Which gas station serves some of the best home cooking in Central Kentucky?
That’s the Marathon at 200 Lexington Street, a stone’s throw from the courthouse in downtown Versailles.
It’s comfort food, and a lot of Versailles appears pretty comfortable with that. The food appears from metal trays carried from a closed liquor store next door that has a sign boasting the town’s lowest price on Zima, an alcoholic beverage so foul I am sure your liver pretty much just gives up when it senses its presence. The sign implies either that the liquor store site has not seen a customer for around two decades, or the irony is strong with these food preparers.
About 10:30 a.m., patrons line up inside the Marathon for the unveiling of the day’s specials — which might include pork chops, regular and spicy, the size of a salad plate; fried catfish; meat loaf; and fried chicken. Sides include broccoli casserole, green beans with plenty of salt bacon, macaroni and cheese, new potatoes, and potato salad. None of these are what I would call, strictly, “vegetables.” You won’t mistake them for anything that’s good for you, and the broccoli casserole, although tasty, is solidly melded with cheese and crackers.
The macaroni and cheese, which I had assessed as a liquid misfire, tasted better as a leftover. I’m sorry I didn’t get to try the potato salad, but I don’t think my arteries can take any more.
The lady at the counter is happy to explain and tout the various entrees. She is a wonderful waitperson.
For lunch you get a meat and two sides for $5.29 plus tax, plus either a roll or fried corn bread. If you don’t automatically pick the corn bread, we can’t be friends.
The counter lady then provides information about dessert, banana pudding or carrot cake. The way she does this is genius: It’s not really an option, the way she puts it. Of course you want dessert, she implies, so pick one. It really minimizes the guilt, because you really do want dessert: You’re eating at a gas station; dessert is the least you can do.
And I did order dessert: For $1.29, you get a decent size serving of banana pudding. It tastes like an instant mix base, but the bananas and vanilla wafers are real enough. For a little over a buck, this was a satisfying effort, because this empty-nester is not making banana pudding myself and am always on the lookout for decent restaurant and deli offerings.
For $2.69, you get a big chunk of carrot cake, both stuffed and topped with cream cheese frosting. It’s sugar rush-tastic.
For breakfast, there are biscuits with heaping helpings of sausage, bacon or country ham. That’s about a quarter-pound of country ham; I counted seven strips of bacon on my biscuit. I’m not a bacon person, but after eating that much bacon, I began to see its appeal (although it took me several hours to work through it, and I will never eat that much bacon again). The biscuits don’t taste homemade, but they are quite big and fairly soft. You can add egg and cheese if you like. A country ham is $2.59; a bacon biscuit, $2.79.
Booths are available, but the day I trundled over, the booth area had just been cleaned with some strong pine cleaner not conducive to the fried catfish experience. I ate in the car, which is a little challenging: The parking lot is tiny, and you’ll want to be careful driving through it.
I kept telling myself that the catfish wasn’t that great, but given that I ate it in two minutes, I am perhaps a liar.
About portions: Breakfast or lunch, you cannot eat the entire thing in one sitting. I would not recommend trying to do so unless you need to go back to your job as a lumberjack and will expend the calories. For those of us who are desk jockeys, seven strips of bacon or a heap of meatloaf, potatoes and macaroni and cheese should be followed by a skipped meal at the least, or five hours’ hard labor.
I’ll make an exception about the cornbread. Feel free to consume it with all meals.
J&B Food Mart
Where: Marathon convenience store, 200 Lexington Street, Versailles
Average meal: Breakfast, less $3 without beverage; lunch, about $7 with entree, two sides, bread and dessert
Seating: Booths available.
Serving size: Gargantuan. You can get two meals out of a single lunch serving.
Customer service: Above friendly.
Parking: Limited. Be careful and stay off the cellphone.