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Rich’s Café
Out of a possible five

Steak and pot roast are riches at Rich’s

There was no way I could not order it.

When I saw “Volcano Pot Roast,” scrawled out on the dry erase board behind the counter at Rich’s Café on Lower Huntington Road in the Waynedale area, my interest and appetite were piqued. Was this some kind of super-spicy marinated pot roast? Was it a chunk of roast with gravy oozing out of it like lava?

The daily special was a Manhattan-style meal served in a skillet-shaped casserole dish with thick white bread on the bottom; mashed potatoes; tons of tender, juicy, mom-worthy pot roast; a heavy ladle of brown gravy; and a smattering of fried onion curls on top. And it was great. The onions maintained their crispness and added texture to the heaping pile. I love Manhattans and would have probably tried one at a place like Rich’s, so this dish just made my evening.

The pot roast also made for a great daily featured soup. The vegetable had a dark, rich, salty beef broth that I am sure was made from the roast drippings, and it was loaded with cabbage, corn, peas, green beans, carrots and potato cubes. It was a great belly-warmer on a cold winter’s night and was much better than the potato soup, which was really more like a cheese soup with potatoes added instead of a classic cream of potato.

The volcano sign wasn’t the only one that caught my eye. A banner outside touted, “New Owners, New Look, New Menu.” The folks who own the Harlan Cafe have owned Rich’s for about two years, so new is kind of a loose term. The looks were pretty standard and not really worth bragging about, but another banner touted something that was – char-grilled steaks.

I would normally be hesitant to order a steak at a place like Rich’s, but the sign coerced me into trying a T-bone. Of course, coercing me to order a T-bone is about as hard as coercing a squirrel to a bird feeder. The steak was surprisingly good with a nice sear from the grill and a loin half that was super-tender and as succulent and delicious as many I have had at steakhouses.

Another great find was the fried fish, which is offered as an all-you-can-eat special on Fridays. The light, flaky Alaskan pollock was lightly dusted with a coarse, somewhat gritty breading that just added a little crunch and flavor to the delicate fish. It was the kind of fish that is hard to stop eating, so having the all-you-can-eat option is a bonus.

The daily special Swiss steak and the smothered chicken were also worth trying. The steak was thick and a bit gritty in texture like a hamburger, and it was covered in reddish-brown gravy with bits of tomato. It came with mashed potatoes and a side of green beans with bacon and onion and just needed a pinch of salt to make it perfect.

The chicken breast was butterfly cut and browned well on the griddle before it was topped with crispy bacon and smothered in mozzarella and cheddar cheese, big button mushrooms and diced onions.

Rich’s offers breakfast all day, and the breakfast sampler gave me a look at a little bit of everything. It came with two mini-pancakes, which were rather flat and lifeless; two eggs; a piece of decent ham; two strips of crispy, meaty bacon; a sausage patty and either grits or American fries, of which I chose the latter. It also included a cup of coffee, which was pretty standard but hard to get refilled on a busy night. The potatoes were the highlight as they covered over a third of the plate and were fried up perfectly.

The only things that really disappointed at Rich’s were the pies. The cream pies were from the nearby Waynedale Bakery, I was told, and the fruits were from New Haven Bakery. The only fruit pie I had, apple, was great with a nice touch of cinnamon and a tasty, somewhat doughy crust.

The cream pies, however, were a mixed bag. The butterscotch cream was the best dessert of them all with a rich, thick filling topped with light, creamy whipped cream. The blueberry cream also was worth having again with its vanilla pudding base, the same tasty whipped cream and a gooey, sweet blueberry filling on top.

The pecan cream and coconut cream pies, however, were nearly inedible. The vanilla base of the pecan cream was OK, but the whipped topping was thick and dense and, frankly, tasted as if it were way past its prime, bordering on spoiled. My waitress was surprised during my first visit because she thought the pecan was actually newer than the butterscotch and offered to replace the topping with canned whipped topping.

I ordered another piece of pecan cream and the coconut during my second visit four days later and found both suffered from the same fate.

Restaurant: Rich’s Café

Address: 3411 Lower Huntington Road

Phone: 478-1996

Hours: 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol served: None

Credit cards accepted: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Soup ($2.49 cup, $1.79 bowl), breakfast sampler ($6.99), smothered chicken ($6.99), Swiss steak special ($6.50), T-bone steak ($12.99), pie ($2.29)

Rating breakdown: Food: * 1/2 (3 star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130, or go to the “Dining Out” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net. DuVall’s past reviews can also be found at the Web site, and you can hear Ryan every Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. on 92.3 FM, The Fort.