Mel and Faye’s Diner qualifies as an institution in Jackson. Mel Gillman and his wife Faye opened Mel and Faye’s on Highway 49 at Main Street in 1956. When they started, Mel and Faye only served “frosty” ice cream desserts from a window. Over time, Mel and Faye grew the restaurant into a full diner with burgers, sandwiches, shakes, and more.
In the early 2000s, Mel and Faye’s was so popular that it outgrew its space, and Caltrans wanted Mel and Faye’s to move due to the new traffic signal that was being installed at Highway 49 at Main Street. The city helped Mel and Faye move the restaurant to its current space at 31 North Highway 49/88, which opened on December 8, 2003.
Mel and Faye’s has four components to its business: its dine-in restaurant, the small BG’s Lounge adjacent to the main restaurant, a takeout window, and a banquet room on the lower floor for events. Though Mel and Faye have passed on, the restaurant is run by their son Bart and his wife Maura.
I last went to Mel and Faye’s on April 15 for a takeout dinner, and it was my only bad experience I had there in the 24 years I’ve either lived in or visited Jackson. So, my mother and I wanted to come back and see if operations improved since our last outing. On September 9, my mother called Mel and Faye’s to order takeout dinner, though we ordered from the lunch menu that the restaurant also offers for dinner.
I ordered an Old Timer burger, which is a one-third pound burger with “all the fixin’s” according to the menu. This burger doesn’t include cheese, which costs 50 cents extra. I substituted onion rings for fries for an additional 75 cents. When I arrived at the pickup window at the front of the restaurant, I ordered a slice of chocolate cream pie for myself.
The burger was served with lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, and thousand island dressing on a sesame seed bun. I couldn’t tell if there were any other condiments on the burger because every bite of the burger tasted like thousand island.
The fried beef patty was cooked well done, and when I picked off a few bites of the patty I thought it wasn’t too dry. With the condiments, the relative dryness of the patty offset the generous slathering of thousand island. The sesame seed bun, which seemed to be the same as those you can buy at a grocery store, stayed dry and firm from the first bite to the last.
I usually order the onion rings because they are the best I’ve tried. The sweet onions are perfectly fried so you get a crispy, sweet taste with every bite no matter if you dip them in ketchup or eat them by themselves. In the past, Mel and Faye’s has only given me about 8 to 10 onion rings of varying sizes. This time, they gave me more than 20. The overload was a good excuse to save (and enjoy) some onion rings with dinner the next day.
The large slice of chocolate cream pie had a layer of chocolate mousse topped with a thick layer of whipped cream. A generous helping of semi-sweet chocolate chips adorned the top of the slice.
The crust is thick enough that you have to push down with your fork to break it, but not so thick that it’s hard to eat. So, the crust had no problems handling the layers of mousse and whipped cream, and it provided crunchiness without getting in the way of the flavors of the other ingredients.
Curiously, the mousse and whipped cream weren’t that sweet The biggest chocolate taste came from the chocolate chips, which left a chocolate aftertaste for about an hour after I finished it. If your body can’t handle cream pies, as I discovered I couldn’t later that night, Mel and Faye’s offers other pies and desserts.
My mother gets her usual meal when she eats at Mel and Faye’s: the Sourdough Burger with fries. The burger has a quarter-pound patty with swiss cheese, tomatoes, grilled onions, mayonnaise, and thousand island dressing on toasted, buttered sourdough bread.
The problem with the Sourdough Burger is that the quarter-pound patty is too small for the slices of sourdough bread. The end result is you get two or three bites of sourdough bread coated with thousand island dressing when you get to the end of the burger. If you don’t mind this, as my mother didn’t, then you’ll enjoy this burger as she did.
The fries are plentiful and seasoned with salt and pepper. My mother always enjoys the fact that Mel and Faye’s serves so many fries that she always gets a second meal out of them.
Does Mel and Faye’s have the best burger? I ordered the Old Timer to get a closer comparison between their burger and other burgers I’ve reviewed so far, and I don’t think Mel and Faye’s has the best. The Brickhouse Brews animal-style burger I had in May still holds the top spot.
However, Mel and Faye’s has the widest variety of burgers in the area, and their burgers are uniformly at a high level. You may also want to try their non-meat burgers; I’m partial to their turkey burger.
What’s more, I found service had returned to its previous excellent level. When I arrived at the pickup window, I paid quickly. Our order was ready in Styrofoam boxes within a plastic bag, and I received another Styrofoam box (sans bag) with the pie.
Green light from both of us…just be sure your body can handle a cream pie before you order.
The cost for both our meals was just shy of $24.00, and the cost of the chocolate cream pie slice was $3.77. (At least you get a big piece.)
Want to Try Them?
You can view the Mel and Faye’s menu on their website, and you can call ahead to order at 209-223-0853. As of this writing, Mel and Faye’s offers 25 percent indoor dining per state public health guidelines. You can also come up to the take-out window and order from there, but expect to wait about 10 to 15 minutes for your food.
Amador Business Ticker food reviews are adventures in local dining with Editor Eric Butow and his mom.