If you take one look at the Joe Bologna’s building, it would be about the last place on earth you would expect to house a restaurant. It’s a chapel, built in 1890 and keeping its stained glass windows to remind customers that it was once a Jewish Synagogue, and before that a Presbyterian Church. The feeling inside is a little funny; the pulpit has been replaced with a bar, and the religious imagery with large televisions showing football, and the pews are now tables where locals and University of Kentucky students come for mountains of Italian food and pizza.
The menu totes its Italian food as the star of the show, especially the homemade breadsticks and pasta. These breadsticks were a disappointment. Yes, they were baked well and the crust was soft (a difficult feet, indeed) but they also lacked any kind of distinguishing flavor. I don’t know who decided these were famous but they’re about like any other breadstick I’ve tasted, actually. And that includes the garlic butter sauce that comes with them. Salad options provide a nice potential appetizer to make up for this, but the vegetables were not raw. In several visits over a period of years, I’ve seen the same problem of brown-veined lettuce and I can only conclude it comes out of the bag. The house Italian dressing is the only tasty part of the otherwise unappetizing salad.
The main courses are a different story though, as I like the pizza. It’s just the type of delicious pizza that college kids like to eat with beer while watching football games, but at the same time there are gourmet options which are healthier and more appealing to older folks. Moreover, a small lunch menu means smaller portions for the otherwise very filling pizzas. The pasta in the meantime is very tasty. It’s got very good homemade pasta which is topped by great sauce. In the instance of the spaghetti, a delicious Italian sausage tops it all off. Where the appetizers fall short, the main course picks up the slack.
The service is great, and the restaurant has a very pleasant feel to it. The initially strange stained glass give the place a cozy light and plenty of seating and an upstairs area make the restaurant a spacious place to enjoy food and drinks, especially for college kids and groups.
While Joe Bologna’s does seem to have the feel of a college sportsbar, it’s most definitely got more appeal than that. The synagogue-turned-eatery is a tasty option if you’re in Lexington, and a nice place to bring your friends and family.
- Forgo the appetizers if you have an opportunity to enjoy a better main course. The difference between the two is night and day.
- Pizza is great and I easily say a good choice, but my favorite dishes are the pastas.
- The place definitely has the feel of a sportsbar, but you’ll find it more enjoyable than that.