Jackson Diner serves up sandwiches like no one else

Thursday, December 6, 2007
The Jackson Diner grinders on focaccia bread are one of the most popular items. (Kit Doyle)

Where Bobby Steers is from, a "grinder" is a flatbread sandwich with a healthy portion of meat (most of the time). The rest is up to the cook.

And in Steers' homeland, southeastern Michigan near the Ohio border, the sandwiches are served on every block.

But in Southeast Missouri, you'd be hard pressed to find the word "grinder" on any menu. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a behemoth (one fills an entire dinner plate) flatbread sandwich like the grinders Steers serves at the new Jackson Diner.

Though grinders are huge in Michigan, Steers said "nobody can do 'em like I do 'em."

What makes his grinders a cut above?

Jackson Diner owner Bobby Steers held his two most popular items: Bobby's big burger, which includes a free desert for customers who finish the burger and fries, and the steak grinder. (Kit Doyle)

"Oh, I can't tell you that," the big upper-Midwesterner said.

Locals have taken to the grinder well, Steers said. "They've been hitting 'em hard."

The diner's grinders come in 12 varieties, ranging from chicken salad (made fresh) to pizza to a BLT grinder with a half-pound of bacon on it.

"Yesterday I had the whole Jackson Police Department in here for lunch, and every one of them had a grinder," Steers said Tuesday.

The menu is about much more than sandwiches -- it's filled up with seven pages of food, from dozens of breakfast options to homemade soups to pasta to seafood.

The one-pound burger is popular, Steers said, not only for its challenge value, but because people actually just want to eat the giant.

Steers started in the restaurant business 31 years ago as a 13-year-old in Michigan. Since then he's owned five restaurants, he said. His only tie to Southeast Missouri is his girlfriend, Krissty Foster, who is from Jackson.

On a vacation to Southeast Missouri this summer, the couple saw the building in Jackson that once housed Skinny's Diner. Steers said they closed a deal in a day, and the Jackson Diner was born.

"I'm actually the one who wanted to move here," Steers said. Southern hospitality is real, he said.

"People seem friendly, not like where I come from," Steers said.

So far they seem to be giving him a warm welcome.

He said business has been strong after just four weeks. He has the utmost confidence in his food and cooking ability, and he's sure they'll keep people coming back.

At Jackson Diner, Steers said people can get flavors unlike anything else. Everything is homemade, from the chunky spaghetti sauce with a hint of heat to the tartar sauce. The ground beef is ground fresh. These are the little things that make the food different and good, Steers said.

"I know what works and what doesn't work," Steers said. "Anything that doesn't work has already been excluded a long time ago."

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