1201 State St.
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Saturday 9:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Sunday 9:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Happy Hour, Sunday-Thursday 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.; Brunch, 9:30-11:30 a.m. Saturdays & Sundays
Setting the Benchmark for local eats
Truth be told, adventurous eating isn’t normally a go-to for our family. In many ways, we are creatures of habit, going to the same restaurants and eating mainly the same dishes. We love what we love.
But there are those days when you want to feel a sense of excitement from something new, willing to take a chance, even if your belly pays for it in the end.
As frequent shoppers at Old Navy on State Street and avid fans of Metro Entertainment and its cool comics, we felt like we had Benchmark Eatery cornered, but had never even ventured inside.
On a recent Saturday, we took the risk — and we are ecstatic we did.
The food? Still salivating.
The service? Smiles, friendliness and maybe the fastest bus boy this side of the Mississippi.
The atmosphere? Quiet, clean, relaxing — and non-pretentious. You can come dressed up, and it makes sense. You can show up in board shorts and flip-flops, and fit right in. Plus, you can choose to sit in covered outside tables, or in the cooler inside dining room. Both protected from the elements, but offering different experiences.
But let’s get back to the food. Any time we set out to a new spot, we play it pretty safe, ordering something we are familiar with to get a gauge on the the quality of the kitchen staff.
And they are top-notch.
Two of us ordered fish and chips, one deciding to skip the cole slaw en lieu of some extra fries, while the other stuck to what the menu has to offer.
At other establishments the fish can come to the table soggy and oversaturated, but Benchmark’s was a perfect blend of sturdiness and lightness, with every bite hot and fresh, never overpowering the taste palette. The red sauce it comes with had a nice tang to it, as well, different than your normal white tartar sauces.
And while fries don’t normally get a ton of ink, I’d be remiss to not point out that every single one at the table finished their fries — something incredibly abnormal in our family. They were absolute perfection, not over-salted, but a perfect complement to the main course.
In addition to fish, we couldn’t go a meal without our teenager ordering a big burger, complete with cheese and lettuce. Might sound boring, but it was gone in less than three minutes. And, with the size of it, that’s a major accomplishment and a testament to not wanting to put it down. Growing kids, are we right?
We knew that we were going to walk State Street a bit, so we added an order of churros at the end. You could smell the cinnamon even before it got to the table, and they were as fresh as can be, a blend of crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The chocolate dipping sauce was nice sidekick to the dessert, although you don’t really need it.
While the restaurant wasn’t as busy as it should be, the layout of Benchmark allows for you to have your own space to enjoy time with loved ones. The decorations on the wall are intriguing, particularly a metal American flag that is bent and can be studied for an entire meal.
While our approach to food might not be thrilling, at least the artwork was.
High points: Affordable, sit-down experience that left a family of bellies full, but not I-need-a-nap-now stuffed. So many places along the South Coast have to pass their costs onto customers, but you don’t feel gauged at Benchmark, yet you’d be willing to pay more for that meal.
Low points: Honestly, that it wasn’t more packed. A restaurant like this shouldn’t have available tables at 2 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon.