It was early evening on a Sunday, and I wanted some bacon and eggs. Over easy eggs and non-crispy bacon to be precise. I mulled the idea of tackling such a meal in my own kitchen, but decided against it after quickly reviewing the preparation it would entail.
Succumbing to abject sloth, I decided that my best bet for bacon and eggs was Bob Evans, a mere 1.1 mile drive from my couch. I hopped in my car (don’t judge–I had a disc golf round later that night I had to save my legs for), and three minutes later I was in the Bob Evans parking lot.
In the three minute drive from my house to Bob Evans, I began to doubt my choice of over easy eggs. I inwardly panicked as I wondered whether Bob Evans would do poached. Or maybe I should have them try over-medium so just the yolk was runny? I didn’t really like runny egg whites, and a careless cook could easily mess up over easy. I even floated the idea of sunny side up, but decided against that particular choice because the yolk just isn’t quite as fun to pop as the over easy yolk.
I exited my vehicle still undecided and slowly–even apprehensively–made my way across the parking lot to enter my friendly neighborhood Bob Evans.
Let’s pause the story to talk a little about Bob Evans. What or who is Bob Evans? Bob Evans is an impersonal corporation (although, under the law a corporation is a person, so…). Bob Evans is also a…farm(?)…delivering on the promise of farm-fresh goodness. Bob Evans is also a person named Bob Evans who started Bob Evans in Bob Evans, Ohio (just kidding, it was in Rio Grande, Ohio). Bob Evans is also restaurant chain with 600 locations in 24 states (mostly in the eastern and southern U.S.). Bob Evans is also a film producer known for Rosemary’s Baby and The Godfather who had seven different wives, none of which lasted more than 3 years.
When I refer to Bob Evans, I am alluding to all of the above-mentioned Bob Evans-es, with the exception of Bob Evans the producer (who, although he does not grow crops, has planted many seeds in his own right).
Bob Evans is well known in Ohio as a good ol’ boys restaurant that serves down-home country food (and breakfast all day!) to primarily families and the over-65 crowd. The shock-and-awe menu features such specialties as “The Homestead Breakfast,” the “Big Farm Bacon Cheeseburger,” and the “3-Course Bob Evans Broasted Chicken.”
[Side note: Ohioans love their farm references. Whether it is farm-themed antique shops, farm-themed county fairs, or farm-themed restaurants, there is nothing held quite so dear as a farm reference. It is, in fact, a shame that eating a 1,200-calorie “farm boy” breakfast, while also NOT subsequently working on a farm for 12 hours that day, will almost assuredly result in death.]
In sum, Bob Evans not a place where you’ll find a lot of the “hip, young” crowd. That is, of course, because millennials are far above that kind of homegrown, corporate (but also local), “hey-look-we’re-into-environmental-sustainability” pandering.
And that’s why they go to Chipotle instead.
Oh, and they go to the bars in the city and drink disgusting micro brews that they pretend to like.
And the bar food–my gosh. It is just so advanced and tastes so much better than down-home cooking. There’s just nowhere else in the world where you can get greasy double-fried chicken nibblets doused in Frank’s hot sauce ($1.99 at Kroger) with a side of soggy fries that still, somehow, are lacking salt. (But don’t worry, the bar will call them “Cayenne Garlic Chicken Tenders with Parsley Garnish and Frites” and charge you $15.99).
Or they go to the restaurants with fancy-sounding names like “Castro’s Bistro” or “The Acropolis,” which boast such monikers as “cage-free chicken,” “grass-fed beef,” and “100% vegetarian-fed” (which mean, respectively: (1) this chicken was not technically in a cage, but instead was raised in an unlit concrete dungeon where it couldn’t walk and had its beak removed so it couldn’t peck its friends to death; (2) this cow ate pesticides its entire life; and (3) this cow ate pesticides its entire life).
Bob Evans isn’t cool enough to garner outstanding marks on Yelp or TripAdvisor. Bob Evans’ menu items like “Chicken Salad Plate” and “Slow Roasted Turkey and Dressing,” while more descriptive, are simply not sophisticated enough.
But let’s get back to the story at hand.
I carefully pushed my way through the double door to enter the restaurant. I had eaten at Bob Evans before. Multiple times. But I vowed to pay extra attention this time. I was quickly greeted by a smiling young man who asked me how my day was going and ushered me to a booth on the right side of the restaurant. Those that know me know I am a booth guy (it’s by far my favorite seating situation in a restaurant), so I was quite content.
The booth was clean, and within several seconds a waitress appeared at my table. Her name was “Aly S”. She was probably in her early 20s and had a ready smile. She wasn’t harried or anxious (as, say, a frenzied bartender might be in a chic bar). She was relaxed, confident, and appeared perfectly at ease.She asked me what I wanted to drink. Note that she did not say, “What you drinking?” as is the custom in fashionable IPA bars across the country, because clearly the answer to that is always, “nothing, until you bring me something.” She asked me a straightforward question (with a straightforward answer): “What do you want to drink?”
I ordered coffee and water.
A warm cup of coffee was in my hands within 30 seconds. It was good. Scratch that, it was great. Much better than I usually make at home. I didn’t have to wait in line. There wasn’t any fuss. I had been in the restaurant for less than ninety seconds, and I already was seated and enjoying a steaming, flavorful cup of coffee (with unlimited refills) as I perused the menu.
As I have documented above, I had entered wanting a simple order of bacon and eggs (style, TBD). However, as I perused the menu, eyes caught the omelet section–essentially the same concept as “bacon and eggs,” but with a little more “umphh” and a whole lot more options.
My bacon and eggs appetite was quickly upgraded to an omelet appetite.
I eventually settled on the “build your own” omelet and ordered the following: a three-egg omelet with pepperjack cheese, sausage, green onions, portobello mushrooms, and pico de gallo. The omelet came with sides of crispy hash browns and warm biscuits.
Aly brought my biscuits out early, along with a large assortment of different jams and jellies, so I munched on the warm, flaky biscuits and sipped my coffee while awaiting my made-to-order omelet. I felt like the luckiest guy in the world.
Within ten minutes (!), my omelet arrived (with a side of salsa I didn’t even ask for), and I immediately dug in. It was near perfect. The melted pepperjack cheese, large sausage pieces and fresh green onion flitted among the perfectly-cooked egg throughout the entire omelet (not just in the center). The pico provided the perfect kick to the sweet and savory tastes of the adeptly-cooked portobello mushrooms. Every bite was incredible. The hash browns were expertly crafted, with a crispy outer edge and a gooey middle. The flavors of the omelet, hash browns and coffee swirled together in perfect harmony.
As I savored every bite, I wondered how long it had been since I had enjoyed such an incredible meal eating out. It wasn’t on our anniversary when I spent five times as much per plate. It wasn’t at any of the trendy places I sometimes patronize with young professionals. It wasn’t even at Chipotle, a place of the gods.
It was alone, at a local Bob Evans at 6:00 on a Sunday night, eating a $7.99 build-your-own omelet with house coffee.
I couldn’t think of one foible to the whole occasion. The service was friendly and quick. The food was marvelous. The booth and restaurant were immaculate. What more could a man want (besides my wife, who, of course I would have loved to have there)?
So here I write, in defense of Bob Evans and places like it across our great land. In a world that has become so arty, feigned, and flamboyant, Bob Evans is refreshing in its lack of pretense.
In the throes of a breathless world that demands you try everything that’s new, sometimes you need to settle (and it’s really not settling at all) for a breakfast platter and a cup of coffee.