Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Pot Roast


The roast on our stove, with an hour to go. Yes, we covered it after taking this picture.

It could be a brisk fall day when you were out playing touch football with your friends or a cold winter afternoon after you had delivered your papers. You come into a house pervaded by the savory smell of a pot roast simmering on the stove. You can’t wait to sit down to the dinner, and mom tells you it still has an hour to go.

That’s the smell driving me wild as I write this post, that has been filling our house all afternoon. Just before writing, I took the picture above, having helped my wife chop potatoes, carrots, and onions to cook for the last hour or so–only an hour more to endure of having my mouth water before we get to sit down and enjoy melt in your mouth meat with all the fixings. Maybe writing this will distract me.

This is another one of those perfect working class meals–hearty, filling, and inexpensive. The pot roast was an inexpensive cut of meat, a chuck roast or shoulder roast, tenderized by those hours of slow cooking. Potatoes, carrots, onions, flour, salt and pepper, garlic and other seasonings like thyme (we use a spice mix that includes marjoram and cinnamon as well). We use a half and half mix of water and beef broth, which brings out the meat flavor.

We start by dredging the meat in a mix of flour, salt and pepper, and then browning it in a pan. Then we put it into our cook pot covering the meat with our mix of water and beef broth and seasonings to simmer for three to three and a half hours on our stove top. (Some bake in their ovens.) Then we add the potatoes, carrots, and onions, and some additional seasoning and cook for another hour. We don’t like to add these at the start because we want them tender, not mushy. We split the servings and have dinner ready for the next day as well.

The basic test of doneness is the meat is fork tender–you can cut it with your fork. What’s Cooking America recommends that the internal temperature of your pot roast should be 180° F.

It is amazing how smells bring back memories as well as make your mouth water and your stomach growl. I think of all those times I came home to those savory smells, and remember my mom who had to think up dinner every day.

Well, the roast is about ready so I better stop. Have I made your mouth water yet?

I suspect there are as many ways to do a roast as there are readers of this post. Would love to hear your special tips!


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Fried Balogna (Baloney) Sandwiches


Fried balogna sandwich. Photo by: bnpositive [CC BY-SA 2.0} via Flickr

What could be more working class Youngstown than fried balogna sandwiches? It is the essence of simplicity on a budget. It packs a lot of calories (not necessarily healthy ones) in a compact package. All it takes is a skillet, a little bit of cooking oil, balogna slices, good old American processed cheese slices, white bread, and some mustard. Sure, you can get a lot fancier. You can substitute buns, different condiments, and so forth. I’ve seen recipes with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pepper slices, mayonnaise, pickles, pickle relish–even potato chips. You can add a fried egg, kind of the poor man’s sausage egg sandwich! My favorite sandwich topping is mustard, pickle relish, and dabs of sriracha sauce. But I digress…we didn’t grow up with sriracha sauce! Or you can keep it simple.

A few tips I’ve picked up. Frying the balogna on both sides twice gives a nice crunchy edge. You may want to add some seasoning (your favorite) and/or pepper to bring out the flavor. Slicing the balogna from the edge toward the center helps prevent the “pucker” you see in the picture above so that it fries more evenly. I like the bread toasted which seems a complement to the fried balogna. Good old fashioned yellow mustard seems the most authentic but I’d go with your favorite condiment–or skip it altogether and enjoy that fried taste of the balogna–so much richer than out of the package. You can melt the cheese on a slice for the last 5 seconds–more and you have a mess–or you can just put it on afterwards. Fried balogna sandwiches are the epitome of freedom and simplicity.

It’s funny how we delighted in such simple things. I loved when dad would make fried balogna sandwiches. I suspect mom did too, because it was a break from cooking. First the kitchen smelled heavenly, then the sandwich took you there. I suspect there was a time when you could feed a family of four for a buck–and we loved it.

It was not the stuff of a steady diet. But for a Saturday lunch or Sunday evening light meal–a weekend treat–it was perfect.

I suspect you have lots of memories (hopefully good ones) of fried balogna sandwiches. I’d love to hear them. How did you make them? And do you still?

Thinking about this post has had me eyeing that pack of balogna in the fridge all day…

Review: The Living Temple

the living temple

The Living Temple, Carl E. Braaten and LaVonne Braaten. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016 (originally published in 1976).

Summary: A theology focusing on our physical bodies as dwelling places for the Spirit of God and the implications for the food we eat, including the problems of processed, chemical-laden foods full of empty calories.

This is a book I wish I had read in 1976 when it was first published. It might have led to amendments in my own diet much sooner. More than this, it might have led to a more thoughtful perspective on one thing we all have in common, our bodies. What the Braatens offer in this brief work is a theology of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, countering the incipient Gnosticism and other worldly spirituality that the church has been dealing with throughout its history. It is not from Christianity which throughout its scriptures attests to a healthy body-theology, but from Greek Dionysian myths that the idea of body as evil comes to us. Sadly, over-spiritualized versions (and maybe over-intellectualized ones) deny our embodied existence, and lead us to a sad neglect of our bodies.

Much of the neglect that the Braatens focus on concerns the food we eat. While food cannot make us ritually and spiritually unclean, it certainly can pollute and deplete the temple of the Holy Spirit. They focus much of their attention on chemically treated and supplemented food and highly processed foods like white bread and white sugar. Presciently, they speak of a growing movement toward healthy, organically grown foods in which groceries would be forced to give over more space to organic foods.

They also see a connection between our care for our bodies and our care for the earth. They write:

“We are to our individual bodies what the whole body of mankind is to the earth. Our attitudes regarding our bodies reflect and express the way we look at the world around us. It is downright silly, for example, to fight for clean air in the city and then suck cigarette smoke into our lungs. We must learn that we are dovetailed into the world. We simply die without day-to-day communion with the vital systems of the good earth. Good body ecology is the key to the renewal of the earth on a global scale” (p. 67).

I do wish this work could have been revised rather than simply re-printed. It suffers in places from what is probably outdated nutritional advice. Yet some things, like the concern about nitrites, are right on target and only now being addressed. At times the authors make sweeping statements railing against big business without substantiation. Yet their fundamental case concerning the food processing industry, the values of organic foods and moving away from a meat-laden diet, path-breaking then, is increasingly common wisdom. In sum, they still get more right than wrong.

Christians are just discovering a theology of our embodied life and working out the implications of this in various areas of self-care. What makes this book so interesting is that it anticipates by forty years work only now being done and articulates both theological grounds and concrete action, and with remarkable brevity. Wipf & Stock is to be commended for bringing back into print this pioneering work.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — Italian Food

spaghetti-with-meat-sauceIt is surprising to me how many Youngstown people I run across in my travels and there is one question we always ask each other sooner or later: “Have you found any good Italian food where you live?”

I was reminded of this because I ate recently at one of the Italian restaurant chains. Actually, the food was decent, pretty good red sauce, cheeses, and pasta. But it was nothing like what we could find at dozens of places around Youngstown when I was growing up.

Where was the best Italian food in Youngstown? My best guess is that most people would answer, “my mama’s kitchen.” And if not that, it was probably a grandmother, or an aunt who knew how to make that good red sauce, moist and flavorful meatballs over pasta cooked just the right length of time. I remember a time in college when we were hanging out at a friend’s house whose mom was making us home made spaghetti. The smell of that sauce simmering just about drove me nuts! But the wait was worth it.

As my wife and I were comparing notes about good places in Youngstown to get Italian, she reminded me that most of the time, we didn’t eat out that much growing up, so it just made sense that the best place to get good Italian was at home. And even if not, you didn’t say that to mom! Chances are, someone’s mom in the neighborhood made good Italian, and you could probably wrangle a dinner invite!

Of course, there were many good places to go for Italian. In fact, any self-respecting cook in a neighborhood bar probably made better Italian food than you can find in many big cities in this country. In downtown Youngstown, there was the Ringside and the Italian Restaurant. On the North side, there was Avalon Gardens and you could get good spaghetti at the 20th Century.  Over in Smoky Hollow there was the MVR.

On the South side my wife and I used to go to Palazzo’s when we were dating (I also took my senior prom date there in high school!). Of course there were many other great places like the Elmton, that served pizza, but also a full menu of good Italian. There was also Antones, that opened up several other restaurants in the area eventually. And there was the favorite hangout of many in the Uptown area, the Pizza Oven.

Recently we had a speaker at Ohio State who ate at the Royal Oaks while researching an article on Youngstown. I was glad to hear the Royal Oaks was still going strong. He loved it! He even mentions it in his article on “A World Without Work.”

On the West side, we used to go to Michaelangelo’s, Marino’s and Lucianno’s. Then there was the strip between Niles and Warren that had a number of good places — Alberini’s, Cafe 422, Abruzzi’s, just to name a few. We have friends up north of the city, and we often run over to Muscarelli’s in Sharpsville, PA for some good Italian.

I suspect you are reading this and saying, “but what about…?” From reading Classic Restaurants of Youngstown I’m aware that there were a ton of other great places, many that lived and died before I ever got to them. Perhaps you know of some of these places. I’d love for you to tell the story of your favorite Italian place, or even that Italian grandmama who made the best red sauce ever. Just leave a comment here (or even a recipe!) and it will also become part of the story of good Italian food in Youngstown!

Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — Mama’s Kitchen

mamas kitchen gang

Part of the Recipes of Youngstown Committee. From left to right: John Heasley, Bobbi Ennett Allen, Keith Evans, Ernie DiRenzo, JoAnn Donahue, Patty Gahagan Ruby, and Bobbie Snyder Chalky. Photo courtesy Cheryl Staib-Lewis.

One of the most wonderful memories of growing up was to walk into the house at dinner time and to smell those wonderful smells emerging from the kitchen. It could be the herbs and special ingredients in mom’s spaghetti sauce, or the fried onions and garlic in the dish with sausage and peppers, or the delicious smell of that roast that has been simmering for hours and is so tender it melts in your mouth. For many of us in working class Youngstown, the kitchen was our favorite room of the house.

Then there are all those special occasions–holiday baking or the week-long frenzy that goes into the perfect cookie table. There are all those big family gatherings–the perfect turkey, or ham or New Year’s Eve calamari. Some of us have inherited those favorite recipes and others of us wish we had.

There is a chance to bring back all those memories, and all those delicious smells and tastes. Bobbi Ennett Allen and her Recipes of Youngstown crew are hosting “Memories of Mama’s Kitchen” on May 7 from noon to 4 pm at the Tyler History Center, in conjunction with Mother’s Day weekend. Bobbi and her team will wear old-fashioned aprons, offering tastings of 30 recipes from Recipes of Youngstown. You will have a chance to see the 1948 Youngstown Kitchen exhibit at the Tyler. There will be a basket raffle, a 50/50 drawing and a grand prize raffle. All this is being done with the hope of reaching the $50,000 goal for the Recipes of Youngstown Kitchen that will be dedicated at 2 pm. Cookbook sales, previous tastings, and pierogi and Brier Hill pizza sales have them oh-so close.

Of course both the first and second Recipes of Youngstown  will be available for sale. We have both and have bought a number for friends and family from Youngstown. They make great gifts. Your Youngstown friends will love you!

So, if you are anywhere near Youngstown on May 7, make sure to take in this event, the culmination of efforts that began when a group of friends created a Facebook group and began sharing recipes. And if not, you can always buy  Recipes 2 here and support the Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s Recipes of Youngstown kitchen..



Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — My Bucket List


The Butler Institute of American Art (c)Robert Trube, 2014

I’ve been thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. One of these is to plan some time hanging out in Youngstown. One of things I’ve realized writing these posts is that while I have a lot of good memories of Youngstown, there are a number of things I haven’t experienced, or checked out recently, or that are new since I’ve spent much time in Youngstown. There is a great post on the Defend Youngstown blog of 50 Things To Do in Youngstown. It’s a great list that reflects how rich Youngstown’s ethnic and cultural life still is. Here’s the “bucket list” I came up with, at least my top ten:

  1. Dorian Books. I’m a bookstore junkie if you haven’t noticed. I love to write reviews of indie bookstores I come across in my journeys and this one looks interesting.
  2. I want to get to the Arms Family Museum of Local History and the Tyler History Center. I’ve never visited the Tyler and visited the Arms Museum back in college days before I realized how much I like local history.
  3. The Royal Oaks has come up so often as the quintessential Youngstown bar. Not being an east sider, I never got there. Their ribs sound incredible.
  4. The Youngstown Business Incubator sounds like a fascinating place. Jim Cossler must be the ultimate networker because he’s even connected with me on LinkedIn. Gotta meet this guy.
  5. I’ve had many Brier Hill pizzas but never one from St. Anthony’s. I’d love to see this place and what the Brier Hill neighborhood is like these days.
  6. I want to buy some Mill Creek Maple Syrup made by the Rocky Ridge Neighbors. We love tasting maple syrups from different areas but have never had any from our own. Of course some meandering around the park would be in order as well!
  7. You can’t understand your Youngstown heritage without understanding the steel industry. The Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor is relatively new and sounds like a great place to learn about that heritage. Another museum for the history junkie!
  8. You gotta get some good Italian food in Youngstown. I haven’t been to Cassese’s MVR since the ’80s. Hope they are still good. Any other recommendations?
  9. We’ve been wanting for some time to get a good pizza at the Elmton. Every time I hear of people from Y’town going there, my mouth waters!
  10. A visit to the Butler is like seeing old friends and making new ones. One of my “old friends” is Robert Vonnoh’s In Flanders Field-Where Soldiers Sleep and Poppies Grow.

That’s my bucket list and probably reflects my own quirky tastes. For others of you not living in Youngstown, what’s on your bucket list? For those who do live in Youngstown, what would you recommend that I’m missing (it was tough to choose just ten, which will take a couple visits at least I suspect)?

Like what you see here? You can check out all my other Youngstown posts by clicking “On Youngstown” on the blog menu.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Top 10

This is the time of the year where people are posting all sorts of Top Ten lists for 2015, and so I thought you all might enjoy seeing what were the top ten “Youngstown” posts in 2015, based on number of views. I will just give the topic for each post without the “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown”. Each topic is linked back to the original post. Enjoy!


The Open Hearth Bar on Steel Street, Photo by Tony Tomsic, Special Collections, Cleveland State University Library

10. Neighborhood BarsWritten on the occasion of the closing of the Boulevard Tavern, I reflect on how bars were a rich part of the fabric of neighborhoods in Youngstown.

9. PierogiesOne of the staples of Friday night dinners during Lent. Numerous churches in the area sold them as fund-raisers.

8. SleddingI posted about a number of the places I went sledding growing up and you added memories like “Suicide Hill.”

7. The Three “F’s” of ChristmasJust posted. If you didn’t see it, can you guess what they were?

WHOT Good Guys6. WHOTDo you remember the Good Guys, who we not only listened to on the radio, but met at dances and WHOT days at Idora Park?

5. Brier Hill PizzaYou know you are from Youngstown if you know what a Brier Hill pizza is. I throw in some history and videos in this one!

4. Boardman RollercadeA favorite hangout for many of us growing up. Many of you shared memories of the Kalasky family who ran the place.

3. Front PorchesYour response to this one surprised me! So many shared memories of sleeping out on porches on summer nights or watching TV on the porch.

2. The Cookie TableAnother of those “you know you are from Youngstown if” kinds of things. Most people, other than those from Pittsburgh, don’t even know about this tradition, and nobody does it better!

And the top post of 2015, drumroll please….!


Kolachi or nut rolls. By Hu Totya (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

1. Kolachi. We love these nut rolls, even though it takes a lot of effort to make them. And consistent with last year, a food post was the top post once again. We do love our food if we are from Youngstown!

I’ve loved interacting with so many of you on Facebook or on the blog. You’ve made writing about our home town such a blast. Happy New Year!


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Three “F’s” of Christmas

Nativity edited

Our nativity scene from my wife’s family

This will be my last new “Youngstown” post before Christmas. I thought I would take a few moments to reflect on the three “F’s” that defined Christmas for many of us who grew up in Youngstown: faith, family, and food.

Faith was important in many of our families. It was “the reason for the season.” It was about remembering the birth of Christ. We had Advent calendars in some of our families building our anticipation of Christmas eve and Christmas day. Many of us grew up dressing up as shepherds, wise men, or Joseph or Mary as we retold the story of the nativity. Some of us remember candlelight services concluding in candlelit darkness singing “Silent Night.”My wife remembers midnight masses where at midnight the baby Jesus was placed in the nativity scene at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church.

Family gatherings were big in Youngstown. On my wife’s side, her father and his brothers all lived in the same part of town (Brownlee Woods and Poland) and the brothers would go from one house to another over the course of the holidays. I remember gatherings at my grandparents as a child with cousins from Texas and a living room full of people gathered around the Christmas tree (after we had gathered around the dining room table). We still have that table and buffet in our home, it having passed from my grandparents to my parents to us. Boy, my grandmother could cook, and I’m reminded of her whenever I see these pieces of furniture.

And that brings me to food, the third big part of any Youngstown Christmas. There were all those cookies  and candies–snowballs and rum balls, bow ties and clothes pins, pizzelles and kolachi, iced sugar cookies and peppermint bark. There was often a big dinner–a ham and sweet potatoes, or roast chicken or turkey and mashed potatoes. The challenge was often saving room for the next family gathering.

Faith, family, and food were important themes not just at Christmas but throughout the year in working class Youngstown. Faith wasn’t something you “wore on your sleeve” in some kind of showy way, but it was always a part of life. Families were hardly perfect, but somehow there for you when the chips were down and at any big life event. And good food (often accompanied with plentiful drink!) marked any celebration.

As I close, I would love to hear your memories of faith, family and food at Christmas. And I want to extend my own wishes that this upcoming holiday will be filled with all of the best for you! Merry Christmas, Youngstown!

Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — Neighborhood Bars

The Open Hearth Bar on Steel Street, Photo by Tony Tomsic, Special Collections, Cleveland State University Library

The Open Hearth Bar on Steel Street, Photo by Tony Tomsic, Special Collections, Cleveland State University Library

I recently learned that the Boulevard Tavern, an institution on Youngstown’s South Side has closed after nearly 90 years in operation. Nick Petrella ran the tavern through most of it’s history and it was known for its fish and good spaghetti sauce.

This news reminded me of what an institution the neighborhood bar has been in working class Youngstown. And like most bars, it was not just a “shot and a beer” place but also a place to get good food. You really couldn’t have a popular bar without having a good kitchen.

Every part of town had (and still has in some cases) its places. There was the MVR in Smoky Hollow, the Avalon and the Golden Dawn on the north side, the Royal Oaks Tavern on the east side, and the Atomic Bar on the south side. The Ringside, the Brass Rail and the Blue Ribbon Grill were among the downtown favorites.

Growing up on the west side, there were several bars along Steel Street including the Polar Bear, the Palm Cafe and the Open Hearth. We used to get some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten from Molly O’Dea’s on Salt Springs Rd. Up on Mahoning Avenue was the Town Tavern and Il Solo Mio. The bars on Steel Street and Salt Springs were near the mills and guys would stop there on the way home.

But because most bars had good kitchens, they were also family places. In fact, the question with many places would be, “is it a bar or is it a restaurant” and the answer was yes! There were the regulars at the bar, and then the folks that came in every so often for a good meal out in the days before fast food and chain restaurants.

Bars were part of the rich fabric of neighborhoods in working class Youngstown. You could walk to one nearby just as you could the bank, the local grocery, the beer and wine shop, the drug store and hardware store. Such places still exist but nowadays it seems that you drive to bars in commercial developments some distance from one’s neighborhood. I wonder if this contributes to DUI incidence. As long as you stayed on the sidewalk you weren’t a danger to yourself or others!

Bars were indeed places where “everyone knew your name” if you were a regular. The owners and customers knew each other by first name. Often the owners helped sponsor local sports teams and so further contributed to the fabric of community.

What are your memories of neighborhood bars in Youngstown, or your own home town?

[You can find all the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown posts in the “On Youngstown” category on my homepage]

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Thanksgiving

1870 ThanksgivingThanksgiving holidays started at school when I was growing up in Youngstown.  I remember one year where we took a field trip to a turkey farm where we saw the real thing before it ended up on our dinner table. Then there were the history lessons on the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving complete with the essays on the meaning of Thanksgiving. It seems we always had some kind of school assembly with a play enacting Thanksgiving as well as singing Thanksgiving songs (“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing…”–didn’t seem like we ran into any church-state problems with that one back then). Most important though was that we got out of school for a long weekend full of good food and football!

Thanksgiving morning began with turning on the TV to watch the Macy’s Parade and all the huge floats of Superman and Snoopy making their way down Fifth Avenue in New York. Then some years while my grandparents were still living, we’d load up the car and head over to their place where my grandmother was preparing the Thanksgiving feast. Eventually, after my grandmother passed, that moved to our home.

While we were watching the parades, we’d begin to notice the home being filled with the most wondrous smells of the turkey and stuffing roasting (homemade of course!).  There was giblet gravy and mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and my mom’s favorite cranberry relish recipe served over some lettuce (I wish we had remembered to get that from her!). Snacks were set out, usually nut dishes and other candies with the admonition not to eat any until our guests arrived–we always managed to filch some! Of course pies were baked (or sometimes bought) the day or so before. There was always pumpkin pie and often mincemeat pie as well.

Finally, we were all called to the dinner table when it seemed we could no longer stand it and our stomachs were growling. Dad had done the honors of carving up the bird. After a blessing, it seems we spent the next ten minutes passing food until our plates were filled. When we were young, it seems like my brother and I always got the drumsticks. It was later on that we found out there were better parts of the bird. And there was my mom’s stuffing–which to this day is the mark against which I measure all others. A silence would descend on the table as everyone laid into the feast. You could tell when we were starting to get full because that was when the conversation picked up!

Sometimes we wouldn’t get to the pies until later. After dinner, the guys would adjourn to the living room (after telling mom what a tremendous dinner she’d made) to sit in a tryptophan stupor watching Thanksgiving Day football. I know some families would get out for a game of football. In our neighborhood, it would have to be on the street, which us kids did sometimes, but not usually on Thanksgiving. Meanwhile the women would be in the kitchen cleaning up and talking, probably about why didn’t the guys help with this! Back then, gender roles were pretty traditional and it was only in later years that the guys would realize, “maybe we ought to do the clean-up.” Seems that the main contribution men would make to the dinner back then was to carve the bird. (One wonders if there is a bird-carving gene on the Y chromosome!).

Thanksgiving really kicked off Christmas shopping season back then. Now it seems that you find Christmas decorations in stores from Halloween on. As a paperboy, this meant extra heavy newspapers, especially on Sundays with all those ads. Often the weekend after Thanksgiving was when dad put up the outside Christmas lights. Usually around this time the Sears-Roebuck Christmas catalog came and you started plotting your “wish-list” for Christmas. And it seems there was football on all weekend with key college rivalries like OSU-Michigan and NFL games. Meanwhile we feasted into those leftovers of turkey sandwiches, dressing, and left over pie. If you were lucky, you didn’t have to cook for the rest of the weekend.

What were your memories of Thanksgiving? Favorite foods?