Growing up in the 80's in Columbus was the greatest time for several reasons. One of the most memorable was a 3 mile stretch of road nicknamed "Restaurant Row".
SR 161 aka Dublin Granville Road, was home to several concept and themed restaurants. Back then you didn't just visit for the food, you fully immersed yourself in the experience.
Along "The Row" one would find The Wine Cellar (owned by one of the famed Kahiki owners), The Ground Round (pay what you weigh nights), Flakey Jakes (which was substantially better than Fuddruckers IMO), Bombay Bicycle Club, Elephant Bar, Po Folks, Uno, ChiChi's (Chimichanga!!), Chili's, The French Market (home to Damon's and the first Steak Escape in the country) and Victoria's Station.
Journey To The past...
The latter, Victoria's Station to me was the coolest of the concepts as it was made up of old train boxcars you would actually dine in! There was an old red "London Phone Booth" that sat at the entrance (inside you would find a PAYPHONE! Remember those?) and upon entering the restaurant you could choose to eat in a boxcar OR my personal favorite, the Caboose. Choosing the latter was super cool as the 2 elevated seats on either side of the caboose allowed you to see above the roofline and all up and down 161!
Fast forward a few decades and all the aforementioned restaurants have long closed with their buildings being either demolished or repurposed and in the case of Victoria's, the trains departed the station in late 1992, leaving behind just the center structure which was converted into a Red Lobster.... ugh.
You couldn't begin to understand my excitement when a near roadside mishap turned into one of the most nostalgic discoveries in recent years. While on the freeway my dashboard started to "scream" at me "2.5 MILES TO EMPTY", forcing me to detour off onto the upcoming exit.
I tend to have a keen eye for thing that stand out, so while pumping gas my attention was immediately drawn to a hill that was supporting a train. What really stood out was the fact that there seemed to be no connecting track, forever stranding the engine on a dead end incline. Looking even closer, putting my contacts to work, I could make out 3 words on the side of the passenger car.
"Buckeye Express Diner"
Located in Bellville, Ohio, I'd bet my weight in track ties that it's one of the only train restaurants remaining in the state, a survivor among the dying breed of themed dining experiences. Resting atop a hill looming over interstate 71, the picturesque surrounding provides you lovely views into the "valley". You have the choice of a passenger coach car or caboose for seating, And yes, the elevated seats I loved as a kid are still there, this time with an even better view!
Dining Car Menu
"So about the food?!?" (Oh yea that's why you're here right ), Burgers, Fish, Subs, Dogs, Rubens, Shrimp, Wraps, Wings and more. We ordered the Lake Erie Perch, Brutus Philly Beef, Zing Wings, Grilled Cheese, 2 Bacon Cheese Burgers and Fries.
Lake Erie Perch Fish Sandwich - Includes 2 generous sized lightly breaded filets and while I'm not sure if they are frozen between Lake Erie and here, they definitely tasted like they were just pulled out the water.
The Burgers were pattied fresh and you could taste the difference. Well seasoned and juicy, reminding me of the old burgers we used to get at Fuddruckers. Damn good burger.
Brutus Philly Beef - Delicious sub with tender cuts of beef and cheddar cheese on a airy sub bun with a slight crunch.
The sleeper hit for me however was the wings! At first glance, I figured these were your typical GFS wing dings but no sir. Decided to order them unsauced so I could taste the true flavor, and seriously to my surprise they were deliciously well seasoned having just a tad kick without being spicy. Sizewise they struck a happy medium, not as big as some local favorites but also not premature sized like BW3.
So is Buckeye Express another one trick pony like many other themed restaurants, relying solely on the cool train concept to get by? While people like myself that seek out new or nostalgic concepts will be drawn to give it a try, there definitely has to be more than a building to justify the drive and it does just that. More substance than flash, the burgers were juicy and satisfying and the unique menu presented some nice twist on classic items. And of course the wings!
With the drive time from our home in southeastern Columbus clocking in around 70 minutes one way, its unfortunately not economical to visit regularly, however if you live in the area or are traveling thru, there's no better place on 71 to take a rest and enjoy a good meal.
Thankfully this train won't be leaving the station anytime soon!