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  • Writer's pictureLisa Brosky

Finally writing about Joe Bologna’s restaurant

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

It was sometime in the early 1980s when I first went to Joe Bologna’s restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky. We didn’t have cell phones to snap photos of the restaurant or the food. There wasn’t YELP to capture our opinions. Instead, it was a place that I always said I would write about.

Not a restaurant review, but a capturing of the way that place made us feel when we were there. I think I’ve put it off because it will be difficult to do it justice.

It’s been more than 20 years since Joe B’s moved to their “new” location, a renovated Jewish synagogue. They’ve been in the new place so long now, they are undergoing another renovation.

But my best memories are the old location, their original. Located at the corner of East Maxwell and South Limestone, it was like stepping back in time. I think it’s appropriate the only photo I could find was black and white, because my memory sees it that way too. I could picture life before Joe B’s, women in floral cotton dresses and men with hats, settled in for dinner, something like fried chicken or meatloaf.

But now there was pizza and pasta and shorts and sneakers. When you got there, you would be greeted by a line out the door. The restaurant had 11 booths and could seat 68 people. As you got closer, the small glass entry way glowed with the neon light of a Beer & Wine sign. I have a recollection of some florescent light in their tiny waiting space as well.

When it was your turn, you entered the small dining room, a booth -lined rectangular space with the enclosed kitchen and bustling wait staff to the right. The space was dark and cozy.

It also was hot. The two or, maybe three, window air conditioning units did everything they could, but they were no match for Kentucky’s hot and humid summer nights and a non-stop pizza oven. The water glasses beaded with perspiration. So did we. We didn’t mind. And we kind of liked the hum of those hard-working units.

As we inched our way onto the black vinyl seats – no sliding possible – we started to anticipate the food to come. Too bad I didn’t drink, because now I think how good an ice cold beer must have been.

The first thing that came to the table was Joe Bologna’s signature garlic stick. This hot, pillowy dough was crunchy on the outside and steamy soft on the inside. It came on a small tray of melted garlic butter.

I am pretty sure back then they were complimentary. Maybe not. But they are right to charge for them. Because even today a trip to Joe B’s isn’t a trip to Joe B’s without the garlic stick.

It’s funny that I can’t really remember the food. I probably had pizza more often than not. I do remember the Italian vegetables. The baked side dish had zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms and more covered in melty, crunchy grated parmesan cheese. To this day, I make a version of it.

Perhaps Joe B’s old location made me feel a little more grown up or because it was time spent with friends talking about food and experiences. Now it makes me nostalgic. I was sad when they moved, because even though the food was the same, the atmosphere was different. More for families who didn’t find the lack of AC on summer night to be something somehow special and basketball fans grabbing a quick bite before the game.

The old space holds a sushi restaurant now, minus the booths and with proper air conditioning. I am glad we didn’t have camera phones back then because Joe’s Bologna’s has lived pleasantly in my memory. A time when I was part of something special.

1 comentario

Bruce Frost
Bruce Frost
14 jul 2023

What a beautiful memory

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