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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Photos: Pączki with Johnny

Happy Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday/Pączki Day! When I saw on Facebook this morning that Mr. Johnny DiLoretto was in the neighborhood at Babushka’s Kitchen, I decided to grab my three-year-old Will and go visit. Johnny was there showing off their homemade pączki.

Will and I hung out with Johnny, Adam, and Babushka owners Jacky and Dennis. We got to watch them tape a couple segments and busy themselves filling orders.

Babushka’s sold out of their pączki quickly. Dennis said he plans to triple their production next year, to roughly 75 dozen. The restaurant was barely a week old by this time last year, so this is their first time producing the delicious pastry for the occasion.

Orders upon orders upon orders. For those who don’t know, pączki is a traditional Polish pastry, usually made just before Ash Wednesday as a way to use up all of that gluttonous butter, lard, sugar (read: delicious) ingredients that you might give up for Lent. They’re essentially big, round donuts, filled with fruits, jams, or creams, and dusted with powdered sugar. In fitting with Fat Tuesday, Polish Americans adopted the traditional of eating pączki on the day before Ash Wednesday, although in Europe they usually celebrate on the previous Thursday.

We sampled two different fillings. One had a raspberry fruit, the other a lightly sweet prune filling (on the left).

It was hard work having to eat them. Really tough. But I was glad to take a hit for the team.

Here’s the close-up of the prune filling. I really liked the texture. It was sweet without being cloying, and I preferred it over the raspberry. I think a visit to Babushka’s every Pączki Day should become a new tradition!

Greenville Dinor | Greenville, PA

Greenville Dinor
7 S. Mercer St. (map it!)
Greenville, PA 16125
(724) 588-8820
Open Sun-Wed, 6a-8p; Thurs-Sat, 6a-9p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? N/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Saturday, December 24, 2011 at 9:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: It’s easy to be mean to small-town diners. I’ll admit, I’ve done it. They’re small, their food is often lowest common denominator, and let’s face it, if  you’re someone who lives in a big city like me, we often smugly enjoy the “quaintness” of small town life. Or we romanticize the feeling that “there aren’t enough of these left in the world!” Despite growing up in a medium-sized city, currently living in a larger one, and often visiting smaller ones, I experience all of these feelings when visiting small-town diners.

Or maybe I’m over-thinking it. Small-town diners are the hub of community and good food, just like any other diner across the country. They mean something to the community, and their charm comes from the rough edges and the little local flair. Okay, I’m over-thinking this. Let’s start again…

On Christmas Eve my brother-in-law and I finally visited a small diner in my wife’s hometown. The Greenville Dinor (yes, it is spelled with an “o” and I don’t know why) has been around for decades, off a side-street in downtown Greenville, just up from their magnificent pre-Depression post office building (see pictures here). We found the entrance to the dinor through a back door off the municipal parking lot.

ATMOSPHERE: The interior is a mix of small diner and dive bar. There’s carpeted floor. Low ceilings. Christmas lights and neon signs. TV sets. A checkered pattern across the counter, with a handful of swiveling stools. At one end of the restaurant is a series of beer coolers.

The main seating is a long row of booths along the front window. On a chilly, slightly snowy Christmas Eve, it was surprisingly cozy.

The front of the menu claims 80 years in business, which is nothing to sneeze at. In addition to breakfast, they serve lunch, dinner, and drinks; the menu brags about sandwiches, burgers, Robbie’s soups, wings, and fish.

FOOD: The one-page breakfast menu has a decent variety of things. I glanced over it too quickly to notice that they actually serve eggs benedict. But they’ve got you covered with omelets, pancakes, French toast, corned beef hash, even chipped beef on toast, which you don’t see that often. The benedict is actually listed under the omelets, which is why I missed it completely.

First order: diner coffee served in those glorious brown mugs. I’m guessing there’s a law somewhere stating that diners must use these mugs for coffee service.

My brother-in-law ordered the eggs benedict, and said he enjoyed it. The egg yolks looked a tad over-done, and the hollandaise a little light, but otherwise it’s a decent version of the dish. Came with some nice crispy hash browns.

I was in more of a combo mood, so I went with pancakes, eggs, and bacon. Easy-to-like pancakes – buttery and browned nicely, they soaked up the syrup. Good scrambled eggs, and the bacon was crispy. I don’t realize this often enough, but I really like bacon that’s crispy, almost to the point of being dry. This bacon hit the spot.

Plus I had more coffee. It was cold and early. Bring it on.

SERVICE: The servers were quick to take our orders and quick to bring it out. Checked in on us frequently. Kept the coffee refills coming. I had that feeling that if I gave them some sass, they’d give it right back.

OVERALL: Between the big city smugness and the small town romanticizing, I’ll land on the side of romanticizing. The Greenville Dinor is a tiny eatery that not many people know about outside of the Shenango Valley in western Pennsylvania, but all the same it has a dedicated clientele who have frequented for decades. I may not rush to visit again the next time we’re in town, but it’s nice to know that it’s there, and that places like this still exist.

OTHER LINKS:

-> listen to Harrod & Funck talk about eating at the Dinor (at the end of the song)

Greenville Diner on Urbanspoon

Happy Birthday, Columbus! Now, go eat breakfast.

Over the next week we’re celebrating Columbus’ bicentennial. Two hundred years of living, working, playing, and eating on the banks of the Scioto River. This is a time to revel in everything that makes Columbus great: our food, our libraries, our neighborhoods, our hospitals, our sports, our schools. And, yes. Oh yes. Our breakfast.

In other words, what’s the most historic breakfast or brunch you could eat in Columbus? How can you best celebrate Columbus’ breakfast heritage? I’m sad to say while we don’t have any 200-year-old restaurants (although we do come close), you can still step back in time by having breakfast, brunch, or donuts at some of our oldest breakfast eateries.

Buckeye Donuts
1998 N. High St., campus
Father and son Jimmy and George Barouxis opened Buckeye Donuts in 1969 across the street from The Ohio State University’s campus, which is about as perfect of a location for a donut shop as you can get. In that time, they’ve served countless donuts to generations of Ohio State students 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Nowadays you’ll find the third generation of the Barouxis family, Jimmy, behind the counter, selling breakfast sandwiches and gyros, and giving students a place to study when they need a break from the library.

(image courtesy chefonette.com)
Chef-O-Nette
2090 Tremont Center, Upper Arlington

Chef-O-Nette is one of those places that seriously has not changed since it opened in 1955. Even the ownership hasn’t varied much: after a brief series of owners early on, Maborn Howard bought the diner in 1970 and passed it on to his son Harlan in the early 90’s. The two angled counters, opening directly into the kitchen, are the only ones I’ve seen in Columbus. Sit back in one of the red leather seats to enjoy inexpensive breakfasts of eggs, omelets, pancakes, and French toast. Chef-O-Nette offers another bit of American history: they lay claim to being the country’s first drive-through (not drive-in). You can still take part in the tradition of driving up to the little window and placing your order.

Dan’s Drive-In
1881 S. High St., south side
Dan’s lays claim to being Columbus’ first drive-in, established downtown in the 1950’s. Since that time, the restaurant has moved further down High Street to the south side, where it now stands decorated in classic reds, blacks, and whites. The refurbished interior boasts gleaming chrome, mid-century knick knacks, and red pleather seats. Order from a huge breakfast menu featuring plenty of Greek diner specialties.

Honey Dip Donuts & Diner
4480 Kenny Rd., Upper Arlington
Like many small donut joints around town, Honey Dip began its life as a member of the Jolly Pirate chain. As the chain slowly dissolved over the years, franchise owners renamed their restaurants and continued the tradition of good donuts and cheap coffee. Honey Dip serves all varieties of donuts: cake, glazed, longjohns, frosted. But their specialty is, of course, the light and sweet honey dipped donuts. Renovations over this past summer added the “and Diner” to the name; now you can snag breakfast sandwiches (including one made with donuts), omelets, and home fries all with the baked goods.

 Jack & Benny’s
2563 N. High St., Old North

The Ohio State University has been part of Columbus’ cultural fabric since 1870, and nowadays the two often seem synonymous (for better or worse). So it seems appropriate that you mark Columbus’ birthday with a visit to this old diner in the Old North Columbus. Named after a previous Broad Street eatery, Jack & Benny’s is a favorite amongst the OSU students. Enjoy all the University paraphernalia while you sip strong diner coffee and stock up on calories with a Gutbuster. Keep visiting to see how long it takes before an Urban Meyer bobblehead joins the display case.

Jack’s Sandwich Shop
52 E. Lynn St., downtown
Originally starting as a series of downtown diners in the 1940’s, Jack’s has been at its current location since the early 70’s. It opened the same year as the Rhodes State Office Tower (1972), under whose shadow it stands. Owner Chris creates breakfast favorites like sandwiches, steak and eggs, and pancakes (using Jack’s original recipe). He’s maintained a lot of the original equipment and decorations, and spruces things up with seasonal decor.

Jury Room
22 E. Mound St., downtown
The Jury Room lays claim to being Columbus’ oldest continually operating bar, since 1831. It narrowly beats out the Worthington Inn. This watering hole, a favorite with attorneys and clients from the nearby judicial buildings, has served as a quiet respite amongst a busy downtown for years. Over the past year, it took on new life as a member of the Columbus Food League, adding a weekend brunch of scrambles, sandwiches, burgers, and loads of tasty cocktails.

 Nancy’s Home Cooking
3133 N. High St., Clintonville
Nancy’s demonstrates that Columbus loves traditions. We love it so much, in fact, that we won’t let them die. The little Clintonville diner was opened in 1969 by Nancy, but she quickly sold it to Cindy King, who made it an institution. Cindy cared for everyone who stepped into her restaurant: neighborhood regulars, college students, the business crowd on lunch breaks. She became a beloved icon of the community, and when she was forced to close the restaurant in 2009 due to health and financial concerns, Clintonville stepped up to save it. Contributions of time, resources, and money flowed in, and in early 2010 the diner re-opened under the ownership of Cindy’s niece, Sheila.

Resch’s Bakery
4061 E. Livingston, east side
Talk about a piece of Columbus history! Resch’s is celebrating 100 years of donuts, bread, and granny rolls this year. Out on the east side, a small group of old German ladies serves a continual line of customers every morning. Stop by for a box of glazed twists, chocolate-covered yeast donuts, fruit-filled cake donuts, or any of their delicious cookies and breads. In a nod to their further history, the Resch family has painted one wall with images of their mother’s hometown of Miltenberg, Germany.

Tee Jaye’s Country Place
Six locations around town
Yes, I said TeeJaye’s. I’ve tended to give them a pass in recent years, but after 40+ years in business, it’s hard to argue against TeeJaye’s role in Columbus tradition. These 24-hour family restaurants bring in the crowds craving cornmeal pancakes, fried mush, and Barnyard Busters. Owned by the Sokol family, the restaurant was started by father Jules in 1969. He brought with him a bigger piece of Ohio history: he previously owned a series of drive-ins called Beverlee’s all across the state.

Worthington Inn
649 High St., Worthington
The grand Worthington Inn exemplifies the history and character of Olde Worthington. Since 1831, the building has served variously as a stage coach stop, hotel, restaurant, and condos. Today it serves magnificent meals, many sourced using local ingredients, and their Sunday brunch is famous around town. Feast on a buffet of breakfast goodies, bistro chicken, custom-made omelets, sliced roast beef, and a giant tray of shrimp and smoked salmon.

In a final point of discussion, we need to acknowledge the recent closing of The Clarmont, which had been open since 1947. It takes with it a solid place in Columbus history, and we can only hope the the location is reborn into a new classic.

Whether you want classic drive-in fare, sugary donuts, or a fancy weekend brunch, you can celebrate Columbus’ history this week. Are you surprised to see a lot of diners and old donut shops on the list? I’m not. They have a staying power that flies in the face of fancy eateries and cafes. How do they do it? Low overhead? Cheap ingredients? Sure. It’s also the strong community. That’s what keeps our city going.

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