Lunch in Jamestown? Look no further than Penny’s

by Brian Clarey

Lunch at Penny’s in Jamestown is a simple but delicious affair. (photo by Brian Clarey)

Hungry in Jamestown and having no luck. The little lunch place behind River Twist is shut down for the week; road construction makes it difficult to get to Southern Roots; the General Store is closed while new owners remodel. There is Subway, of course, and a Mrs. Winner’s… but you don’t go to Jamestown for fast food.

Still, very few restaurants dot this little town of just about 3,000 people — at least not near Main Street, the core of the place. But I keep driving towards High Point and come across Penny’s Restaurant, a diner-style standalone near the edge of town with a sign out front advertising $4.95 lunch specials.

My kind of place. Inside, one harried redhead works the entire dining room, which at 1:30 p.m. has calmed down after a modest lunch rush.

“I am having a Monday,” she says after a bowl of gravy tumbles off a table she’s busing.

She recites the lunch specials, all-American staples like tuna salad, spaghetti and meatballs, sandwiches. The menu is stacked with items like this: burgers, chicken dishes, pork tenderloins, country-fried steak, seafood that has been grilled or fried or broiled. A couple of steaks and chops. And there are layers beneath the standard diner fare. A list of Italian dishes includes lasagne, manicotti, fettucine, eggplant parmigiana and five kinds of spaghetti.

There are gyro and souvlaki.

They serve beer and wine as well. It’s the kind of joint where teenagers go after school, senior citizens latch onto an early-bird dinner, entire families push tables together and go to work. It’s the kind of place that, once you discover it, you may find yourself going back to time and again to sample the deeper cuts off the menu.

But I’m here for a quick and simple turnaround. I stay with the specials list, ordering fried chicken livers with gravy, greens and potato salad. It emerges from the kitchen quickly and without fanfare.

When it comes to organ meats, there are those who do and those who do not. Clearly I fall into the former camp, and I relish the livers, fried with a crispy batter and graced with an appropriate amount of simple brown gravy. They are cooked to perfection, tender and firm, and something wonderful happens when the crunchy batter sops up the gravy.

The greens, by the way, are just fine — bitter and wilted. The potato salad is generic bit comforting.

Now here’s the thing about a five-dollar lunch: For me, anyway, it is seldom enough food. So when I’m done sopping up the gravy on my plate with this soft, warm roll I am still kinda hungry. The dessert menu includes pies and cakes, which I assume are made in house. My redheaded server tells me differently: The only dessert made here in the kitchen is baklava, that wonderful Greek pastry served in tiny triangles.

I’m in. The Penny’s version of baklava, like all of them, I suppose, relies on layers of paper-thin phyllo dough interlaced with caramel and nuts, though this one was drier than most I’ve had, a bit crunchier and laced more heavily with cinnamon. It is fabulous, and I can eat it with my hands without getting my fingers sticky. It would have done well with a cup of coffee, but sweet tea did the trick as well.

wanna go?

Penny’s 727 W. Main St. Jamestown 336.454.4818