Open Monday-Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Date of Visit: July 4, 2007, 10:00 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: So I'm actually reviewing this place after the third visit. I guess this one just required some more research! Oh well... I've been driving by Jack & Benny's for five years now; that big "Breakfast served all day" has tempted me, and when I read about the place as one of the "Ten Places Every Ohio State Student Should Go Before Graduating," (see here) I knew I had to visit. I finally went with Chip one morning while working on our house. For anyone who has been to Yesterdog in Grand Rapids, MI, I usually frame a description of Jack & Benny's by saying that this place looks like a Yesterdog that serves breakfast. The building is early/mid-2oth century, with wooden floors, a tin ceiling, a big long counter with swiveling stools, and booths against the walls. Hanging on the walls are signed pictures of famous people who have frequented the place, most notably a range of Ohio State football players and coaches. There's more than one photo of the owners with Ohio State Football Coach Jim Tressell (aka God). On the other walls hang old Coca-Cola posters; one display case is crammed full of Ohio State bobbleheads; another shelf is lined with old beer steins and coffee mugs. And all of this adds up to something: from 2004 to the present, the restaurant was voted the AOL City's Best Breakfast and Best Comfort Food.
The restaurant itself is located on a busy corner at Hudson St. and N. High St., just north of the campus area. It's within walking distance of practically every Ohio State student who lives close to campus. Parking is easy: there are 2-hour spaces along High St. right next to the restaurant, as well as spaces on some side streets, although all bets are off on football Saturdays: the High St. spots are null and void those days (to keep people from parking there and walking to the stadium). If the place is busy, you have to sign in on a little pad, and they won't seat you until everyone in your party is there. The one time I've been there when it's busy, we only waited 5-10 minutes before a table opened. They cycle folks in and out pretty quickly.
ATMOSPHERE: As expected from any diner - especially one this small - the place is noisy, busy, and crowded. But there's a certain charm to it all. It's the noise of close conversations, the cook clattering his instruments against the stove, the dishwasher spraying dishes in the corner, and the ding of the "Order up" bell. The place is typically full of students and families. Two TVs hanging up in the corners are tuned to CNN, although you can never hear them.
FOOD: Jack & Benny's menu isn't exceptional, although there's a range of choices, plus a kids menu and a lunch menu (which I didn't explore). Everything from omelets (plenty of variations on a theme there), basic meat-n-eggs combos, pancakes and other carbs, and the all-in-one combos, aka the Busters (I'll get to those in a moment). The charm is in the details: The food is served on good ole plastic diner plates, set atop plastic placemats. The creamer for your coffee is served chilled. On my third visit, I sat at a counter stool, and my legs didn't fit. While sitting there, I watched the cook fold an omelet five times over in one scoop.
Jack & Benny's signature items include two dishes. One is the Buckeye pancake. I've never tried it, although Ryan did when I went with he and Karl on my second visit. He declared it good: it's a pancake with chocolate chips and peanut butter, aka the Buckeye! The second is the Busters, which are a series of entrees that involve the following: an egg cooked to order, a slice of bacon, a sausage patty, a potato pancake, hash browns, cheese, toast, and sausage gravy to cover it all. Different Busters sport different combinations, and the big one, the Gut Buster, includes all of the above. My Gut Buster is pictured below (on the left):
Below is a close-up of the fabled Buster. It really doesn't live up to it's name. Instead, it's just a tasty, filling breakfast. The gravy is nice and peppery, the bread is a little too slathered with butter, but the portions aren't out of control. Now that I look at it, it really doesn't look that large. It's not like this is an omelet with 5 pounds of meat, 12 eggs, and a stick of butter. This meal will fill you up, but it won't leave you sitting on the can the rest of the day.
Jack & Benny's, like all good diners and breakfast nooks, serves their coffee in those curious brown diner mugs. There's something heartlessly generic but heartwarmingly familiar about those mugs. They're used to serve a particular brand of coffee, most often known as "brown." For a deeper look into the search for brown, I refer you to my favorite expert on all things coffee-related, Mr. Karl Boettcher.
When I was last at Jack & Benny's, I snapped a picture of my coffee mug with my cell phone camera. I just had to capture the phenomenon. I think that these little brown mugs are a perfect specimen of Americana. In addition to hot dogs, rock and roll, and baseball, this is our contribution to world culture.
SERVICE: The service is straightforward diner service: fast, friendly, and over-attentive. The first time Chip and I visited, the server hovered over us and refilled our coffee practically after every sip. There seems to be a regular crowd of servers there, perhaps they're family. The food comes out quickly, and everything is handled fast. What more can I say? They know how to make you feel welcome and how to feed you quickly.
OVERALL: Jack & Benny's is not the place for your elegant brunch. It's a straightforward, American diner. The food is basic, well prepared, and easy to eat. It's inexpensive, too; most entrees will run you $4-6, and will completely fill you up. And in addition to being a good meal, it's worth stepping back in time and experiencing the American and, more specifically, the Buckeye, flavor of the place.