diner. But, unlike with diners of old, you won't get a waitress named Mabel or Flo coming to your table and calling you "Honey." No, no, you have to wait in line at the counter and decide what you want from a big menu on the wall in the entrance or from a few menus at the cash register. Then you pay up front. There's something wrong with this format.
Coffee was self-serve unless you ordered a French press pot ($8). My companion and I ordered that for brunch, and it was brought to the table.
After you pay, you're given a tag with a number that you attach to a display holder at the table of your choice so the kitchen staff can find you. What happened to the Harvey Girls, with starched uniforms, caps and sensible shoes? I'm saying this because Doodles isn't cheap.
Doodles has an interesting menu until you get the goods. I'll start with the johnny cakes ($2.50 for a short stack, $5.25 for tall). It's probably the oldest recipe from the New World. Starving Pilgrims supposedly were taught by Native Americans how to make johnny cakes: cornmeal, salt and boiling water. White Lily wasn't invented yet. Books have been written on this subject. Rhode Island has johnny cake festivals. It's griddled corncakes, plain and simple. The "johnny cakes" we were served at Doodles might have had some cornmeal in the mix, but I couldn't tell them from ordinary flour pancakes. Maple syrup served on the side was a nice touch, though. Sorghum molasses was an alternative.
The oatmeal brûlée ($4.50), made with steel-cut McCann's Irish Oats, was nice but was just oatmeal covered with sugar and then run under a broiler. After I thought about it, a microwave oven could have achieved the same results. Not difficult at $4.50.
Strata, an egg, bread and cheese casserole, is a brunch favorite. We ordered the Kentucky hot Brown strata ($6.50). And, indeed, it did have turkey and bacon. Unfortunately, ours had a very eggy, even a burnt-eggy, flavor. This is something that can be made in advance, kind of like lasagna. I suspect the kitchen didn't use enough milk in the mix, and I suspect it was cooked too quickly.
The omelet ($6.75), made with fresh spinach and bacon (you have many choices of ingredients), was exceptional. It was the best dish we had for brunch that day.
Brunch for two cost $28. We got two extra cups of coffee ($2.25 each) and had to get them ourselves.
I went back for lunch. I ordered the po-boy salad ($8.50). It was revolting. Iceberg lettuce had been dressed with something — ranch, maybe the caper dressing they put on the salad Doodle, it was hard to tell. But one thing I know, it had been dressed hours earlier or longer. The lettuce was room temperature and so limp it was close to mush. It was topped with strips of fried chicken and garnished with pickles and cherry tomatoes. I was amazed that Doodles would serve it.
Doodles offers two soups — chicken Doodle soup and Doodle noodle soup. I ordered a bowl of chicken Doodle ($4.90). It had chunks of dark chicken meat, carrots, onion and celery and a slick of oil and parsley on top. It didn't taste like any chicken soup I've ever had before. As a matter of fact, it didn't taste like chicken soup at all. It was a darker-than-normal clear "chicken" soup, and the flavor was heavy. Maybe it had been on the stove too long.
Lunch, including self-serve iced tea in a plastic cup, was just under $15.
On the outside, Doodles has the look of a retro diner. But once you're inside, it's anything but. It will be a thing of the past if it continues its tiresome format.