Jack's Sandwich Shop
52 E. Lynn St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
Open Mon-Fri, 7 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? N/N/N
Date of Visit: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: Tucked down one of the back alleys of downtown Columbus, a stone's-throw from the Statehouse, is a little diner out to prove that, yes, they do make them like they used to. Jack's Sandwich shop has been around as an institution since 1942, with this particular location serving the downtown crowds since 1974.
ATMOSPHERE: The decor and atmosphere reveal that not much has changed since the 70's. We visited on a quiet Tuesday morning, sandwiched (ha!) between the breakfast and lunch crowds.
Like most diners, Jack's consists of just one, long room. On one side is a row of 8 booths; on the other is a counter with 13 stools.
Owners Chris and Kathy Kowalski keep the place humming. They've owned the business since late 2003. Pictured here is Chris busy at the grill.
Chris was super nice to chat with, and excited to talk about his restaurant. If you're in, say hi to him. On a side note... I asked if there ever was a Jack who gave the place his name. Indeed there was, said Chris. Jack was the previous owner's father. He started three restaurants downtown after serving in World War II, and the current diner is the only one left.
The entire experience echoes of yesteryear, like a celebration of the diner heritage. Jack's has got it all: the old menu sign, the Coca-Cola paraphernalia, the black and white photos of old drive-ins, the old wallpaper and neon lights, and that shelf. You know the one I'm talking about. The long shelf, high up on the wall, above all the booths, packed with train cars and retro signage. It's a diner thing.
The old school kitschiness is matched by some of Chris' own, like the mirror ball that, yes, is lit and spinning. Or the strings of Christmas lights draped from the ceiling. Chris said he's known for decorating up the place for major holidays like Christmas, Valentine's Day, etc. Although I've definitely heard some question whether the decor is really all that seasonal.
The counter is much lower than I'm accustomed to seeing, but it offers everyone a straight view of the grill, and opens up the space better.
One of my favorite details: the checkered floor. The colors are just off enough that you notice them, but not so tacky that you don't see anything else.
FOOD: Jack's serves a simple diner menu, with only a handful of somewhat helpful categories: Eggs & More, Hotcakes, Breakfast Specials, Breakfast Meats, and Potatoes & Grits. I say somewhat helpful because you'll find French toast under Eggs & More, oatmeal under Hotcakes, and waffles under both Eggs & More and Breakfast Specials.
I opted for an actual special: the steak and eggs. Nice plate of crispy potatoes, plus scrambled eggs. Eggs were good, potatoes thinly sliced and crispy, but they needed some seasoning. That prompted me to ask over Twitter: should your food be salted before it comes out, or left to the diner's preference? The general consensus - which I agree with - was that food should be seasoned according to the chef's desire. Unfortunately, these needed a punch up.
Close-up on the steak! It was quite good. I ordered it medium, but should have ordered medium rare. Small steaks like this can be tough to manage, and this one was a little too done. But it had a good sear and nice flavor, although it could have used an extra punch of spice, too.
My wife ordered the two eggs any style. Came with the potatoes, toast, and a side of corned beef hash. We liked that you could order the corned beef hash as your side of meat. First time I've seen that. But we both loved it: nice crisp, good flavor and texture.
Her two eggs - nicely poached.
SERVICE: Chris and Kathy clearly know their regulars, and treat them well. And it doesn't take much to be welcomed as a regular right away. The feeling is mutual. Check this out: pictured above is Mr. John Petro. He's one of about a dozen men who met regularly at Jack's from 1968 until this past spring. So regularly, in fact, that they HAVE A PLAQUE above their table!
Look at the dates! They met from 1968 until May 13, 2010. Mr. Petro, who gave me permission to take his picture, said that Lynn Alley Irregulars were attorneys, businessmen, and the like who worked downtown. They made Jack's Sandwich Shop their home-away-from-the-office for over four decades, and had only two rules: you couldn't talk about work - politics, sports, anything but work - and you weren't allowed to read the newspaper if someone else was there. You had to talk.
OVERALL: Jack's makes my short list of really worthy diners around Columbus. Their longevity, as testified by the Lynn Alley Irregulars, and the tucked-away, side alley location add to the charm. Their breakfast definitely needs some more spice, with no surprises and super stand-outs, but it fits the atmosphere, is dirt cheap, and clearly has been a downtown favorite for decades.
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