Behind the Menu | Chef trades in fancy for home cooking at Jack's Diner - Entertainment & Life - The Columbus

Chris Kowalski is nothing if not humble.

The classically trained chef, who once worked with some of Columbus’ top culinary talent, is the proud owner of Jack’s Diner, serving up unapologetic breakfast and lunch fare Downtown.

“I’m just slinging burgers right now,” Kowalski said. “It’s a good gig.”

With no real interest in returning to fine dining, Kowalski prefers to keep his menu simple and his prices low.

There are no surprises with the double cheeseburger ($4.55), which offers two patties of grilled beef and traditional garnishes on a toasted bun. A side of crinkle-cut fries is an extra $2.

“That’s been a staple of this restaurant for years,” Kowalski said.

Many customers will order the burger with a no-nonsense chocolate shake ($3.50), made with real ice cream, whole milk and chocolate syrup — “all the good stuff,” he said. (Strawberry and vanilla shakes also are available, as are malts for an extra 35 cents.)

The meatloaf ($6.95) is a proud tradition at Jack’s, which has had several Downtown addresses since it was founded in 1942. Kowalski bought it 18 years ago.

Kowalski said the ground beef is seasoned with diced vegetables, Worcestershire, eggs, breadcrumbs and traditional spices, and sided with real mashed potatoes and green beans.

“It’s a big portion for lunch, definitely,” he said. “It fills you up.”

He said the loaf is ladled with house-made gravy, which is a huge hit with customers.

“A lot of people will come in and get a double cheeseburger and gravy all over it,” he said.

Among the more-popular breakfast fare, which is served all day, is the short stack of pancakes ($6.50) topped with whipped butter and maple syrup, a choice of breakfast meat and a beverage.

Those who want a gut-busting meal can opt for the breakfast special ($8): two eggs, house-made hash browns, a choice of meat, toast and a beverage.

Kowalski trained at the Columbus State Community College and did an externship at the Culinary Institute of America. He worked for chef Siegbert “Ziggy” Allespach and at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants and assorted country clubs in the area.

He said when the opportunity arose to purchase Jack’s Diner, he jumped at it.

Every now and again, Kowalski flashes his culinary skills, but he stays away from fancy meals.

“I’ll add stuff here and there,” he said, “some different specials and things like that, but I don’t do anything else, anything crazy.”

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