Stella’s Kentucky Deli epitomizes the change in Lexington’s restaurant scene. A small neighborhood eatery where the emphasis is placed on quality. They pride themselves on buying exclusively from local farmers and “supporting local food economies”. The menu offers a wide variety items for all dietary practices, ranging from vegan to meat lovers.
Perpetually busy (besides the occasional Sunday afternoon), Stella’s customers range from high schoolers to those nearing retirement. Located on Jefferson Street, it’s easy to get to either through trolley, bike, car or even a walk from downtown.
Recently Kat and I visited Stella’s, and even at 1pm on a Tuesday afternoon they were moderately busy both in the inside dining area and the outside patio. The one complaint is some of the seating on the inside. I’m six feet tall, and sitting at the bar is nearly impossible when they’re busy. The bar is situated in the middle of the small dining area, with the tables along the right wall and near the door. If I have to sit at the bar during a lunch rush, my legs either have to be tucked on the sides of my stool or I have to spread my legs out completely, otherwise I’ll be in everyone’s way as they leave their seats. Tables are fine, as the chairs are comfortable and I’ve yet to get a dirty table.
On our recent trip, I ordered one of the more popular items on the menu, The J Street Club. Turkey, ham, bacon, jack cheese, Dijon mustard, lettuce, and tomato (I order mine without tomato) on three slices of toasted french bread. This also includes one of the best items in the entire restaurant: Basil Mayo. Personally, I would put this spread on any sandwich they had to offer. It’s that good.
This isn’t the first time I’ve ordered the J Street. The basil mayo and Dijon mustard perfectly compliment the rich bacon and turkey. After eating the turkey and ham in their sandwiches, it would be extremely difficult to go back to store-brand cold cuts. However this time around I was disappointed with my sandwich as there was very little mustard and even less mayo. The turkey, bacon and ham were still delicious, but without enough condiments it just tastes like a plain turkey and bacon sandwich. Also the lack of condiments made the bread especially difficult to bite through, as nothing was there to moisten the tough, toasted french bread. Easily the worst meal I’ve had at Stella’s, a place where I know, thankfully, that they are capable of doing much better.
Kat had a “Candy Bar Sandwich”: A peanut butter and Nutella sandwich on french bread. Easy sandwich to make and even easier to enjoy.
The sandwich was extremely sweet, as to be expected. Kat thought the tangy pickle complimented the rich Nutella and peanut butter sandwich. Every sandwich comes with a pickle slice, and here it really helped. Nothing here to break down, as it’s a pretty simple sandwich. However, good for the restaurant to offer an item unique to anything else in the area.
Stella’s offers much more than what me and Kat ate at our visit. If you want full flavor with a wide variety of tastes, try The Griff Burger: A Kentucky Angus burger with grilled apples, blue cheese crumbles, bacon, lettuce and Dijon mustard. At first I was hesitant of giving it a shot. The apples are cut into thin slices; they’re cubed, and sitting on top of a burger that’s already stacked with the other toppings. However it actually works out pretty well. I had some textural issues with the apples (who’s used to eating warm, somewhat mushy apples outside of a pie?) but other than that it was tasty. There’s also “The Big D”(Local Brat with kraut, swiss, and spicy mustard on rye), “Hot Brown”(what Kentucky place would be without?) and a lamb burger, made from local lamb. Plus there’s much more for vegetarians, including lentil burgers.
While you’re there, try one of their homemade soda. Loyal patrons point out that Stella’s Jalapeno soda is something that everyone has to try at least once. Sadly, I’ve yet to even taste a sip of it as the thought of something that’s supposed to cool my tongue actually making my mouth hotter just doesn’t appeal to me. I applaud those who enjoy it, but it’s just not for me. Other flavors include Blackberry, Strawberry Mint and a fourth flavor that rotates for what’s in season. Their sodas are made by combining club soda and simple syrup, including no artificial sugars and no artificial additives. If that’s a big deal to you, try one out and you’ll apparently not be disappointed.
Overall, Stella’s is definitely worth a try, especially if you crave intense flavor. They take their time making your food, but that’s because everything is made by hand on the spot (except the chips, of course) and it’s all fresh. Friendly staff, great food and an atmosphere that’s made for intimate conversation. Take your time, savor your meal, and enjoy everything that Kentucky has to offer.