When Dickie Jo's first opened, I was excited to try it -- it combined two of my favorite things: diner food and the West brothers, whose Mucho Gusto was a staple of my summer diet. So I trundled on over, with two meat-eating friends in tow, to have a sample of the place.
It was pretty much exactly what I'd expected: another brightly decorated little place that offered a clear view of the grill and emphasized freshness. The burgers are made from Painted Hills all-natural beef and can be upgraded from "regular" (bun, cheese, lettuce, tomato) to "slightly more interesting" with toppings like pepper jack or blue cheese, caramelized onions, meaty chili, and the special Dickie Jo's sauce -- which is, I think, some mix of ketchup and mayonnaise. The fries can become garlic fries or chili-cheese fries or plain onion rings. There's strawberry lemonade right next to the regular sodas and tea, and the ice cream shakes and sundaes are made with a rich soft-serve vanilla that adds a real-cream flavor to all of their treats.
That's all very good! I was pleased with my first visit.
A year and a half later, though, I seem to be about the only one I know who feels decidedly neutral about Dickie Jo's. They have burgers and fries and shakes, free-refill sodas, comfortable (if often full) booths, and the same sprightly, aggressively colorful atmosphere that the other West establishments have, but they lack in one regard: price. Though the atmosphere is designed for casual, quick dining, to get a Garden Burger ($5.99 base plus $1 extra for no meat) with cheese ($.50 extra), fries, and a drink ($1.99), I drop $10. For food that comes in a small paper basket, that's hard to swallow. (Hint: you can drop the fries from your burger combo and save $1.99, bringing your burger down to $3).
So -- what's the deal, here? The deal is there's a mismatch between the Dickie Jo's of my imagination -- the one that's conjured by their "Lucky 1952" advertisements -- and the Dickie Jo's that exists in Eugene. This is not a standard 50's diner; it's the diner that will remind you of your childhood while also allowing you, now that you're a grown up, to eat sustainably whenever possible. To make that dream come true, you have to pay for it -- and that's exactly what Dickie Jo's requires. The bill is high because the ingredients aren't exactly traditional. "Shoestring-cut Russet potatoes fried in Trans Fat Free Rice Bran Oil and Seasoned with Mediterranean Sea Salt?" Not at my hometown diner.
The result of all of this is food that tastes... well, pretty much exactly like it would if it was made with $1 burger patties instead of $2. That's the trouble. You pay a premium not for better taste, but for reassurance.
I like Dickie Jo's, but I still experience a bit of cognitive dissonance when I walk in -- and when I see my bill. It's still a nice stop in the summer, because -- again, unlike the 50s diners of the real era -- this place has air conditioning.
Location: 13th and Pearl and soon at Valley River Center, next to Mucho Gusto
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9ish, or later, depending on crowds.