Jason Bennett called the atmosphere in Jack Russell Fish Co. “a little bit of Florida.” He pointed to the variety of colors on the walls and the beach scenes which give the Benton restaurant a tropical, outdoor feel.
Yet, there is a lot of Southern Illinois in the business too, beginning with Jack Russell Fish Co.’s signature sandwich – the same one enjoyed by hungry coal miners at Tom Raymond’s Tavern in Sesser more than 50 years ago.
It’s the sandwich Bennett’s father-in-law, John “Jack” Russell Moore, served when he began the restaurant two decades ago, carefully following instructions from Tom Raymond’s son-in-law Pete about how to prepare and serve the tavern favorite. Moore’s telling of the legend remains on the Jack Russell Fish Co.’s website.
“You’ve got to fix the fish the same way every time using our special breading, the hamburger dill pickles, the onion slices, the fresh white bread,” Moore’s telling of Pete’s instructions continued. “He said that some people want tartar sauce, but they must use our special ‘top secret’ ketchup to make it a real Old Tavern Fish Sandwich.”
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The menu at Jack Russell Fish Co. goes far beyond the still-popular sandwich, however. Bennett and his wife Erin have expanded offerings since purchasing the business from Moore about five years ago. Crab legs, peel-and-eat gulf shrimp, catfish dinners, fish tacos and clams are among seafood items on the menu along with steaks, salads, soup and grilled chicken.
Bennett said the restaurant’s chicken wings – a Wednesday special – are especially popular as well.
“We try to accommodate for all varieties of life, whether you like fish or not,” he said.
In keeping with the casual theme, the restaurant often features live music on the patio as well as a full bar and a family-friendly atmosphere. It has become the kind of place that appeals to generations.
“Erin’s Dad had a big following when he had the restaurant and we’re kind our bringing in our generation,” Bennett said. “We’re seeing all of the 30- or 40-somethings and they’re bringing in their kids. It’s fun.”
Jack Russell Fish Co. is open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4 p.m.-9 p.m. on Friday and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. on Saturdays at 106 E. Main Street in Benton.
20 healthy comfort food recipes to make this fall
1. Creamy Pumpkin Pasta
Brittany Mullins, the health coach behind Eating Bird Food, develops nutritious recipes that taste amazing and never make you feel like you’re skimping. This creamy pumpkin pasta recipe is the perfect comfort food for fall. It comes together in under 30 minutes so you can make it as a weeknight treat.
2. Sweet Potato Red Lentil Curry
Is there anything more comforting than filling your kitchen with aromatic spices on a chilly evening? This flavorful sweet potato red lentil curry recipe from Sweet Potato Soul will do just that. This warming, delicious dish is vegan, too.
3. Creamy Hummus Pasta Bake
Pasta lovers need to try this vegan creamy hummus pasta bake from Pick Up Limes. It takes just five ingredients to make, so it’s great for a quick comfort food meal that keeps your grocery bill low.
4. Sweet Potato Walnut Chili with Cornmeal Dumplings
It's officially chili season. Laura Wright, the food blogger behind The First Mess, added her own extra comforting spin to this plant-based chili recipe with some cornmeal dumplings.
5. Instant Pot Beef Stew and Mashed Potatoes
Is there a more classic Sunday supper recipe than beef stew and mashed potatoes? This Instant Pot version from Melissa’s Healthy Kitchen makes prepping this comforting vegetable packed dish easy.
6. Brown Butter Sweet Potato Bread
Admittedly this brown butter sweet potato bread with maple cream cheese frosting is still a little bit of a treat, but in true All the Healthy Things fashion, home cook and recipe developer Ashlea Carver made it gluten free and healthier with a sweet potato puree.
7. Sheet Pan Eggs and Breakfast Hash
Need a simple, healthy breakfast that’s big on comfort food flavors to get you out of bed on cold fall mornings? This sheet pan breakfast hash with eggs from Isabel Eats will do the trick.
8. Butternut Squash Dumplings in Ginger Soy Broth
This mouthwatering dish from Half Baked Harvest is packed with flavor and spice. Curry roasted squash is pan fried inside dumpling wrappers and served with a ginger-garlic broth. It’s healthy enough to eat any day of the week and delicious enough to kick your takeout habit.
9. Garlic Dumpling Soup
Can’t get enough dumplings? Neither can we. This garlic dumpling soup recipe from Food by Maria has a different flavor thanks to plenty of fresh lemongrass. It makes two to three serving0s, so you won’t have to eat the same leftovers all week.
10. Vegetarian Enchiladas
These tasty vegetarian enchiladas from Cookie and Kate are stuffed with healthy ingredients such as broccoli, bell pepper, black beans and spinach, before being topped with a delicious homemade red sauce. This dish strikes the ideal balance between hearty and healthy.
11. The Best Lentil Soup
Once you try this Love and Lemons lentil soup recipe, you’ll never want to make another. Between the holiday pies and cookies, this comforting soup provides the perfect nourishment.
12. Vegan Sweet Potato Pie
This thick and creamy sweet potato pie recipe will have the non-vegans at your Thanksgiving table fooled. Jessica in the Kitchen kept this recipe simple with just 11 ingredients.
13. Vegan Spinach Artichoke Pasta
This easy one-pot vegan spinach artichoke pasta recipe from From My Bowl gets its comforting creamy texture from cashew butter. There are also easy substitutions if you’re gluten free or allergic to nuts.
14. Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread
15. Curried Butternut Squash Soup
This curried butternut squash soup recipe from A Simple Palate kicks things up a notch by adding just the right amount of sweetness from apples and a touch of spice with curry.
16. Coconut Chickpea Curry
This one-pot Jamaican fusion curry from Jessica in the Kitchen is comforting and budget-friendly. It’s packed with nutritious vegetables and plant-based protein from chickpeas.
17. Coconut Milk Pumpkin Soup
This warming coconut milk pumpkin soup from Love and Lemons is flavored with healthy aromatic spices like ginger, turmeric and cumin.
18. Paleo Turkey Meatballs
Thanksgiving isn’t the only time of year you should be eating turkey. These paleo turkey meatballs from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen are packed with delicious Italian spices, onion, and spinach.
19. Triple Apple Muffins
Not sure what to do with your apple-picking bounty? Try this moist and delicious triple apple muffin recipe from Green Kitchen Stories. The dollop of apple sauce in the middle of the muffin is a fantastic surprise.
20. Butternut Squash Chipotle Chili
Can you ever have too many chili recipes in your fall and winter rotation? Cookie and Kate’s take on this comfort food classic is gluten-free and vegan, but it still sure to satisfy the meat eaters at your game day watch party.