HIDDEN GEMS, WYOMING’S BEST EATS: Evanston Diner Serves Home Cooking in Welcoming Atmosphere

Ray and Mary Simm are regulars at Jody's Diner in Evanston, Wyoming. They married 69 years ago in Marietta, Ohio. (Wyoming Truth photo by David Dudley)

By David Dudley

Special to the Wyoming Truth

The first thing you notice when you enter Jody’s Diner, off I-80 in Evanston, is that there’s no music playing. Or, not the kind you’d find on a playlist curated by an algorithm. But that doesn’t mean Jody’s is drenched in dull silence, either.

Instead, the music of conversation, the clink and clatter of cutlery upon plates and peals of laughter — amid checkered tiles — greet those who come to this colorful, bright retro diner looking for a homestyle meal.

It’s almost noon and the place is packed. A server leads me past Formica tables — red, white and blue — cluttered with plates of eggs and pancakes, burgers and fries. Lunch is being served: the fish and shrimp combo ($13.99) is popular, as is the “not so Philly” cheesesteak ($14.99).

I order the Hobo’s Delight ($8.99): two eggs, and a big helping of hashbrowns with diced green bell peppers and onions, smothered in a mellow sausage gravy with a pop of fennel.  I also get my choice of toast, pancake, biscuits and gravy or French toast.

Jody’s Diner serves the Hobo’s Delight ($8.99): two over easy eggs, hashbrowns with diced green bell peppers and onions, smothered in a mellow sausage gravy with a pop of fennel, French toast and coffee. (Wyoming Truth photo by David Dudley) 

Waiting for my food, I sip black coffee, subtly sweet and nutty. I strike up a conversation with Pierre Baril, a 61-year-old Canadian trucker from Quebec City, who’s seated at the next table.

“I’ll tell you an old trucker’s secret,” he said. “When I’m on the road, I look for a full parking lot. When you see a full parking lot, you know it’s going to be good.”

Server Diane Swain, 66, smiles as she drops off plates of food. She tops up my coffee, then dances — she’s been doing the dosey doe with a fellow server all morning — to the next table.

As I eat, I forget that I’m on the road. For a moment, I feel as though I’m home.

One word won’t do

When I compliment the Hobo’s Delight via phone the following day, owner Jody Burton laughs.

“Though all of our food is good, we’re not really known for that one,” she said. “Our specialties are the smothered burrito ($12.29), and the Mexican omelet ($12.49).”

The smothered burrito is filled with eggs, sausage, onions and cheese. Then, it’s smothered in a green tomatillo sauce and topped with black olives. Burton, 53, said she didn’t do anything special to perfect her tomatillo sauce. “I’m just obsessive about food,” she said. “I try things until I like them.”

She thanks God for inspiring the menu.

“God, and my cooks,” she continued. “They all add something. One of them makes a cheeseburger soup. I don’t like it, but my customers do. It sells out every time.”

Burton, who was born in Bellville, Illinois, sighed when asked to describe Jody’s in one word.

“One word?” She asked. Then she began riffing: “Raucous… Community… Delicious… Home…”

Though Burton has worked at countless restaurants, she’d never dreamed of owning one. Jody’s Diner was born when the restaurant’s previous owner, Paul Nebeker, confided to Burton that he was going out of business. Nebeker asked Burton if she’d be willing to take over. Otherwise, he told Burton, everybody would be out of a job within days.

Servers Diane Swain and Gail Blasi spend a recent morning serving, bussing and dancing their way through a shift at Jody’s Diner.  (Wyoming Truth photo by David Dudley)

“I took over so those people wouldn’t have to look for jobs the next day,” she said. “Honestly, I didn’t think it would last six months.”

That was 12 years ago in March. Burton has worked tirelessly to make Jody’s Diner a home for her employees, many of whom are recovering addicts, and the diners, many of whom are senior citizens looking for an affordable place to eat and good company.

The wall opposite the mural is plastered with drawings made by kids young and old, and obituaries of people who were regular customers at Jody’s Diner before they left this world for the next.

But those people are more than diners to Jody. They’re “family.” And the diner is more than that—it’s “home.”

Jody’s Diner, 260 Bear River Drive, Evanston, Wyoming; (307) 789-8550. Open

7:00 am to 8:00 pm Thursday through Monday. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

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