Monday, December 14, 2009

Jerry's Cafe and the Nearly Perfect Onion Rings

Over the course of the past year, I have been asked on a fairly regular basis to fill in for several of the handbell choirs that my mother directs. It seemed as though almost every week someone would be unavailable for rehearsal. Seeing as the only other hobby I have outside of work is writing about food, more often than not I was available to help her out. While it had been nineteen years (ugh) since I had played a handbell, it didn't take me long to get back into the swing of things.

The church at which my mother is currently the director of music is located in Orrville, Ohio. Known primarily for the Smuckers company, sadly there are very few choices for eateries that aren't of the national fast food variety. There are a few bars here and there, but those weren't the kind of places I was looking for to get a decent meal. For this past rehearsal, I decided to arrive at the church a little early and see if I might be able to scrounge up something that didn't require the order taker to ask me if I wanted to "super-size" anything.

After driving around the small downtown area, I decided on something that looked like a bar, but had a name that was decidedly incongruous with the exterior, Jerry's Cafe:

Located at 226 West Market Street, Orrville, Ohio 44667, they can be reached at 330-683-8696. Google identified a website associated with this business at; however, pointing my browser to that address left me with the message "Server not found", so I'm not sure exactly what is happening. No other websites came up that seemed directly tied to Jerry's Cafe. Well, hopefully this one will after it posts.

When I walked in, the first thing I noticed was the dichotomy of the patrons and the surroundings. It did indeed seem to be a bar, but it was well lit and there were several families with young children seated at various tables around the outer walls. One of the servers walked up to me and showed me to a table in a room behind the bar known as the Ohio State room. It was pretty obvious that this homage to the Columbus-based football team was aptly named. As I surveyed the room, I noticed a dry erase board with the daily specials:

My server left me with a menu to peruse while she went to fetch some of the complimentary popcorn that is served to all of the guests. Here were a couple of shots of the menu:

While the interior of the restaurant certainly had the feeling of a bar, the menu was ambitious enough to leave me with the impression that the owner was just as dedicated to the restaurant business as he was to the bar business. My server quickly returned with my popcorn:

I asked her about the burger that was the special for the day at only $2.25 versus the one in the menu. She let me know that the daily special was roughly 1/3 pound rather than the 1/2 pound Angus burger that is on the menu. There was some confusing language on the menu about extra toppings on the burgers (such as bacon). Apparently, all of the burgers off the menu come with either onion rings or french fries and were $8. If you decided that you wanted something extra that the burger didn't normally come with, THEN you paid the extra fee. It seemed a little silly to me since one of the burgers listed was a bacon cheeseburger. Had I gotten just a plain cheeseburger and added bacon to it, would it have cost me an extra $0.75? I didn't really bother to ask.

When I inquired about the freshness of the french fries versus the onion rings, she sadly hung her head and said that while at one point they were made from fresh, both were now fried from frozen. She did add that both were very good. Having heard this numerous times from other servers who insisted that their restaurant's fried items were terrific only to be served a limp greasy mess, I opted to go with the onion rings.

I should also mention that the popcorn was actually quite good. I was pretty darn hungry and had to make a point of only eating a couple of handfuls of the freshly-popped buttery, salty kernels as I had a 1/2 pound burger coming out of the kitchen fairly soon. I know the point of the free popcorn is just as much about making guests thirsty as it is about giving them something to nosh on, but I did enjoy having a bit of an appetizer before my platter came out.

After about fifteen minutes or so, my dinner arrived:

Here is a close-up of my burger:

The bun was very nicely buttered and grilled. I had ordered my burger medium, but unfortunately, it came out somewhere between medium well and well done. There wasn't even the tiniest bit of pink on the inside of the patty. I'm not sure if my burger was just a fluke and the cook accidentally overcooked it or maybe we have reached a point in modern society where anything less than medium well just won't be served to customers for fear of lawsuits. That being said, I was equally as pleased at how incredibly juicy it was. Had it been totally dessicated, I probably would've sent it back to have them re-fire the burger; the juiciness saved the burger. While the melted cheese was simply American cheese, the bacon was quite nice. I could tell that it had been prepared at the same time as the burger as it was crispy, but not overcooked and hard.

I next turned my attention to the side item, the onion rings:

While they did suffer the fate of most frozen onion rings (the onion inside tends to detach itself from the breading), Jerry's version was fried expertly and left no oily residue on the paper lined basket at all. The coating was crispy and the perfect thickness to provide a nice resistance, but not so much breading that the onion got lost. I have to say that hands down, this was probably the best fried-from-frozen onion ring that I've had in a long time. The fact that you can get this side instead of french fries at no additional cost was also a big bonus.

The last thing I wanted to mention were the condiments. I know that might seem silly, but I was very surprised with what I received. I had asked my server to bring me mustard and ketchup with my burger platter and while she brought regular commercial ketchup, this is what arrived on the platter itself:

To the right is actually Dijon mustard. I actually love Dijon mustard on my burgers, but so few places actually have it that I have just gotten used to eating regular yellow mustard instead. The fact that it was provided by default really said a lot about the commitment to food that Jerry's Cafe had. The other surprise was the sauce on the left. What I originally thought was simply mayonnaise for my burger turned out to be a dipping sauce for the onion rings. On first taste, I got creamy, tangy, and a slight burning at the back of my throat. The mayonnaise and cayenne pepper I immediately identified. The "tang" I had originally thought was a bit of lemon juice mixed in with the mayonnaise turned out to be sour cream. The interesting thing was that while it was fairly easy to pick up the spice from the dip when simply eating it by itself, when I paired it with an onion ring, the spice faded into the background and was very subtle, but still effective.

I finished all of my onion rings and most of my burger before crying, "Uncle!" and asking my server for the check. While my burger wasn't exactly cooked the way I asked for it, $8 for such an incredibly juicy burger with some of the best fried-from-frozen onion rings I've had in quite a while made this an excellent dinner, and more importantly, a spot I will definitely return to in the future. Add in the homemade dipping sauce for the onion rings and the Dijon mustard as standard condiments and this cafe really does have something special to offer.

After talking with a local about Jerry's before the handbell choir rehearsal, I learned that the homemade sausage vegetable chowder (which was actually listed on the dry erase board in the photo above) is not only outstanding, but has also won a local tasting competition. I think a nice bowl of that may just be on the my radar the next time I decide to visit.


Mahala said...

Since my daughter works at Smuckers and I have been wanting to drive out and take her to lunch, this will be on our list of places to go. Thanks for the post!

Tino said...

@Mahala: I think this would be an excellent lunch spot. On Thursday's they have $2.25 hamburgers (which are about 1/3 pound) if you want to give them a try without breaking the bank (not that they are that expensive to begin with).

Red Rider Sports Blog (Tim Snyder) said...

Thanks for writing about an Orrville destination for 30 yrs.

Above average food, and a local place to grab a beer and watch a game.

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