Our editor got an email recently from a reader contending that Our Gourmet has given short shrift to western parts of the state when it comes to picking restaurants to review.
We’ll admit that the Merrimack Valley and points east do tend to get most of the attention in this space; it’s largely a matter of distance and available time, not any lack of love for Cheshire, Sullivan and Grafton counties. But the reader’s point is well taken, so we decided to hit the road and head over to Keene, one of our favorite dining destinations.
Mrs. Gourmet and I have written about several downtown restaurants in Keene over the past few years, so we thought we’d do a little research and find someplace a little more off the beaten path. Some internet digging turned up a little spot with great online reviews and a big smoker out front, so we decided to give JimEddie’s Restaurant a try.
JimEddie’s is west of downtown on Winchester Street. It looks like it started out life as grandma’s little house onto which she added a commercial kitchen and turned it into a restaurant.
We grabbed the last spot in the parking lot out back when we rolled in around 6:45 on a Saturday night. We walked around to the front door and stepped inside to find at least 10 people jammed into the tiny, dimly-lit vestibule waiting to be seated (it was raining). I squeezed through the crowd to go inside to put our names on the waiting list, only to find more people waiting beyond the entrance.
As I stood at the counter, I scoped out the place. It’s small, and a bit dated. The carpet looked like it had seen better days. Cool old photos and posters of the area adorn the walls, and rope lights intertwined with plastic ivy serve as a sort of crown moulding around the perimeter.
The main dining room is filled with 16 booths — and all were occupied. “This is going to take a while,” I thought, but the hostess told me the wait would only be about 20 minutes. (Later, I found out there’s another dining area in the back.) I headed back out to the vestibule where Mrs. G was waiting, and we passed the time chatting with some of the other patrons — most of whom were repeat customers who raved about the food.
And there’s plenty of food for customers to rave about. The main menu fills six pages in a tri-fold plastic binder, and an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper is crammed with a huge list of daily specials— almost 30 additional items the night we visited.
The food ranges from diner classics like meatloaf, pot roast and liver and onions to Italian, seafood, steaks, sandwiches, salads and barbecue. (And in another hint of grandma’s influence, “Chicken Croquettes” was proudly listed as a special on the sign out front.)
Like most people, we get a little suspicious when a menu is this big. How can a place do so many different dishes and do them all well? Of course, there’s only so much sampling one couple can do in a single visit, so we have to defer to the overwhelmingly positive reviews we found not only on JimEddie’s Facebook page (they don’t have a website), but on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.
And I have to admit we weren’t particularly strategic in our sampling. In fact, we were smitten with the smokers out front, so we both decided we wanted to try JimEddie’s barbecue (which, curiously, accounts for only a handful of dishes on the mega-menu).
When we were seated, we were presented with a little dish of cheese spread and crackers — another grandma touch — while we worked our way through the menu.
Mrs. G started with a cup of seafood chowder that was very thick and filled with chunks of potato, fish and shrimp, but it had an unexpectedly pungent flavor, as though sour cream were a significant part of the base.
I ordered some onion rings, which I thought would be a good accompaniment for the barbecue I was planning for my main course. The rings — batter dipped and nicely fried — arrived early, and were pretty much gone before the entrees arrived.
As I mentioned, there are only a few barbecue offerings on the menu, despite the huge smoker pit out front. But we were hooked on the smoke, so we decided on a rack of ribs and an order of pulled pork. We ordered both as dinners, meaning that they came with homemade potato salad and cole slaw.
We loved the ribs. They were tender, smoky and lightly crusted, and the meat needed only the slightest coaxing to fall off the bone.
We like barbecue best when the smoky meat is the star, and the diner gets to decide on the sauce and how much to use. JimEddie’s pulled pork was good, but it came pre-sauced, a bit heavy handedly and a bit too sweet.
We were mystified by the potato salad and cole slaw. We’re not sure how it’s possible, but these versions were produced with virtually no flavor.
By the time we finished our meals, the place was clearing out and closing time was approaching (8 p.m. comes early on a Saturday night), so we passed on dessert.
JimEddie’s is a throwback. It’s an old family restaurant that’s thriving in a town that has plenty of more upscale and trendy culinary destinations. Service was pleasant, value factor was good (our tab was under $60), and there were lots of happy faces around the dining room.
JimEddie’s has no aspirations of being something fancier. And clearly, the people who pack the place six nights a week wouldn’t have it any other way.