I’m happy to have Tio Wally (long-time Me So Hungry reader) aboard to send in his eating adventures from across America. Here he is in Bellville, Ohio.
Greetings from Bellville, Ohio
N 40° 38.872′ W 082° 32.536′ Elev. 1197 ft.
I’ve have trick parking spots scattered around the country and have parked in this particular one numerous times. There’s a McDouche’s and a 24-hour gas station/convenience store not 50 yards away and, on good days, InterTube connections either from the McClown McPalace or a nearby motel.
Whenever I’ve parked here I’ve stared at the train-car diner up on the hill. I always lamented the fact that it was closed, as in “out of business” closed. I thought it’d be kind of cool to eat there even though, due to the novelty of the place, the food would probably be grossly overpriced and would suck.
The last time I was here, however, I noticed a banner saying it was open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. I was simply coming and going at all the wrong times (read: at night/early morning) it seems.
I showed up at about 6:45 p.m. CDT one evening and, as I was securing the yacht, kept hearing the locomotive’s bell ringing. Cute, I thought, thinking it was programmed. A few minutes later I heard the whistle “whoo-whoo.” Cool. I could see a neon “Open” sign in one of the windows of the dining car so I decided I’d check it out. But as I packed my eating gear — book, reading glasses, camera — the place went dark.
At first I thought they’d closed early. Then the SS Me So Hungry’s crack lead navigator Skippy discovered we were in the Eastern Time Zone. They’d closed at 8, just as the banner had predicted. Cue Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks’ “Woe The Luck.”
The next day, just as the banner predicted, it opened again — at 11 a.m. EDT! So I trekked up the hill and checked it out.
My initial reaction was “This place is overpriced and the food is going to suck.” Still, I asked the guy if I could take some pictures. “Sure,” he said, “five bucks.” Huh? “I’ve got a train to pay for,” he said. He was joking, of course.
He was Tony, the owner of the Buckeye Express Diner. Or as he said, “According to the bank I’m the owner. I won’t live long enough to own it but I’m going to try.” Tony’s a lovable card, to be sure, with an acerbic wit that scalawags like me find endearing. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to eat there.
As I was about to leave I noticed the day’s special was all-you-can-eat fish and chips (Alaskan pollock, hand-cut fries) with “our applesauce” for $8.95. I left. Then I thought, “When was the last time I had fish and chips … in a rail car … perched on a hill … in Ohio?” I can’t remember when. Oh, wait, yeah I can: Never.
So I turned around and ended up having one of the finest fish-and-chips meals I’d had in ages. (Note: I’ve had fish (halibut) and chips from the Fish Shanty in Morro Bay, California back when it was good, so I know my fish and chips. No novice, me.) The fish was lightly battered, perfectly cooked, and virtually greaseless. Good tarter sauce, Heinz malt vinegar. In a word: Perfect. Tasty, tasty.
But the applesauce really made my day. Who serves applesauce with fish and chips? Well, Tony. It was delightfully cinnamon-y with big chunks of apple that made you remember that applesauce is not a pureed, flavorless pablum that we all know too well. It was real. Homemade Applesauce! Yea!!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that not only was the food excellent, the service was as well. As I was leaving, Tony said “If you like hamburgers, we make the best.” While I’m not a hamburger guy, I believed him.
By the way, you can ring the locomotive’s bell all you want for free, but it costs 50¢ to blow the whistle.
And so we roll.
Buckeye Express Diner, 810 State Route 97 & Bellville Johnsville Rd. (I-71, Exit 165), Bellville, Ohio
Tio Wally pilots the 75-foot, 40-ton(max) land yacht SS Me So Hungry. He reports on road food from around the country whenever parking and InterTube connections permit.