UPDATE March 2022: Gena’s Restaurant has CLOSED.
Date of Visit: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: On the same day I visited Beechwold Diner with CMH Gourmand, we also did a little breakfast recon up to Westerville. Jim had heard tell of a three-pancake challenge, and we decided to scope it out. We found Gena’s in Westerville, just off Sunbury Road outside the 270 loop. When I mapped out the address in Google Maps, it originally told us to go a half mile north of the actual location. (it looks like they fixed it now). To find Gena’s, you need to locate the Kroger Marketplace, and then head around the south side of the building. Gena’s sits in a tiny strip mall attached to Kroger.
ATMOSPHERE: The restaurant consists of one entire room, half full when we arrived. It smells and looks like something out of yesteryear. Jim and I discussed this phenomenon. Businesses that have been around since the 1960’s/70’s have this certain smell and look to them. There’s a barbershop in my hometown just like this. Wood paneling. Brown signs with movable white lettering (see below). Plates, cups, and silverware that seem original. Weak coffee that conjures memories of so many similar breakfasts in so many similar diners. The smell is indescribable but instantly recognizable. It’s the smell of forty years of business. Restaurateurs try to create retro diners or “authentic” Irish pubs all the time, but they can never actually do it. You need decades of people coming and going to create that kind of atmosphere.
FOOD: One of Gena’s claims to fame is the Greatest American Pecan Roll. The name is trademarked. And it’s not just the GREAT. They chose the superlative. It’s the GREATEST.
Jim and I each ordered one. They’re made in house, gigantic and warm, sliced horizontally so you can butter it. Laced with cinnamon on the inside and topped with pecans. There’s a delicious buttery hint to it, and it’s not too sweet. Is it great? Certainly. Is it the greatest? Debatable. To be honest, it could be sweeter. Maybe they don’t want to ruin it with a sugary glaze, but I think they could go in that direction.
As part of our recon, Jim and I each ordered one of their pancakes, and were treated with a delicious and humongous flapjack. They mean business. Not the greatest pancake I’ve ever tasted, but still very good. Even at that size, they manage to get it golden brown on the outside and warm and fluffy inside.
Frame of reference for you. The pancake felt like it weighed well over a pound. We discovered that there is, indeed, a three-pancake challenge. Our server said all three pancakes stacked together look like a birthday cake. If you eat three of these pancakes in one sitting – there’s no time limit – you get your picture and name on the wall. Over the 5+ years they’ve been doing the challenge, only thirteen people have finished it.
Jim and I discussed tactics… do you use lots of butter? Do you drown each piece in syrup? I’m sure Adam Richman would have some tips. Sometime soon we may organize a group outing here to take the challenge together, similar to the Dagwood Challenge from a couple years ago. Stay tuned!
Here’s the wall of fame. Note, only thirteen champions. All male, I believe. Of varying ages. Just recently they had to add the second frame to accommodate the achievers.
SERVICE: Our server was the sort of kind, matronly woman you would expect at this type of establishment. She was very excited to talk to us about the challenge, the history of the restaurant, and more.
OVERALL: Gena’s is another good example of the hole-in-the-wall neighborhood diner. Every neighborhood has one; every neighborhood needs one. There’s not much variety between them – Gena’s standouts really are the pecan roll and the pancake challenge – and their food is good, but rarely exceptional. But they’re cozy, they’re close to home, they’re welcoming, and they’ll feed you well.