Following my last meal at Jerry's Cafe in Orville, Ohio, I managed to get a little more of the backstory from one of the other member's of my mother's handbell choir. It seems that when Jerry initially bought the bar, it had a rather typical rough and tumble crowd. Over time, Jerry worked long and hard to turn the place into a more family friendly place that serves really great food. When I told this member what I had tried for dinner, the burger and onion rings, he told me that the next time I return, I definitely needed to try the sausage vegetable chowder and the fried fish. Oddly enough, I do remember seeing the sausage vegetable chowder on the specials board the last time I ate at Jerry's and thinking that it sounded like an odd candidate for a chowder. I was informed that not only was it delicious and a signature item on Jerry's menu, it was also an award winning soup.
Finding myself in Orrville for another choir rehearsal, I decided to return to Jerry's Cafe and try out some of the suggestions I had received after my first visit. Once again, I was warmly greeted and told I could sit wherever I liked. I choose the Ohio State room once again since it was sequestered off the main area and had decent lighting (which usually translates into better photographs). As soon as I sat down, I was greeted by a nice basket of freshly popped popcorn:
As I remarked in my last entry on Jerry's, this was a nice way to greet customers and for those of adult-beverage ordering age, a good way to push drinks from the bar. While I did enjoy a couple of handfuls of popcorn before I ordered my food, I decided to limit my intake so that I didn't get too full before receiving my dinner. I decided to start with a cup of the sausage vegetable chowder:
This was an excellent soup, creamy and well balanced. The large chunks of sausage added a lot of textural and flavor elements to the soup. There was a mild pepperiness to the soup, the kind that tickles the back of the throat. What I really found interesting, though, was the mild hint of anise flavor that seemed only barely discernible in the aroma. Knowing that most Italian sausage had fennel seed in them, I asked my server what kind of sausage the cook used. She wasn't entirely sure, but thought that Italian sausage in one form or another might be an ingredient. The soup, while it may have contained cream, was primarily thickened with potato.
After finishing up my soup, I decided to take a small detour and try some of the chicken wings:
While there were several flavors available, I decided to see what Jerry's take on standard Buffalo-style wings would be. Truth be told, I'm a sucker for wings, even bad wings. Most of the time, the chicken skin is flabby and is normally discarded. I've only ever been to a handful of places that cooked the chicken wings correctly; Jerry's is now on that list. The wings were hot, juicy, and the skin was nice and crispy. Better yet, the sauce was an impressively tasty version of what I consider to an authentic Buffalo sauce. The cayenne spice and vinegar combined with butter nicely coated the wings and my tongue when I ate them.
For my final course, I went with a fried fish sandwich:
The fish, Alaskan pollack, was dipped in their beer batter before being fried to perfection. Served on a nicely buttered and grilled bun with lettuce and tomato, the only way this sandwich could've been improved was with the additional of a little homemade tartar sauce ... OH, WAIT!
May I introduce some of Jerry's homemade tartar sauce? I tried some of the sauce by itself and picked up a hint of the Dijon mustard that I was so excited to receive with my burger the last time I visited. I liberally applied the sauce to my sandwich and took a bite. I was rewarded with a flavorful stack of ingredients. The bun did an excellent job holding the entire sandwich together. The fish was hot and moist and the crispness from the lettuce offset the creaminess from the fish and the tartar sauce. Everything worked very well together and quite honestly, I think this was the best fried fish sandwich I've had in a very, very long time. It was at the same time a leap into a sense memory from my youth when I used to take fish stick sandwiches to my confirmation classes every week as well as a modernized and much more sophisticated version that I could enjoy as an adult.
Having eaten here at Jerry's Cafe twice now, I remain incredibly impressed with the level of food being served here. It takes real commitment and skill to bring out the best flavors of the food you serve and even when a fried-from-frozen product is served, such as the onion rings, they are done with great skill. I'm unfamiliar with what the post dinner bar crowd is like, but I can assure that during dinner hours, the place is entirely family friendly and accommodating to both children and adults without being noisy or congested. I have visited a number of rural places that served something unique or interesting, but until I ate at Jerry's, I don't know that I've ever come across a place that serves something that I can see myself craving enough to drive that far to get.
Jerry's Cafe may very well be one of those hidden gems in Orrville about which only the locals know. Hopefully with the encouragement of my last review and this one, you will take the time to seek them out. The food is simple, unpretentious, quite a bit is homemade, and best of all, delicious.