Tonight’s excursion combined two of my favorite things: diners and trains. Yes, folks, it’s the Buckeye Express Diner in Bellville, Ohio. If you’ve ever driven I-71 between Columbus and Cleveland you know you’ve seen that train up on the hill, and that bright red passenger car with “diner” printed in white on the side. We’ve been eying it from the highway for years, and tonight, we finally stopped.
My son and I both love trains, so this was awesome. The restaurant is comprised of a newer welcome area/kitchen/restrooms built on to a couple passenger cars lined with seating. The whole setup is lovingly restored in fine detail – it’s really spectacular. Outside you can pay to blow the whistle on the locomotive or ring the bell.
They don’t serve breakfast, but the owner Tony mentioned they might add it in the future. Instead, they’ve got lunch and dinner 11 am to 8 pm seven days a week, serving burgers, subs, salads, and even ice cream. You order right at the counter in the entryway, and they’ll bring your food out. We ordered a couple burgers, which come with delicious hand-cut fries, plus appetizers of fried pickles and mushrooms. The burgers were just right – we were craving big juicy burgers with toasted buns, and we got that. Fries were fantastic – why doesn’t everyone serve hand-cut fries? Why? And the fried food was, well, fried food. Not a lot of seasoning, but still fried.
Our experience was marred by some rough service. Things started out fine, but one of our party has an allergy to eggs, and her chicken salad sandwich had eggs in it. We couldn’t think of another chicken salad we’ve encountered with eggs in it. Are we way off on this? Typically those are two different types of salad. Anyway, she brought it back and ordered another sandwich (which turned out to be great), but the server then brought the original sandwich back, boxed up ready to go, and said we owed them for the new sandwich. Sending out the teenage server to tell us we have to pay? A little passive aggressive. This is a little off-putting, especially when the owner got surly about sending it back and ordering something different. We can’t expect him to read our minds, but I expect restaurants to be able to exchange a dish if a customer has a bad experience. Like it or not, the customer is always right in this situation. And his response left us with a sour impression.
Buckeye Express Diner’s challenge is this: to most drivers on I-71, it might look like a gimmick. Sure, we’ll stop once for a burger in a train car, but if it’s mediocre, we won’t be back. From then on, we can drive by without stopping because, well, we’ve already been there. But the food is good – these were some serious burgers and fries, all freshly prepared and tasty enough to make you pause. That’s the selling point. We’re more likely to stop because we’ve been impressed by the food and the fun location. However, if we run into service like we did tonight, that’s going to put us off and give us another reason to keep driving by.
Fortunately, I think we patched things up with the owner, but we’re still discussing the experience today, so clearly it left an impression. But we’re willing to give it another shot – the burgers and fries were great examples of tasty diner food.
If you want to visit:
Buckeye Express Diner
810 State Route 97 W (exit 165 of I-71)
Bellville, OH 44813