It’s tempting to slide into the booth where President and Mrs. Kennedy once dined and soak in a bit of history. But my kids prefer sitting at the bar and truthfully so do I. From there you see all the action moving in and out of the main kitchen while the line cooks work on burgers behind the bar and the servers fill glass after glass of Coca-Cola.
For several years Jim’s was the stuff of family legend and mythology. The
first time I ever set foot in West Virginia was the weekend my husband proposed
to me. We had traveled from Georgia for a friend’s wedding and family Fourth
of July picnic. For months Derek described the many restaurants of Huntington, West Virginia, but Jim’s was at the top of the list. That visit failed to take
me to Jim’s and every visit of the next three years provided the same
disappointment. We would drive away from Huntington and Derek would say “I
still haven’t gotten you to Jim’s.” I started to the think the place didn’t
Finally, when our daughter was a year old the family made a pilgrimage to
this Huntington institution. It was not what I had expected. The dish Derek had
raved about again and again was Jim’s spaghetti sauce. In my mind this
translated Jim’s into a kitschy Italian joint with red and white checked table
clothes and Chianti bottle candle sticks. I was so very wrong.
Stepping into Jim’s is to join the world of President Kennedy’s era. Jim’s
is anything but kitschy. It is an earnest, serious spaghetti and steak house
where every moment of a guest’s experience is taken seriously. No attention to
detail is spared. As a customer you sit up straighter and put on your best
manners, not because the surroundings are intimidating but because you hope to
make yourself worthy of this place and all it represents.
Not much in Jim’s has changed in the past thirty years or more. The
restaurant is run exactly as Jim did but now by his daughter and grandson. My
husband’s grandfather ate almost every lunch during the work week at Jim’s. He can attest to the fact that it is the same as it has always been. Jim’s
is the kind of place that helps you understand what our grandparents and parents mean when they lament “Things aren’t what they used to be”.
Jim’s is perfectly designed to respectfully serve its customers. The waitresses (I have never seen
a male server at Jim’s) wear 1950s style white starched uniforms with white
shoes and a green apron. Their hair is cleanly pulled back from their faces and
tightly tied up. They are clean, tidy, and polite. Even at the counter the
waitresses pay close attention to their guests, refilling glasses before they
ever fully empty without the guest even noticing. They smile with a welcome and
friendly word even if they aren’t assigned to you and just happen to be walking
by. One of their younger servers during our most recent visit stopped just to chat
with my three-year-old about his banana pie and how that was her favorite as
well. He felt important and special as she smiled at him and asked him
I have never visited when Jim’s daughter and grandson were not on hand.
One of the two of them greets every person who walks in the door. They wear uniforms (of a sort) as well. Jimmie always has on a crisp white jacket and
her nephew wears an equally crisp white button-down with a dark necktie. Their dress is as much under scrutiny as anyone else. The two of them watch everything that happens in the restaurant and attend swiftly to any need or
issue. On our last visit I watched as Jimmie swiftly but quietly made her way
into the kitchen to correct an order she saw was being filled.
As far as the food goes, it is delicious. It also has not changed in
decades. Below you’ll find my review of their most notable dishes from their
limited menu. But the food is not what I love most about this place. Jim’s is
the kind of place that just isn’t done anymore and it’s a shame. It reminds me
how formal daily life was, not just formal dinners and Sunday church outings.
Our society used to show greater respect for one another. People valued clean
lines and proper attire. Men wore hats when they left the house and all women
wore them to church.
Now, I’m not about to start ironing all of our clothes. Nor will I give
away our yoga pants and gym shorts. But I do greatly appreciate the feeling
that comes from enjoying a meal in the tidy and formal fashion of Jim’s.
Every need is attended to in a quiet and proper way, allowing you to relax into
One day the extremely casual nature of our society will go out of
fashion. We no longer will tolerate servers who barely stop at our tables and
articulate just beyond a grunt to take our orders. We will no longer accept being treated like a third cousin four times removed, someone whose presence in
the restaurant feels like a burden at best and an inconvenient nuisance at
worst. Instead, we will want to be treated as a guest wherever we choose to
dine and will expect places to be run with decorum and efficiency. When that
day comes, Jim’s and places like it will be the saviors of the restaurant
industry. They will be the ones to set the example because they have never
ceased running the place properly with good etiquette, structure, and ritual.
If you want to learn more about Jim’s, I commend to you a simple Google
search to call up article after article about the place and about Jim himself.
Look for his tradition of giving silver dollars to first-time guests (I always
carry with me the one Jim’s widow gave our oldest when she was only a year old)
and Mohammed Ali’s presence at Jim's funeral. It is a place and people worth
knowing. For most favorite restaurants,we love the ambiance or a certain dish
or two, or the people there. Rarely do we love the whole of the place, it’s ethos
and essence. I love everything about Jim’s, from the people, to the food, to
the appearance, to the inherited family and community memories it contains.
SLAW!!! I am so picky about my slaw. I grew up in Georgia and we don’t eat
much chili, much less on our hotdogs. Slaw is a staple, whether on a hamburger
or hotdog or as a BBQ side or picnic and potluck offering. It is huge for me to
tell you that Jim’s has the best slaw on the planet, hands down. It is good by
itself, as a side to any of their entrees, or to take home and put on your
hotdog. It’s one of the few dishes I cannot completely replicate at home. And I
don’t really want to because I like missing it between pilgrimages to
Pies. I’m embarrassed to say that it was not until this year that we ever
ordered pie at Jim’s. We’ve known how famous their pies are (just ask any local
about the anticipation leading up to strawberry pie season) but we usually
aren’t hungry for dessert after our meal. This year we went in for an afternoon
snack, perfect pie time. It is better than anyone will tell you. Hannah had the
Boston cream pie, which was good, but William had the banana pie, which was to
Spaghetti, of course. I made the mistake of ordering the ravioli on my
first visit to Jim’s and will never be so foolish again. "Spaghetti" is in the name of the place and Jim's has its own unique flavor. We have a recipe for “Almost Jim’s” spaghetti sauce.
It’s close but it’s not Jim’s. Again, this is a taste of Huntington that we
miss between visits and love sharing with our kids.
White fish. Everything about Jim’s is unique in some way, and that
includes their white fish. I’ve never been served perfectly squared blocks of
fried fish before, but that’s exactly how Jim’s serves it up. And it is
delicious, especially with their house-made tartar sauce. Seriously. This is
the best tartar sauce in the world.
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