J Benjamin's

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by Martha Holmes

I have always been a fan of jbens, that is a couple years ago. Went in tonight with our kids and the food quality has gone down. There was only one waitress and she had no help. No one to bus tables, help with drinks, help carry out food. Poor girl was running around the restaurant literally. My family arrived at 7 and ended up having to ask for our food to go (we have 3 children) because by 8 it still wasn't ready. Finally at 815 we were headed home. Once we got home. Our small pizza was a tiny baby size only feed one kid instead of 2 like I hoped. Meatballs in the meatball sandwich were burnt and I think my husband got a kids spaghetti because he only got 1 meatball. Salad iceberg lettuce was all brown and wilted just gross. Will never spend my money there again. It was nasty.

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by Leroy

This place was one of the worst experiences we have had in DSM. Food was awful. Would have enjoyed a frozen pizza much more and for a fraction of the cost. Took almost an hr to get served, Wife had Meatball sandwich and I had Meat lovers pizza. No sauce, over cooked, no flavor, crust had an unusual nasty after taste. Onion rings were ok, wife's salad was floating in dressing. To top it off when would not take home out leftovers the waitress went to the bar said something to the Bartender and they both just stared and pointed at us..? Pass on this place at all costs Folks.

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by Matt Speicher

Was down in Des Moines from Ames picking up some Musky Rods this past week and was told to check this place out. We were VERY impressed with everything. The place filled up quick as it was live jazz and we had a great meal. Simon was awesome and chatted with our table even thou it was a full house. Prices were great on food and alcohol. Not to mention free dessert ! We will be back again and i highly recommend it. Just felt like we were family !

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by R

We drive all the way from Waukee for this place and have never had a bad meal. We go here quite often and the only time the food was a little slow it did not really matter as it was as fantastic as always....The staff are always friendly and knowledgeable.

This is a place worth the wait....

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by Kris Baird

I gave this 4 stars because of the service. We waited a long time for someone to clean a table so we could sit down--not really a separate area to wait--felt like we were standing in the middle of other diners eating. Also, it took a long time for our food to arrive. When it did arrive, it was delicious!! All four diners in my party were very pleased. Simon checked on us and made us feel welcome--nice kid. I will definitely go back because of the food.

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Went to place on a whim last evening. Was always going to give it a try. Finally, stopped. Ordered rings & pizza. Excellent. Pizza had lots of toppings & rings were not greasy as in most restaurants. Beer was nice & cold. Thought the waitress could have been just a little more friendly. Was not busy at the time. Didn't expect long conversation, but at least stop by & ask how everything was. She was nice, but not over-nice. Makes for better tip. Simon did stop by. Very nice & sweet person. Can make it big if he keeps trying. Chef is very good. Keep up good work. Don't get chinsy like in other places we patronize. Prices were competetive.

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by Tabatha

Fantastic restaurant. The food is wonderful and the service is top notch. It is a quaint corner store, romantic and warm. Simon talks to everyone as if he knows you. If you have a wait, it is well worth it. They have live dinner music on some nights - we enjoyed the jazz so much, my husband and I hired them for our wedding. Thank you Simon for making J. Benjamin's a very special place. We are going tonight for my birthday! :)

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by Craig

What a great place to eat! You won't find a more personal dining experience in Iowa than this place....the food is tremendous, and Simon makes you feel like he's known you for years. HIGHLY recommended!

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by Joan and Gary

J Benjamin's is by far the best kept secret in Des Moines. We have been going there for years and have never had anything but a great meal and outstanding service. We take out of town guests there as well and it is always perfect. Simon and all the staff make it a perfect experience everytime we go. Here's to many more years at Simon's!!

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by Michelle

I want to tell everyone I know that J Benjamins is the best place to eat!! Simon is so awesome! Everytime we have been there he has made us feel so welcome! We only live a block away and whenever anyone asks us where to eat we always tell them J Benjamins! Thank you to Simon and his staff for making every one of our meals unforgetable!!!

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by adam vanhaaften

we live a block away, and after driving by this place for almost a year. we gave it a try. we love it and try to go back at least once a month. simon is awesome and he will walk you out everytime. he remembers you and gives you desert on the house even if you dont want it. the food is all good and we have never had a bad experience. It cost no more than the olive garden and tastes better times 10. please try it out just once. you will be back.

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by rgolds

This place is amazing! It's soooooooo charming! Better than going to the same 'ol chain restaurant... Perfect date spot, but also fun for family gatherings or just a bite to eat. It's absolutely perfect!

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by J

You've got to give this place a try! Exceptional food, service, and ambiance. Swing by if you can, simon is amazing!

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by B

If there were a higher review I would give it to them. I won't speak to what the negative reviews had to say but this is the best little secret in town. The food is better than anything I've ever had. Simon could not be more charming and welcoming!!!! I have yet to be disappointed, even slightly, by a sinlge thing on the menu. You must, must, must try this place at least once. Because once you've experienced it, you will be back!!!!

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by mitya51

My wife and I went at the recommendation from 2 different friends so we were expecting it to be great. The main thing that redeemed the place for us was the owner (simon i guess) who bought our bruschetta after checking if they were out ingredients in the kitchen because it didn't have basil on it- it took him 5 minutes to come back and let us know. We would have asked our server if it was supposed to have basil (or onions) but had to ask Simon because she did not make herself available to us. It was very busy to her credit, but she never checked on us and made us feel rushed every time she stopped by. Always talking to us as she's walking away, and not checking to see if we need anything. A profoundly unattentive server. and on top of that, the chianti I order was bad- probably cooked or turned because it tasted of vinegar and there was very little fruit. i told her that it tasted like vinegar and she said , "well i did just opened it, oh, but do want me to get you something else," in a thinly disguised skeptical tone, as if to imply i'm an idiot, or that the only a wine can turn or be worthy of sending back is if it has been open too long. Apparently she knows little about wine, doesn't drink wine herself, or has the pallet of a stone and has never opened a bad bottle of wine. Then she did bring back a different glass of wine which ended up being quite good, but it was a significantly smaller poor than the first glass! Point taken. . . . She succeeded in helping me not feel bad about leaving a bad tip which is hard to do. By the way, thought the food was just okay. Sorry Simon. Hope you keep your strong following and keep it on the up and up.

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by nevesis

I highly recommend all of their (homemade i presume?) soups and particularly their onion rings. The pizza is good, but I prefer a napoli style. All in all, the food is good, but not amazing. The service is usually a little lacking. The staff is extremely friendly, especially Simon, but I think they're often either overwhelmed or unexperienced. The best hole-in-the-wall atmosphere in Des Moines.

All of that said, I love this place and so does most everyone I know. And it shows because there is rarely an empty table.

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by Bret

A co-worker recommended J Benjamins and since I enjoy patronizing locally owned restaurants, my bf and I decided to give it a try. I don't think we have ever been treated so poorly at a restaurant before. We waited patiently for about 15 minutes, standing in the cold doorway. The service staff didn't even acknowledge we were there and Simon, the owner gave us a quick "it'll be just a few more mins" as he rushed by us to bid farewell to some leaving patrons. During most of this time 3 tables were empty and clean, but we still remained invisible to the service staff and Simon was too busy schmoozing with other guests to set up a table for us. After we waited an additional 10 minutes without getting even a glance from any of the staff, we walked out. Simon, if you want us to give your establishment a second chance, shoot me an email at bandorf@mchsi.com.

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by Amy

I love this place. My husband and I discovered it a couple of months ago and have been back a couple of times. We have told our family and friends about it and are actually going there tonight for a nice quiet dinner!!

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by simon

now although I am young I know I do make mistakes and so does my staff but that is life and that Is why I'm there to fix those mistakes and I just wanted to apologize to Bart who was just in recently I don't remember that issue and I assure you had you talked to me I would have been more than happy to cover your next meal I never talked to you I hope by posting this you will see it feel free to call me on my cell and this goes for anybody who has a problem and wish to discuss it 7078678 I want to know if anyone has a problem that's why I'm there that's my job Is to fix it we all make mistakes but if you don't let me know I can't help happy holidays enjoy your company and have fun. Simon owner of j. Benjamin's

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by Bart

OVER RATED TO SAY THE LEAST. I had an order to go and much of it was not there. I mentioned this to them the next time I was there hoping to get a little something at least to make up for it. What I got was virtually being called a liar and their cooks bad attitude when he told me " I never forget to put the full order in the boxes" The food itself isn't bad but I'd never go back.

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by A and D

J. Benjamin's

November 6, 2007

Here is a review it is very gratifying to write. A and D reviewed J. Benjamin's on April 7, 2006-19 months ago-under the then new owner Simon Goheen, an up and coming Des Moines restaurateur. At that time, we recommended that he place his stamp on a very promising restaurant and call it Simon's. And now, the menu proudly proclaims "Simon's" with the smaller former name, J. Benjamin's, as a tagline. In time, no doubt, it will be known solely as Simon's, and rightfully so.

Everything about Simon's has matured and improved. On a Tuesday at 5:30 through 6:50, A and D witnessed service for 35 covers in the one hour and twenty minutes. There are dozens of restaurants in Des Moines that dream of 35 covers a night, let alone in under an hour and a half. And there is a reason for this obvious success. Simon's is good.

Simon himself was in the kitchen cooking. The competent wait staff of two kept the front of the house running smooth. As busy as the restaurant was, there were no obvious glitches; no lapses in service; no extended waits for anything. This is a polished crew.

The food has also matured. D ordered the Chicken Florentine with a house salad and Romano Ranch dressing, a restaurant specialty. The salad was crisp, cold, fresh, and the dressing was superb. Nothing fancy; just simple, fresh, good and well-executed. The kitchen has achieved a maturity; Simon has become a skilled cook.

The Chicken Florentine was perfectly sautéed, served with Cappicola, spinach and a lovely Dijon sauce. The accompanying mashed potatoes were true fresh prepared and exceptionally tasty. A sauté of broccoli and vegetables accented the well-prepared dish.

A ordered the Fettuccine Alfredo. The sauce was good, but the dish was served at too cool a temperature. A also had the house salad and dressing and found it an excellent choice.

While obviously quite busy, the chef-Simon-left the kitchen to greet his numerous guests, even refilling water glasses as he went around the room. His infectious personality and radiating smile tell a lot about his success nearly two years after taking over the flagging restaurant from the previous owner. He has created a successful restaurant because of that personality, that confidence, obvious hard work and his unfailing attention and dedication to his customers.

Now, he is faced with the next step-either a re-arrangement of seating and addition of more tables and elimination of the overly tiny booths, or a move to a larger restaurant. But, Simon's is a neighborhood restaurant and its success is, in great measure, to its neighborhood location and personality. But, there is doubtless a way to enlarge the booth seats to make it far more comfortable to dine, add some smaller tables, and increase the seating without changing too much of the personality. It is also time to make the final transition in décor from J. Benjamin's to a fresh, cozy Simon's, and at that point Simon Goheen will have achieved his own complete identity.

Service is excellent. The wait staff is friendly, unobtrusive and very attentive. Speed is good; quality of service is good. A and D did notice that desert was not offered and 'selling' is not done. The wine list was offered and A and D ordered wine and a drink. The wine selection is good; not overly expensive but good quality.

This is a perfect Tuesday evening (or any other evening) dinner out at a great neighborhood restaurant. The food is good; the service is good; the ambiance is good; and the restaurant is filled with people having a great time and a good meal. That makes it fun and makes for a great experience and a great evening out. Simon's understands now who it is as a restaurant and it does it right. This is not Sage. But, this IS Simon's.

The bill with wine and drinks was $56, about $36 without drinks (3 glasses of wine and 2 cocktails), plus a well-earned generous tip. Entrees are between $12-15 and the menu offers pizza and sandwiches as well as the specialty dishes, all reasonably priced and great value.

Overall: 4 stars
Food: 4 stars
Service: 4 stars
Ambiance: 3 stars
Value: 4 stars
Recommended: Yes. Highly.

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by Fatty Hungry

The food here is the star! J Ben's pizza & chicken florentine keep us coming back for more. Additionally the small jars of Italian "giardiniara" on the tables compliment the wonderful fresh bread. The wine list covers the basics, although, thankfully, you won't find your run of the mill grocery store wines on the menu. For the most part smaller, lesser known "boutique" vineyards rule here. Live jazz is a nice touch on weekends, although, depending on the combo, can at times be a bit overwhelming for the intimate space. We look forward to a lasting relationship with this locally owned gem.

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by Heidi

I recently moved to Des Moines and have been trying to find a quaint little 'hole in the wall' restaurant that my finance and I can call "our place". Look no more! J Benjamin's has been the best service experience I've had since moving here in early spring. The staff was helpful and making recommendations and kept our wine and water glasses full even though it was near closing time.

The food was wonderful (we both had the pasta, but will be back for the pizza) and the portions were big. Loved the fresh flowers on the tables as well!

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by Lisa

We have been to J. Benjamin's a number of times and I have to say it is a great place for pizza and also thier entrees are delicious. We have never had a bad meal here. Simon always greets you at the door and most of the time will walk you to the door as you are leaving. He is a class act. I really enjoy seeing this place work. The staff is young but they do a fantastic job. I think this is one of the best places in town to enjoy a casual, delicious meal.

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by K

This restaurant is one of our favorites. You can always expect a great meal and great service.

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by A and D

J. Benjamin's has had several lives, but under the present owner, Simon Goheen, it is reaching its potential. This is an intimate neighborhood restaurant. It's charm is signalled immediately by Simon. Simon greets you at the door; seats customers; provides wine service; sometimes helps out serving; cooks; makes pizza; checks on satisfaction; talks with his customers; and bids you "Thanks and come back soon" at the door as you leave after a pleasant experience. The restaurant is infused with Simon in the same way a great dish can be infused with truffles or ginger creating an enjoyment and delight for the customer that keeps you coming back. And Simon is rare. He is 22 years old and the owner of his first restaurant. He gives more satisfaction and customer care in five minutes than many of our leading lights of the Des Moines restaurant scene give in five years of loyal customer patronage. Simon was born to be a restaurateur. Let's hope that he keeps his enthusiasm, his joy, his concern for the customer and his success, especially in the grueling grind that is the reality of running a good restaurant.

The interior is a charming eclectic decor that has been improved greatly since Simon took over from the prior owner. It is soft lit, pleasing tones and comfortable, as a neighborhood restaurant should be. There are booths on both sides with tables that move, a great detail for those couples with a small and a large person. Being able to move a booth table so both are comfortable is considerate. Restaurants with fixed booth tables are often avoided by many of our more ample diners. Simon features live music on Wednesday nights (perhaps other nights as well), most recently a jazz guitarist. A nice touch in an intimate, friendly neighborhood restaurant.

The amenities are a dichotomy. Fresh roses, carnations and daisies in the vases, candles on the tables, but a haphazard approach to table setting and ware. Cloth napkins but not tablecloths; glass over cloth; silverware rolled in the napkin, a too often used shortcut to good table serving practice. And, the single knife and fork had to be used for all four courses. A small detail, but an opportunity to stretch for restaurateuring greatness. Overlay the art of restaurant service and you will have something very special in J. Benjamin's.

And let's consider the name of the restaurant. Under the previous owner the name was a tribute to his father. "A" and "D" went from loyal customers to "let's see if it's as bad as always" under that ownership over a period of three years. We saw the descent into mediocrity that made us ignore this old restaurant and to ignore the name J. Benjamin's. But after three visits to Simon's incredible re-incarnation, "A" and "D" fondly refer to this as "Simon's Restaurant." Why not make the change? One of the smartest restaurauteurs "D" ever knew, a millionaire several times over and a steakhouse king in New York City, said, "Always name a restaurant after yourself. You become your own walking billboard and television ad--and it's free!" With Simon's charming personality, he deserves to have a restaurant proudly named "Simon's."

Now to the food . . .

The first visit, Simon was getting the kinks out. The food was unremarkable. Months later, he is serving imaginative dishes and what "A" believes to be Des Moines' best pizza (with Graziano's sausage, too--smart!) This is a work of culinary art in progress. The specials are often exciting, such as the pork loin and chutney with red cabbage several weeks ago. The chicken dishes are excellent, full of surprising flavors. There is a fish dish, but the fish is not the star of the menu; in fact seafood is under-represented. One steak dish is offered, New York Strip. A beef tenderloin dish is also featured.

The work in progress--while quite good--will fully mature when consistency and total attention to detail are learned in the kitchen. String beans cannot be allowed to go gray; baked potatoes cannot be allowed to come to the table steamed in aluminum foil. Sauces cannot be thin one week and superbly wrought the next. Garnishes are afterthoughts. On three spaced visits, the cuisine has become enhanced and it is good, but it will become even better if Simon is The Natural "A" and "D" believe he is.

The menu is the old J. Benjamin menu and he is doing it better than the old J. Benjamin. But, should not the menu be "Simon's?" Should these be his signature dishes? And should there be weekly variety and several specials to choose from. This is the stuff of repeat visits and the making of 'regular' customers. It is about interest and variety; one tires of the same choices quickly. Of course, the other approach is to have thirty choices on a fixed menu, but that can only be supported by volume restaurants like The Latin King. For intimate restaurants, a constantly revolving kaleidoscope of imaginative, well-prepared, mastered dishes prepared with the freshest and best ingredients infallibly produces legends, and Simon has the heart, mind and maturity to be a legend in the Des Moines restaurant milieu.

A nice selection of starters will please most everyone, but the onion rings are as good as you will find anywhere. The bread course features an herbed butter that is excellent and so much more interesting than the foil-wrapped pats. The bread itself is unremarkable and no variety. The house salad is crisp, varied and ample; dressings are good but not yet works of kitchen-made art.

For desert, the chocolate cake served on an elegantly drizzled plate is perfect for two--and delicious.

The wine list is selected with care. The Salmon Creek cabernet is an adventure and--as are all the wines--priced attractively. By the bottle or by the glass, these are interesting, seldom seen wines.

Prices are very reasonable, whether for four courses or for a pizza.

The wait staff is very attentive, even if they are not as infused with as much passion as the owner. A bit inexperienced on the art and lore of the table and on the processes of tableware, but genuinely caring, interested and pleasant. When you get Simon, you get a smile that worries about your satisfaction. But he's busy trying to be everything to everyone. One of the keys to a great neighborhood restaurant is a great and stable wait staff.

This restaurant is a delight. It is refreshing to see this much passion and involvement. It is rewarding to know that yet another generation of restaurauteur will continue Des Moines' culinary achievements. Simon's Restaurant does not pretend to be Trostel's Dish, but there will be a day when he gives several first tier restaurants a challenge. For now, relax in this intimate place; enjoy this evolving repertoire of dishes, let this enthusiastic host provide you with value and his gifts as a cook and the captain of his destiny. Above all, support a good restaurant that believes it should earn your respect and patronage.

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by Phon

This place can be summed up in one word, "AWESOME!" They have great food, great service and great live music. My wife and I have been there 4 times and have never been disappointed.

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Tips for J Benjamin's from foursquare users

Tim S.

The stuffed mushrooms are phenomenal!

1 person has done this

M.C. L.

Food is great! Simon the owner is incredibly friendly. Great neighborhood reataurant. A definite 2 thumbs up!

1 person has done this

Jon T.

Actually, it's called Simon's, and the house dressing is really good.

1 person has done this