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  • Bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches on toasted hamburger buns at Johnny's in Huntington.

  • The biscuits and gravy at Johnny's in Huntington were very good.

  • Carribean rum glazed pork loin at Johnny's in Huntington.

  • The cinnamon rolls are the signature item at Johnny's in Huntington.

  • The horsehoe counter is just one of the cool retro quirks at Johnny's in Huntington.

  • American fries with an egg at Johnny's in Huntington.

  • Johnny's in Huntington.

  • Apple-rhubarb pie at Johnny's in Huntington.

  • The stone exterior at Johnny's in Huntington gives the former drive-in its unique castle look.

  • A rotating dessert carousel is among the retro factors at Johnny's in Huntington.

  • Tomato Chicken Florentine at Johnny's in Huntington.

  • The tapered booths are just some of the cool retro quirks at Johnny's in Huntington.

  • A classic bacon cheeseburger and fries at Johnny's in Huntington.

Sunday, July 02, 2017 1:00 am

Smiling faces, tasty eats at Huntington diner

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Johnny's

****

Out of a possible five

$

Words like cozy, welcoming, homey, friendly, folksy and quaint are often used when I visit small-town restaurants. It's a crutch; an easy route to follow when describing these places.

But when I tell you that Johnny's in Huntington is all of those things – and probably a few others such as vintage, rustic or nostalgic – I am not just unloading my thesaurus.

I was made to feel so at home during one visit that I nearly had to argue with a friendly fellow sitting along the horseshoe-shaped counter with my family to keep him from paying our bill. Yes, Johnny's represents small-town charm perfectly.

Serving its regulars since 1948, this family-run restaurant and former drive-in has all the old bells and whistles of a retro diner that one could pick up and move to any big city and thrive thanks to its museum-like looks. The shockingly affordable prices are also from another time it seems.

Outside, it looks like a little round castle with big stone walls surrounding it. Inside, the circular dining room features cool little tapered booths and that old-fashioned counter with its round stools and a rotating dessert tower behind it as its centerpiece.

There are a couple of family-sized booths that are hard to come by, as are pretty much all the seats on a busy weekend morning. But I was able to find room around the counter thanks to a couple of gentlemen who offered to move down a spot to make room for us.

Friendly. Welcoming.

The man who wanted to pay my bill, who I found out was the father of one of Johnny's servers, was getting a kick out of listening to my son bargain over strawberry shortcake for dessert. Eventually, the man just ordered one for him and said he'd pay for it. But he was more than willing to pay the whole bill as we prepared to leave.

Homey. Folksy.

Then again, maybe the man was just put in a good mood because we shared some of our cinnamon rolls with him. Easily the thing Johnny's is known best for, they come in pairs – a fact I was not aware of so I ended up with more than I needed. They are basically fresh doughnuts as they are just fried dough rounds coated in cinnamon, sugar and a simply perfect sweet white icing.

They are a must-try and a must-try again, and, come to think of it, maybe I shouldn't have shared them because I would have enjoyed the extras.

Breakfast is a great way to go at Johnny's, which is open for dinner only on Fridays.

I had some wonderful biscuits and gravy there with some of the best biscuits I have had in some time. They were so light and fluffy inside, but buttery, brown and crispy outside. I don't know where I have had better. The gravy was pristine-white and dotted with plenty of sausage and followed suit when it comes to quality.

The pancakes were good, the ham was decent and the American fries, which one of my waitresses suggested over hash browns, were spot on – quartered, skin-on and browned and seasoned to perfection.

The only morning item I found a little fault with was the bacon, which was a tad limp and seemed to be quite a salty variety. But it worked just fine on one of Johnny's unique egg and cheese sandwiches, which was oddly, but successfully, served on a toasted hamburger bun.

For lunch, you can get a solid diner-style cheeseburger with crispy seared thin patties and oozing American cheese that tastes the way only a burger from a well-seasoned old griddle can taste.

I also enjoyed both of the more dinner-like entrées I had.

The Tomato Chicken Florentine looked tasty with two fresh, ripe tomato slices sitting atop fresh spinach and a pressed and perfectly sautéed chicken breast, all of it swimming in a creamy white sauce. It needed a little something and that something was the stewed tomatoes – another nostalgic offering – I ordered as one of my sides. Those whole tomatoes were bursting with juice and added just the right punch of acidity to complete the dish.

The best sides on their own were Johnny's homemade coleslaw and cucumber salad. The slaw was super sweet, creamy, very runny and reminded me of the slaw from the famous fried chicken and/or battered fish chains. The cabbage was green and vibrant and I fell in love with this slaw. The cucumber and onion salad had just the right vinegar punch with its sweet clear vinegar dressing and was pretty much exactly like the one your mom made.

The most unique special off the dry-erase board was the Tropical Rum Pork Loin, and it, too, was favorable. A thin slice of tender, juicy pork was sautéed in a red pepper- and scallion-dotted sauce made from the coconut-infused rum. The sauce was quite sweet and the coconut was prominent, but I enjoyed it nonetheless while slathering each bite with mashed potatoes.

Keeping with the sweet theme, pie is also a must-have at Johnny's. Even if you had cinnamon rolls, get some pie to go.

The banana cream had a wonderful graham cracker crust and was simply perfect. And the unique raspberry cream and apple-rhubarb were also fantastic.

The raspberry, which had a standard bottom crust, was loaded with tart berries, but its dense, sweet whipped base offset them perfectly. The apple-rhubarb was a first for me but I hope it won't be the last. It was a grandma-worthy standard apple pie with a flaky crust that simply had diced rhubarb mixed in the filling. That filling was very sweet so the tart rhubarb was a welcome addition, and I ate ever last crumb of it.

The service at Johnny's was exquisite even though it was busy and the two women working the floor had no time for chit-chat. In true old-school fashion, the place does not accept credit cards, which caught me off guard during my first visit when I had no cash.

But never fear, they were glad to take a check, too.

I should have known that would be OK at a place that is so homey, friendly and welcoming.

Restaurant: Johnny's

Address: 26 Riverside Drive, Huntington

Phone: 260-356-5129

Hours: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday; 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: No

Alcohol: None

Smoking status: Non-smoking

Credit cards: No

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Cinnamon rolls (99 cents), pie ($2.25), cheeseburger ($1.85), bacon-egg-cheese sandwich ($2.95), biscuits and gravy ($2.25), chicken Florentine ($7.99), pork loin ($7.99)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

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. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.