New restaurant opening on Limestone brings together food truck, brewer

The former Merit Furniture site is the future home of Oscar Diggs, which is set to open in January at 155 North Limestone.
The former Merit Furniture site is the future home of Oscar Diggs, which is set to open in January at 155 North Limestone.

Behind the plywood along Limestone, the former Merit Furniture building is being transformed into a new restaurant with a unique business model.

Oscar Diggs, which will open to the public after the first of the year, is a partnership between Rooster Brewing and the chefs of Gastro Gnomes.

The name is an oblique reference to “The Wizard of Oz,” said co-owner Ralph Quillin. Oscar Diggs was Professor Marvel in Kansas and became The Great and Powerful Oz in the Emerald City. Quillin said he just liked the name Oz.

Quillin’s Rooster Brew will bring the beer to the table. Although small amounts will be made on-site, the beer will mostly be made at Rooster’s expanded, larger Paris facility, where head brewer Kaylyn Shumate will produce a variety of beers, including barrel-aged versions.

“As you walk in, to your right, is the craft beer bar, with some select bourbons, select ryes and Scotch whiskeys, little bit of wine. But primarily on the craft beer thing, since we own a brewery,” Quillin said during a recent walk-through.

Adjacent to the bar will be an open kitchen. “Where the Gastro Gnomes will be cooking,” he said. “Probably 15 items, burger-centric to some degree ... every week the menu’s going to change. ... They keep telling me they’ve got the best French fries in the world. We could go through 150 pounds of potatoes a day. But we’ve got storage in the basement.”

Chefs Andrew Suthers and Kyle Klatka have parked their food truck and will bring their style of fresh, inventive food to the restaurant. But, just as with their truck, they plan to have an ever-changing menu, meaning customers will always find something new to tempt their palates.

“It’s going to expand on what we’ve already established,” Suthers said. “Stylistically, very much the same food you’ve seen from us. But we have this new kitchen we can play in ... bigger menu, more items, maybe a little finer twist here and there. Might do some more center-plate stuff.”

He said there will always be three or four burger options each day, “and we will have fries, which people have been begging me for for five years. ... Best little burger and beer joint in town, hopefully.”

The 2,800-square-foot restaurant was designed by Rebecca Burnworth, who has created the space with 100-year-old hardwood floors, green Mexican tile accents and steel panels on the walls.

Quillin plans to use plastic magnetic letters to spell out what’s on the 12 taps. Besides the Rooster Brew offerings, he plans to have other craft beers to complement the food coming from the open kitchen.

Around the exposed brick walls, there will be booth seating under “steampunk” Edison bulbs hanging from pulleys; in the back, an old safe will be repurposed for a server cabinet stocked with napkins and silverware.

And along the back wall will be an elevated “Elvis booth” for larger parties, he said.

Customers will be able to order beer or food at either counter and take it to their seats; they don’t plan to have table service, he said.

The plan is for the restaurant to be closed on Mondays, open 5 to 11 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 5 p.m. to midnight Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and open for brunch from 1 to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

“Kitchen’s going to close at 10,” Quillin said. “We’re not a sports bar, we’re not a craft cocktail bar.”

Eventually, they plan to add lunch, possibly in March and in warmer weather, the now-louvered windows will open and there will be sidewalk seating.

Quillin isn’t worried about the current Lexington dining market, which has seen many other locally owned restaurants close recently.

He said that he thinks the formula they have in mind: good beer, good and ever-changing food, with the following that both brands have built up already will help Oscar Diggs succeed.

“We want you to feel comfortable, to feel at home ... in Paris we know everybody’s first name, just about,” Quillin said. “Expect the same kind of treatment here.”

The Gnomes have a food truck finale planned for Dec. 30 at The Break Room at Pepper, then they will park the truck for now, Suthers said.