Benjamin knows best

North Dayton restaurant does burgers right

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Burger with everything, fried okra and french fries at Benjamin’s The Burger Master

Dorothy, we’re not in Dayton anymore.

Driving distance to Benjamin’s The Burger Master on Main Street in North Dayton is only about a mile from our downtown Dayton City Paper office. But the feeling you get when you eat there is that you are many miles from here. Specifically, many miles to the south, where they do the kind of cooking they do at Benjamin’s. I had, of course, heard about the burgers—and Benjamin’s name proudly proclaims burger primacy. What I didn’t know was that along with the burgers, I would be in for a Southern home cooking soul celebration.

Seeing is eating

Joining me were fellow DCP crew, the Lovely Katie, Sarah Smile and Wanda Woman, as we set out to determine just what makes Benjamin the master. Entering the doors from Benjamin’s parking lot we were immediately clued in that this should be good by the smell. Right ahead of us was the cafeteria-style line to order food. This is where we discovered that Benjamin’s means so much more than burgers. Steaming pans of greens, beans, fried and barbecued chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and platters of cornbread were on display. Being able to choose our food by seeing it was a bonus, but also a curse. The tempting sight (and smell) of what we were looking at made us order copious amounts of food. (Most of which we managed to consume.)

When you go to a place with “burger” in its name, you order it. And I did, along with deep fried okra and the caveat that everyone else would choose from the other menu items to try everything. Sarah Smile ordered barbecued chicken, corn, green beans and cornbread. Wanda Woman went the fried chicken route, with mashed potatoes and greens (large sides $2.99), deciding that a 12-piece box ($18.95) should be enough for everyone to share. Lovely Katie tried a mushroom Swiss burger with fries. Benjamin’s also offers daily specials. That day it was lasagna, which also looked delicious, but Southern style was our mission.

AnticiPIEtion

Activity behind the order counter in the open kitchen area was bustling. Clearly Benjamin’s does quite a business with the number of people and level of hustle that was going on back there. The burgers are made to order, as are items like my deep fried okra ($1.69). As we watched, we spied the pies at the end of the counter—sweet potato, in particular, and peach and apple ($2.79). (Plus German chocolate cake, a personal favorite.) No Southern-style feast could be complete without pie, I pointed out. So it was pie and cake all around, even though we had already ordered enough food for way more than one lunch.

We settled into one of the booths that line the barn-like interior of the dining area. Baskets, pots, farm implements and tchotchkes of all kinds were hung from the ceiling and piled on a high shelf edging the room’s perimeter. All food was packed up in bags with plastic utensils and disposable plates for easy eat-in or take-out. We sat, unpacked, unwrapped and dug in.

Burger boss

I ordered my burger with everything ($2.99), and at Benjamin’s that means ketchup, mustard, mayo, tomato, lettuce, pickle and a thick slice of onion. The burger was done the old fashioned diner style, hot off the grill with tasty browned bits of ground beef crusting the edges. I couldn’t ask for anything more—except for the deep fried okra, which was also terrific. For those who are not okra fans, deep-frying eliminates the somewhat slimy mouthfeel many people find displeasing.

Pick the chick

Both kinds of chicken were right on the money. The fried was crispy coated and juicy, and the barbecue tasty and tangy. The greens were sharp and vinegary, and the other side vegetables were homey and perfect compliments to the chicken. The mashed potatoes could stand with a little pepper to make them a little less bland. However, with gravy, that wasn’t so much a problem. A table favorite was the corn bread. Fried in a disk, johnnycake style, this cornbread is less cake-y and sweet and more salty and savory in taste. And the pies? Don’t skip the pies. Take a crew with you so you don’t have to skip anything!

Eat and repeat

We left Benjamin’s, stuffed and sated, already planning a return to eat this food again, and glad that food reminiscent of a style of cuisine usually found many miles away is only a mile from us!

 

Benjamin’s The Burger Master is located at 1000 N. Main St. in Dayton. For more information, please call 937.223.8702.

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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