A second chance for a charmer south of downtown
By Brian P. Sharp
Some things aren’t what they used to be … or at least I felt that in going back to Benham’s after many years. I drove by one day remembering fondly the amazing chicken salad on croissant that they always served … the crispy waffle fries and the to-die-for cobblers.
So, I called a friend and said let’s head to Benham’s for lunch. I made a reservation and arrived with great anticipation. My friend and I were greeted by a cheerful hostess that took us to a table and gave us menus. It was a limited menu, though it had options for all tastes and at first, I didn’t see my favorites.
However, they were there, just in different spots. We ordered and both asked for the chicken salad on croissant, with a cup of the soup of the day. I already knew just how great this was going to be and couldn’t wait for the cobbler after.
Then to my surprise, my server came back to the table and said the croissants are frozen, what would I like instead? Ugh! I didn’t want another option. I wanted the croissant. Now why is it an option (for $1.00 more) if they are really not available? I looked at the menu for another possible choice, but decided simple white bread would be the next best thing.
The cream of broccoli soup arrived – very creamy and thick. Full of flavor and piping hot – simply delicious. Then came the sandwich. I was still looking forward to the chicken salad. The white bread was a bad choice. Unbelievably dry and the chicken salad was not as flavorful as I had remembered it. We finished our lunches and ordered cobblers. Cherry was the cobbler of the day. This cobbler is more like a compote of warm fruit topped with a cobbler crust, served with heavy cream. At least the cobbler was as great as I remembered.
To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. If it weren’t for the soup and the cobbler, I’m not sure there would be reason to return. However, I am not that kind of critic. Everyone gets another chance and I decided their second chance would be dinner.
So, I asked my friend Steve to join me. Dinner is served on Friday and Saturday only. What a difference a second chance can give.
We made a reservation (which is recommended, but not required) arrived and were greeted promptly and taken to our table. While settling in, one of the owners came to our table and let us know how happy he was that we had chosen to join them for dinner – and no, he didn’t know I was a food critic. Bill, the owner, asked if we had dined there before. I explained that I had been there many times in the past. I had been introduced to Benham’s by my dear friends Vicki Pegg and Donna Moon, however, this was Steve’s first experience at Benham’s.
While the dinner menu seems limited, the options are varied enough to give you plenty of options. The wine list is not only varied, but it is priced with value.
We decided to work our way through the menu. We ordered an appetizer of baked cheese puffs and decided to also try the cream of asparagus soup. The other appetizer offerings were shrimp cocktail and ginger lime seared sea scallops. Appetizers range in price from $3 to $7. The cheese crisps arrived – mini toast circles filled with a blend of garlic and herb cream cheese. The soup a creamy delight – a mixture of fresh asparagus and cream, both were delicious.
Then our salads arrived – a greens mix with fresh tomatoes and cucumber, topped with the house sweet and sour dressing. There are entrée salads offered with chicken, shrimp or salmon and range in price from $15 to $17.
The entrées we chose were Asian Chicken over pasta, “not for the faint of heart” according to the menu, and the Pork Chops. There are other entrée options that vary from filet or T-bone steaks to tilapia, salmon or even a lemon chicken breast. Entrees range in price from $16 to $25 and are served with a starch or vegetable.
Our server was attentive and available; checking on us and making sure we had anything we needed. The owner moved from table to table, visiting with guests and seemed genuinely appreciative of the business. Our entrées were perfectly prepared. The Asian Chicken is a large portion and has some kick. It is made with sesame oil with red peppers, onion and topped with a Thai sweet chili bourbon sauce. It is full of flavor and there is plenty for leftovers. The Pork Chops were “spoiled and broiled” as the menu states and are complemented nicely with homemade applesauce.
The dessert options vary from flourless chocolate cake to crème caramel and, of course, the famous cobblers. We chose the crème caramel and I had a second go-round of the cherry cobbler. Both were fantastic finishing touches to a delightful and delicious meal.
The environment is comfortable and inviting. The food is delicious and feels like home. The staff is efficient and attentive. While the restaurant serves lunch from Tuesday thru Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., it only serves dinner on Friday and Saturday nights from 5 to 9 p.m. This is a little Dayton gem. I may not have had the best lunch experience, but the dinner experience more than made up for it.
Don’t miss Benham’s – they are still as strong as ever! Still located just south of downtown at 209 Warren St. in Dayton.
Reach DCP food critic Brian P. Sharp at Theatre@daytoncitypaper.com.