Every day except Sunday, Stephanie Sisk can be found behind the grill at Lu Lu’s Place, spatula in hand, flipping burgers for her customers.

Sisk, the owner of Lu Lu’s, opened the burger and ice cream joint on North Main Street about seven months ago. Her menu features custom creations such as “The Ricky Bobby Burger,” “The Fat Nasty” and “The Goliath.”

Sisk decks her burgers out with unique aiolis, bacon, cheese, jalapenos and all kinds of toppings. If a customer makes a special request, she is eager to try out new burger combinations.

When it comes to burgers, Sisk said it will be a long time before she runs out of ideas.

“I love burgers,” she said. “I want to keep the foundation simple.”

With burgers, Sisk said the flavor is all in the assembly of the sandwich.

“There really is a science to making a good burger,” she said. “I have an idea of how I want something to taste. Then I have to put the idea with the look. I was always taught that you dress burgers and sandwiches from the bottom to the top.”

Texture, appearance and taste are key components to making a successful burger, she said. All of the burger buns are grilled before being dressed. The sear from the grill helps the bun support all of the toppings.

“Nobody likes a soggy burger,” Sisk said. “Grilling the buns gives the burger another texture. It really gets all of your senses. You eat with your eyes first. If it doesn’t look appealing, people won’t try it.”

The “Bacon Jam Smash Burger” on the menu is an example of how all of the elements play together for a tantalizing culinary experience.

“It’s got the bread, the jam, the burger, the cheese, the hot and then the bread,” she said. “When you take a bite into it, you get that automatic sweetness and the meat and the bread. As you are chewing and swallowing you get the heat. If you flipped it around and got the hot first, you would completely miss the sweet. Your mouth would be on fire.”

Guests might be surprised by the flavor combinations Sisk puts on burgers. She has even experimented with cream cheese, raspberry preserves and jalapenos on a burger.

Sisk, a self-proclaimed food lover, said sweet and savory, and sweet and heat combinations always brings her taste buds delight.

“When I was growing up, I would eat potato chips and ice cream. To me, those flavors go hand in hand,” she said. “When you find flavors that play well together, they just taste so good. It’s all about how you put burgers together.”

For those who are not in the mood for burgers, Lu Lu’s serves classic sandwiches such as the B.L.T. and grilled cheese. Other offerings include chicken sandwiches and cheesesteaks. One of Sisk’s favorite menu items to prepare is her signature stromboli which is only available Fridays.

An 18-inch loaf of French bread cut in half, smothered in garlic butter and grilled serves as the stromboli’s foundation. Next, each half is doused in marinara sauce. Then, Sisk stacks layers of ground sausage and hamburger, pepperoni, Genoa salami and ham on top of the bread. Chopped veggies such as green peppers, mushrooms and onions cover the meat. Finally, a blanket of mozzarella cheese is laid across the sandwich. When she puts the top half of the bread on top, the stromboli is ready to go into the oven.

Whole strombolis for pick up can be ordered any day of the week, but a 24-hour notice must be given. Cost is $15.

Sides include fries, onion rings, tater tots and house chips. The chips are seasoned with a proprietary blend of Sisk’s creation.

‘Feels like me’

Sisk, a native of Hopkinsville, has dreamed of owning her own restaurant or bakery since she was a little girl. She got her start in the restaurant business when she was 15 years old. She has worked at Dairy Queen, Applebee’s and O’Charley’s. About five years ago, she was hired as a prep worker at Holiday Burgers. She managed Holiday Burgers until July 24, when she opened Lu Lu’s Place.

During her lifetime, she has worked in other career fields, but nothing brought her as much happiness as working in the food industry.

“This is it for me. What I’m doing now just feels like me,” she said. “When I walk in here and there’s no one here yet, I’m more at home here than I am at home. Everyone who comes in here is family to me. Something about this just feels right.”

Although the restaurant has been open for less than a year, Lu Lu’s already has regular customers. Sisk said she is grateful for all of her customers, because their patronage allows her to live out her aspirations.

“I can look at the ticket and I know exactly who it is,” she said. “I know the time of day my regulars are here. I can look at what the order is and I already know.”

Many customers who visit Lu Lu’s are awash in nostalgia as they walk through the restaurant’s old wooden front door. For those who grew up in town, they might remember the building as the Dairy Dip, which was a staple of the community for at least 40 years.

Sisk remembers chowing down on burgers and slurping milkshakes at the rustic counter as a child.

“This place is special to me,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe all of the memories customers have of this place. This place means a lot to our community.”

Keeping the menu limited to burgers and sandwiches is an homage to the Dairy Dip, she said. She plans to carry on the longstanding tradition of burgers, milkshakes and fries.

This summer, Sisk will bring in an ice cream machine and offer traditional and special flavors. As warmer weather comes to the Pennyrile, she also wants to use more locally-sourced produce in her kitchen.

“This summer I’d love to buy fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions and strawberries ... anything I can get. Fresh and local is the only way to do it ... it really affects the taste. It’s amazing,” she said.

Sisk already supports small, local businesses by serving meat she purchased from Hampton’s Meats.

With the help of one waitress, her children and her mother, Sisk provides a welcoming atmosphere for her customers. Her daughter, Seleste Henderson, 15, and her sons Skylar Henderson, 19, and Seth Henderson, 17, help out in the kitchen on the weekends.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said.

Reach Mari-Alice Jasper at 270-887-3262 or mjasper@kentuckynewera.com.

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