Phillip’s: A campus staple

​The front entrance of the Philip’s Market deli and grocery store on South Limestone across the street from Gatton College of Business. Photo by Marcus Dorsey


I don’t know what threw me off more. The deceptive sign above the door that read “Phillip’s Market Deli and Grocery” or the old school, grungy vibe that strikes the minute you see the orange hard-backed benches lining the left side of the entrance.

What is this place?

I stood outside this insignificant stone building that seemed to be hiding behind its neighbors and pondered the reason behind the flow of construction workers making their way through the sign-laden doors. Something must be worthwhile in there. The workers were running through traffic, forgoing the crosswalk just feet away – they couldn’t have been breaking the law just because.

I walked up to the door next to Cuts on Lime Barber Shop – cuts with a scissor for a C – and entered Phillip’s. I instantly felt like I had entered the pool hall from the movie “Dazed and Confused.” The best way to describe this place is to envision a smoky parlor with old pictures lining the walls and an oddly placed Skill Master claw machine that looked as if it hadn’t been touched in decades.

This was your classic hole-in-the-wall joint, which conveniently was right across from the Carol Martin Gatton building.

I walked up the aisle, passing a wall lined with cases of cokes and a vending machine, a drug store counter with cigarettes and various assortments of junk food and up to the kitchen counter, because yes, a restaurant resides in this inconspicuous grunge of a building, a restaurant that happens to have been around for more than 30 years.

After being handed a glass of Kool Aid, I was introduced to Lakisha Hicks, the head cook of Phillip’s for the past five years. She sat in a chair that was pulled up to a counter, taking orders from a rotating cast of construction workers.

“Our best food is the catfish sandwich,” she said. “Which we sell a lot of.”

The draw of Phillip’s is the focus on home cooked food.

“Come on in and try the food,” Hicks said. “Home cooked meals, good prices. The catfish, just the sandwich, is $4.99 and the plate is $7.49, but you get two sides: macaroni and cheese, French fries, green beans, baked beans, and I do the cooking.”

It’s hard to fathom the notion that students would be aware that such a place exists with all the choices, and new choices, that are around campus. But, ironically, Phillip’s does quite well, especially with student athletes. Many UK basketball and football players have stopped in. From DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, the Harrison twins, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and even Bud Dupree have stood at the counter and ordered the catfish sandwich, which Dupree preferred without onions.

As the dog days of summer arrive, it’s hard not to think that without the usual flow of students, the summer lull would hit the pocketbook especially hard. With the surge of on-campus construction, however, a new customer base was born.

“They come everyday,” Hicks said of the construction workers. “Breakfast and lunch.”

With more options for dining opening on campus, it’s common sense to assume that turnout might dwindle, but Hicks is confident in the positive word of mouth and relishes the competition. She even plans on a special for the beginning of the fall semester.

“We haven’t really decided on what it’s going to be, but I was thinking along the lines of baked spaghetti,” she said.  “I have a special one that I do and I’m going to see how that does.”