Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Restaurants

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Classic Restaurants of Youngstown

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?

 

21 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Restaurants

  1. well,it`s not a restaurant,but I remember eating at The Town Tavern on Mahoning Ave.It`s actually where I got my first job back in high school,washing dishes,on Friday,and Saturday nights.

  2. Molly O’dea’s was opened by Nick Conti and his sister Molly. Molly was the cook. Then Nick sold the business and retired to Fl. It is no longer called Molly O’Dea’s, but only Molly’s. They are both deceased. And yes, they had the best pizza in town.

  3. I use to work at the Dollar bank in downtown, there was an Italian reasturant but I can’t remember the name,the food was wonderful , does anyone have an idea of what it could be? Thank you for the memories.

    • I think it was simply called The Italian Restaurant. Someone asked the same question on Facebook and received that for an answer and there is also a mention of the restaurant in the book.

      • Yes, it was called The Italian Restaurant. I used to work at WFMJ, and there was a place across the street with a restaurant upstairs. Harry Mishel (sp?) took me there for lunch the day I registered to vote. Crazy. He just walked up to me on the street and asked me where i was going. I told him to register to vote, and like the true politician he was, invited me to lunch, as Youngstown’s newest registered voter. Anyone know the name of that place?

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  5. My favorite was 20th Century on Belmont and their take-out Barbeque ribs.
    I remember a special dinner date at the Brown Derby before a dance at Mill Creek park. I loved to have a chocolate malt at Strouss’s basement soda fountain, and wonderful Reuben sandwiches at either McKelvey’s Grille or Strouss-Hirshberg’s. Actually, the food at the Howard Johnson’s restaurant was not bad either. One of my family’s regular Sunday outings was to The Little Chef diner on the road between Youngstown and New Castle. As I recall, the chef was not very little:)

    • My dad managed the McKelvey’s restaurant at one time. He got the recipe for the Reubens. I’ve found few who can make as good as my dad did–unfortunately I never got that recipe.

      • During the time your Dad managed the Grille at McKelvey’s I ate there frequently. The ad agency I worked for did McKelvey’s advertising, so I was in the store at least twice a week. One day at the Grill I requested a special sandwich of toasted rye bread, peanut butter and crisp bacon. They made it for me with no trouble at all and told me as long as they had the right ingredients they would make whatever I wanted. It’s been more than 40 years since then andI still remember how nice they were there.

  6. I grew up on the south side. I was practically raised at The Boulivard Tavern. We went there for fish this on the Friday before they closed. Tears flowed.

    • I lived near Courtney’s, and as a teen I would go there with my parents on Christmas Eve before heading to church for services. It was festively decorated, and I loved the white tablecloth service. When I started my first job, my boss took me there for a drink after work. I felt very lucky to know that restaurant. Great roquefort dressing, too! Almost as good as The Mural Room’s.

  7. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Small Businesses | Bob on Books

  8. My grandmother worked at the Brass Rail for years .. I have a length of a brass rail. The man who gave it to me told me it was from the Brass Rail. . . it is about 5 ft. long and has the brass hanging fixtures attached. My grandmother came home one day (during the ’60’s) and asked us if we ever heard of some guys called Herman and the Hermits . She served them dinner while she was on her shift at the Brass Rail. She didn’t know who they were and told them to get their hair cut.

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