Tucked away on the second floor of somewhat undistinguished Erikson Hall on the campus of the University of Kentucky is The Lemon Tree, a laboratory restaurant run by UK students. The restaurant serves a prix fixe lunch menu every Tuesday and Thursday. Seating is limited and reservations are required.
My wife and I visited for the first time recently and enjoyed a unique experience. After locating Erikson Hall–it’s beside the amphitheater at Memorial Hall–we went up to the second floor to find a Lemon Tree sign and closed doors. The reservations had stated that service would be at noon sharp, so we were fearful of being late. Would they smack the back of our hands with a ruler for tardiness?
The doors did open at noon, and a student with a clipboard checked off our names (cue official “Aren’t college students getting younger?” question). We were led to a table for two in the corner by the window–exactly where I would want to be. The campus view was nice. The room, admittedly, had a bit of a converted room in a classroom building vibe.
The tables were set beautifully, and our server Alex took our drink orders as we settled in. A little card on the table gave the menu courses, another gave a little biography of our student server (she is from Louisville and likes long-distance running and long walks on the beach, well OK, at least long-distance running).
The salad arrived, a vanilla vegetable salad, and I was immediately impressed with its tastiness. I suppose it was the first vanilla salad I’ve had. Clearly, the students at The Lemon Tree weren’t messing around.
Next came our baked salmon with tomato cream sauce on basmati vegetable rice pilaf. Confession time: When I made the reservation I chose it for the date more than anything else. The entree seemed somewhat generic to me compared to the others.
It turns out I was wrong about that. The salmon was excellent, the rice cooked well, and that tomato cream sauce elevated the dish to another level. This wasn’t simply a menu thrown in as filler to complete the schedule.
Finally, it was all topped off with Jonathan’s caramel pound cake. I didn’t see Jonathan, but if you’re reading this your pound cake was spot on. The chopped pecans were a welcome addition to the caramel sauce, and the decorative sugar on the exterior of the cake gave it a welcome hint of crunchiness.
For $12 per person, it’s hard to imagine a better deal for such a complete lunch. And while most don’t know about The Lemon Tree, clearly there were no shortage of people who do. The room was packed.
The Lemon Tree is overseen by Sandra Bastin and Chef Bob Perry. I’m not familiar with Dr. Bastin, but Chef Perry was roaming the room during the meal observing the scene. The two seem to be doing well in providing a guiding hand behind the scenes.
If you’ve not tried The Lemon Tree there are a few reservation spots left for the fall season at the time of this writing. For UK students and employees it’s a slam dunk opportunity. For others there is a challenge of finding suitable parking. I parked on a side street near UK at a metered spot and simply hiked in, useful in working off the calories, too.
Now that I have the system figured out, I’ll certainly be back in the future. That is, if I can get a reservation now that the secret of The Lemon Tree is out.