The Mural Room, The 20th Century, Palazzo’s, The Brass Rail, the MVR and the Golden Dawn. The arrival in the mail of Classic Restaurants of Youngstown took me on a walk down memory lane as I paged through its contents last night. In a number of posts, I have discussed how Youngstown was, and is, a city of great and diverse food. Part of it, I think was that there were so many women who cooked so well for their own families that any self-respecting restaurant that wanted to stay in business had to do as well or better. And all of them served generous portions. Skimpy plates of gourmet food just didn’t cut it for working class people with big appetites.
I had several reactions as I paged through this book. One was to remember all the places I liked and the memories associated with these. There were all those Saturday night pizza’s we got from Molly O’Dea’s, which contrary to its name had a strong Italian food menu and great pizza. I was interested to learn that at the time this book was written, they were still around. There were all the Sundays we’d drive across town to get a bucket of chicken at Golden Drumstick. Palazzo’s was where we went out to eat for my senior prom (of course spent lots of money and broke up with the girl a month later!). There were the Spinning Bowl Salads at the 2oth Century. We had a college group at Youngstown that had an end of the quarter ritual of going there for dinner. We once almost got kicked out for the exuberance of our celebration. There was Lums in the old McKelvey’s Parkade where my wife and I got some food on our first date. Of course many of us would go and get pizza during college at the Pizza Oven. I asked my wife to marry me at the Brown Derby. When I was visiting a faculty friend at Youngstown State, I remember finally getting introduced to the MVR, which set the standard for good Italian food for me.
There were memories of later life and trips back to Youngstown. The book mentioned the Armadillo on the West Side that had great food but closed after a short time. My dad loved to bring in Brier Hill pizzas from Avalon Garden when we visited him and mom in their apartment at Park Vista. My dad also loved going up to Kravitz’s Deli on Belmont, and we later discovered the Kravitz’s in Poland Library.
I had some regrets as I looked through the book as well. I never ate at the Mural Room, which was one of the great Youngstown restaurants, not only for the food but the murals. Nor did I get to the Brass Rail, a favorite downtown spot. I worked downtown for several years in high school and college in what were basically minimum wage jobs so I ate cheap at Jay’s Hot Dogs or Lum’s or the Hasti House or the Strouss’ Grille. The Western Reserve Room at Strouss was too expensive. Also, had to remember store loyalties–I worked at McKelvey’s, later Higbee’s and always had to remember to take off my store badge if I went down to the competition.
The last thing is that I looked for references for the Grille at McKelvey’s. My father managed the restaurant for the last ten years or so before Higbee’s finally closed the store in 1979. I remember two things. One was that he was dedicated to fast and friendly service and often personally seated customers. Second was that he picked up a recipe for Reuben sandwiches that were some of the best I ever had. One of my regrets is that I didn’t think to get it from him! While the Grille was mentioned at several points and there is one picture of the outside, they didn’t get much coverage, nor was my dad mentioned. Personally, I thought he did pretty well for someone who had never before managed a restaurant–but then I’m a bit partial!
What is striking is that all, or nearly all of these places and so many others in the book were locally owned, and often passed from parents to children. Every one was unique. I haven’t even begun to touch on all the mom and pop bar/restaurants scattered throughout Youngstown neighborhoods, many covered in the book. How different from today with all its restaurant chains and big box stores that are the same everywhere. There was a richness to life in working class Youngstown during the years we were growing up that I don’t think is understood–a richness in the fabric of community, a flourishing of the arts, and outstanding and unique restaurants. This book reminded me of all of this.
What are some of your restaurant memories? Favorite restaurants?