Lexington Athens Dining Room Offers Hot, Quick Cuban Food

Jesus Gonzalez enjoys life as a chef in the Athens Dining Hall.

During three years running his IP&J Cuban Food pop-up business, his cell phone never vibrated as he worked long days with little sleep, often with his 14-year-old son by his side.

Now at the Athens Dining Room, he still cooks the Cuban favorites that have won him a devoted following as well as many other traditional Southern dishes, but “my job is my job not my life”.

And her son is happy “that he can somehow take a break” from the food business.

Just opened in September by Frank and Annette Bickel, the Athens Lunchroom occupies the space that was the former Athens school cafeteria on Athens Walnut Hill Road. It is open weekdays for lunch and the second weekend of each month when the Athens School antiques exhibition and sale takes up the entire building.

The Athens Dining Room is located in the old school cafeteria in Athens. Ryan C. hermens [email protected]

It is open weekdays for lunch and one weekend per month during the school antiques exhibition and sale. Ryan C. hermens [email protected]

Although Gonzalez, who is half Cuban, and Frank Bickel each have extensive experience in catering in central Kentucky, they had never worked together before this company. But timing was everything when they got together last summer.

Gonzalez had decided after quickly selling out the two days at Crave Food Festival last summer that he needed to make a change and decided to invest in a food truck to take his short-lived business to the next level.

Chef Jesus Gonzalez has brought a few specialties from his Cuban IP&J pop-up to the menu, which includes burgers, pasta, and southern fare. Ryan C. hermens [email protected]

The Athens Dining Hall is located at 6270 Athens Walnut Hill Rd. In the Athens School just outside of Lexington. Ryan C. hermens [email protected]

Meanwhile, Bickel was looking for someone to run the kitchen of his new business and noticed IP&J and Gonzalez as he surveyed Lexington’s food social media scene. Gonzalez stood out and reached out to her. They tasted some food, got to know each other, and decided it was a partnership that could work.

“I liked the vibe I got from them,” Gonzalez said. He ditched his food truck plans and was happy to let someone else take care of the fundraising so he could focus on cooking. (“Having my own business for three years was great, but financing it was the hardest part,” Gonzalez said. He started IP&J with a $ 1,000 loan from his father, known as Papi, the “P” in the name.)

The menu is written on an old blackboard with chalk. Ryan C. hermens [email protected]

Athens dining hall chicken penne, served cafeteria style. Contributed

Bickel and Gonzalez decided to focus on attracting some of the hundreds of workers at the nearby Blue Sky Industrial Park to their dining room. “We’re just trying to give them a nice hot alternative to the normal drive-thru,” Bickel said.

That’s why speed – something Gonzalez learned well during his pop-up years – is a key part of their appeal. Whether it’s one of their Cubanos, ‘Frank’s lasagna’, beef burgers from neighboring Evans Mill Cattle Company, or one of the vegan options, they promise most. dishes will be hot and tasty in less than 10 minutes.

The IP&J Cuban sandwich is one of the chef’s specialties. It is made from seasoned slow roasted pork. Contributed

The homemade burger with tots is made with locally sourced beef from Evans Mill Cattle Co. Contribution

“So far it has worked,” Bickel said. They see people from the industrial park coming back regularly and “new faces every day”. Gonzalez said farm owners and workers nearby have also provided support. “There are a few families who come almost every day.

There is also the support of the many people who at one time or another have gone to school there. The school, built in 1927, was eventually replaced by the new Athens-Chilesburg School, which opened in 2006. Bickel said he was surprised and pleased with the number of former students who stopped by for lunch. A woman, he said, used her liquor license to celebrate her school days. “I had to order a glass of wine,” she told him, “because that’s the school I was going to. ”

For his part, Gonzalez is “surprised how much I enjoyed it”. He loves work, he loves people and he loves the hours. And he likes being able to make his phone vibrate.

The Kentucky Breakfast Burger with Egg and Bacon is a favorite. Nearby Winchester Ale-8 One is also available. Contributed

The restaurant is located inside the school cafeteria in Athens. The old school now hosts monthly exhibitions and sales of antiques. Ryan C. hermens [email protected]

Athens Dining Room

Or: 6270 Athens Walnut Hill Rd., Lexington, Ky.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. the second weekend of each month

To call: 859-263-8533

In line: athens-lunchroom.square.site

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