After leaving Portland and heading north on 295 and 95 until we reached the outskirts of Augusta, we turned onto Route 3 and headed due east. From there, it’s two-lane road and local places — no chains or franchises.
This morning Russell and I stopped at one of those local spots, Lori’s Cafe, for a late breakfast. It’s right on the side of the road along Route 3, in a tiny town called Liberty. It’s the kind of place where the wait staff is friendly and unhurried, the food is served piping hot, there’s a box of little candies by the door — and you might just get your excellent coffee in a “hello Beautiful” cup. My pancake and sausage patties really hit the spot, too.
Lori’s Cafe is a great place to linger over a second cup of coffee. . . so we did. It’s also a great place to come back to . . . so we will.
Today we decided to head down to the Short North for lunch before Richard started on his way back to Pittsburgh. We parked and walked down High Street, looking for a restaurant option that struck our fancy. We ended up at the Philco Bar + Diner.
The first thing you notice about the Philco is its size. It’s intimate and snug, with a bar/counter, three booths, and a few high-top tables. It’s decorated in classic diner lines — booths and stools and stationary seats at the counter — but with more muted colors. We strolled in a few minutes after noon and lucked out, getting a table in the back that had just been vacated by another party.
So, even though it was technically lunch time, I had to try one of the breakfast options. I decided on the baked grits with two eggs over easy, and the three of us shared an order of maple ricotta cornbread. The grits were hot and creamy and tasted great with a little egg yolk mixed in. The cornbread was also very good, with the maple adding sweetness but not overpowering. The service by the counterman was excellent, too.
The world needs more diners. The Philco is doing its duty at filling that crying need.
I first went to the Chef-O-Nette in the early ’70s, right after our family first moved to Upper Arlington. It looked pretty much the same as it does now, with the ’50s lighting fixtures and the bolted down, rotating stools and the sunburst clock. I’m guessing that the look of the place in the early ’70s was pretty much the same as it looked when it first opened in 1955, and established itself as the anchor at one end of the Tremont Shopping Center. It hasn’t changed, and no one really wants it to change.
The menu hasn’t changed much, either, in the 40 years since I first visited the Chef-O-Nette. That’s a good thing, too. There are still the same burgers and diner food and milkshakes and french fries and hangover sandwich. For all I know, it also may have the same ageless waitresses who first served me when I was a student at Upper Arlington High School, 40 years ago.
The Chef-O-Nette is one of those places that make a suburb into a community. You see the same people there, and that’s a comfortable feeling. It’s a good place to meet a friend for a cup of coffee or to have some hot chocolate after sledding at the OSU golf course. When Richard and Kish and I went there for lunch yesterday, it was like slipping on an old slipper that fits like a glove.
It’s about dinner time, and I’ve got a deep, gnawing desire for some diner food.
Give me a place where I can sit at a counter on a bolted down stool that spins. Give me some kitschy decor, an old Coke sign, and a large guy flipping burgers on a grille. Give me the smell of french fries snapping and crackling in a deep fryer. Give me a joint with a blue plate special, meat loaf and mashed potatoes and brown gravy on the daily menu, and fresh-baked pies on display in a circular glass case. Give me a nylon-uniformed waitress named Madge, or Gladys, or Bunny who calls me “Hon” and maybe snaps her gum, besides.
They call diner food comfort food, and that’s exactly what it is. Sometimes you have a hankering that only a piece of Swiss steak, some mac and cheese, a piece of coconut cream pie, and a hot cup of black coffee can satisfy.