Though it’s been a favorite lunch spot of mine since it first opened, Stella’s Kentucky Deli was essentially off my “dinner” radar until very recently. Perhaps it was because of the capricious nature of their dinner schedule – when they first opened, they didn’t serve dinner, then they did, then they stopped, now dinner is back on (but only Wednesday through Sunday). Regardless, after dining there twice for dinner in recent weeks, I expect the Jefferson Street vanguard will now become a regular dinner stop for me in the future.
Stella’s is marked with its authentic, small-town diner ambiance mixed with the creative, locally sourced cuisine (with lots of vegetarian-friendly options). Those aspects, coupled with the uncanny affordability of everything from beverages ($5 for wine-by-the-glass; $4 for crafts and imports) to entrees (nothing over $16), work in tandem to set Stella’s at the top of its game as far as local “casual upscale” dining options are concerned.
Given the aforementioned small-town vibe that defines Stella’s atmosphere, it’s somewhat disorienting to realize they have a fully-stocked bar and a drink menu that includes a smattering of champagne cocktails, as well as a handful of creative twists on classic cocktails. On our most recent visit, my guest and I started, respectively, with the Lester Carr (Campari, gin and tonic, served on ice in a tall mug, $8) and the Last Word (green chartreuse, fresh squeezed lime juice, maraschino liqueur and gin, shaken and served in a martini glass, $9); both were expertly concocted. We also ordered the deviled local eggs ($4.95) for a starter, which we gobbled quickly before our second course arrived: a cup of the tomato bisque for me (soup options change daily) and a Greek salad for my guest. The soup, straightforward as it was, was the perfect remedy for a cold February night, and the salad was fresh and chock full of cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, peppers and other veggies.
I had a hankering for a burger, and fortunately Stella’s dinner menu features three delectable burger options: the Revro (topped with fried green tomatoes, basil mayo, bacon and jack cheese); a lamb burger; and the Griff Burger (topped with apples, bleu cheese, bacon and Dijon – all three priced at $9.95). I chose the latter, and my guest went with the truffled mac & cheese entree: penne pasta with Kenny’s Farmhouse asiago, swiss, jack and cheddar cheeses, finished with a white truffle oil and garlic croutons. He also opted for the grilled shiitake and portabella mushroom add-on ($16.95 total). The pasta was rich and velvety – without being too overbearing – and the burger, made with local beef from Bourbon County’s Colcord Farm, was juicy and flavorful, accented nicely by the bacon-apple-bleu cheese trifecta. We paired our dinner with a couple of craft beers – the small-but-well-curated rotating selection typically includes a handful of options from Bell’s Brewery as well as West Sixth’s IPA. It’s worth noting that beverage options also include house-made sodas and wine served by the glass, half carafe and carafe.
We didn’t save room for dessert, which is a shame, because the glass display case at the far end of the counter hosts a bevy of homemade pies and cakes.
Our total, before tax and tip, came to $56.85 – a steal for a three-course meal of this quality. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, and while diners were relatively sparse at 7:30 p.m. on recent a Sunday, the tables can fill rather quickly on busier nights – getting there early is a safe bet.