Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Golden Drumstick

golden drumstick

Did your family do this? You piled in the car, went for a Sunday afternoon drive through Mill Creek Park, and ended up at the Golden Drumstick Restaurant on the corner of Market and Midlothian. It had that art-deco look that reminded you of the 20th Century Restaurant (there was a reason for that).

I still think of their chicken as some of the best I’ve eaten. It had a breaded coating and seasoning that defined fried chicken for me. The Colonel’s just doesn’t hold a candle to it, at least in my memory. They had these big pieces of fried potatoes, cole slaw and hot biscuits with honey–and the biscuits had taste!

I discovered that our Golden Drumstick Restaurant was not the first but was inspired by Golden Drumstick Restaurants in Arizona.  I found this article online about one in Flagstaff, Arizona that mentions other locations, including the Youngstown location. Harry and Faye Malkoff, who established the 20th Century, spotted one of the Arizona restaurants and even copied the building design to bring it back to Youngstown, opening the restaurant on the south side, just outside the Youngstown city limits.

According to Classic Restaurants of Youngstown (a treasure trove of information about Youngstown restaurants past and present), the Malkoff’s found the chicken recipe at a Texas restaurant called Gaylord’s. They advertised the chicken as “the best fried chicken this side of chicken heaven.” I think most of us growing up around Youngstown would agree.

The restaurant had both a dine in and carryout operation. We always did carryout. The problem was that the smell of the chicken would drive you crazy and it was hard to resist pulling out a drumstick on the way home. Sometimes, with friends, you would just sit in your car and eat, and then run over to Handel’s for some ice cream. Life couldn’t get much better.

Eventually the Malkoff’s rented the restaurant to other owners for about ten years until it was sold to First Federal Savings. It is unclear to me, but it appears their may have been an attempt by Joseph Levy to combine a Golden Drumstick-20th Century on the site that did not work out. First Federal was eventually taken over and ended operations in 2008.

I find myself wondering sometimes what happened to that recipe. I can’t help but think that some savvy entrepreneur could give KFC a run for its money. But maybe it is better to treasure the memory of the smell and taste of Golden Drumstick chicken.

What are your memories of The Golden Drumstick?

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Jay’s Famous Hot Dogs

10953398_10152996912921166_6011532239502225867_n

Frank Petrakos, serving up Jay’s hot dogs the way I remembered them. Photo courtesy of Greg Petrakos, used with permission.

They were just down West Federal Street from McKelvey’s, where I worked during high school and college. I don’t remember what they cost, but the chili dogs were the right price for someone earning minimum wage in the early ’70’s. You walked in and could watch the owner working over the grill with a row of buns up his sweaty forearm, putting in hot dogs and ladling his special chili sauce over top of them.

That was Jay’s Hot Dogs in downtown Youngstown. It was the perfect place to get a quick and tasty meal of chili dogs, fries, and a drink. It wasn’t health food and some might be a bit squeamish about how they were prepared today, but no one I know ever suffered anything other than a full stomach. It might have been a case of “that which doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger!” To me it is the quintessential Youngstown working man’s food place.

Jay’s Famous Hot Dogs is still going strong in its 37th year at its Boardman location at 68 Boardman-Canfield Road (Route 224), in their distinctive A-frame building. We stopped by a few years ago with our son so that he could get a “Youngstown original,” a Jay’s chili dog. It was a treat for all of us. The restaurant is still in the Petrakos family, run by Greg Petrakos, son of Frank Petrakos, pictured above.

What are your memories of Jay’s? When did you last have one of their chili dogs?

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 — The Brown Derby

brown-derbyDid you ever go on a date to the Brown Derby restaurant? It was one of those places where you went for a nice evening out. At one time, you had uniformed waiters, white table clothes, good steaks, decent house wines, a quiet atmosphere, and it wasn’t an absolute budget-breaker.

It’s a place that has special memories for me. That’s where I asked my wife to marry me, back in the spring of 1977, between dinner and dessert. She said “yes” and never was a dessert so good. We had many chances to re-live those memories because it was also one of my parent’s favorite places to which we took them for many birthday and anniversary celebrations. My mom always loved a good steak.

The Brown Derby Restaurant (later Roadhouse) at 2537 South Avenue was not a local family restaurant, but part of a chain started by Gus Girves in Akron in 1941. It is no longer in business but the restaurant chain still operates five restaurants in the Cleveland area. According to Classic Restaurants of Youngstown the restaurant opened in the 1950s on Market Street and later relocated to South Avenue.

We lived in Cleveland in the 1980’s and went to several Brown Derbys, one in North Randall, near where we lived and one in Hudson, a bit more upscale. They had great salad bars that were quite inexpensive at lunch.  We still talk about one visit when our son was just a toddler and we attempted to celebrate our anniversary with him rather than get a sitter. He thoroughly enjoyed his dinner. At his age utensils, unfortunately were optional and by the time we left it looked like we all had been in a food fight!

We moved to Columbus in 1990. Brown Derby used to have restaurants here, and we ate at one once or twice before they closed. Back in Youngstown, the restaurant on South Avenue as well as the one on 422 in Niles became Roadhouses, more casual in style. Eventually we started taking the parents out to one of the steakhouses in Boardman on our visits home.

The restaurant in Niles closed in the fall of 2013. I could not find out when the South Avenue restaurant closed but suspect it was some time earlier. While the Brown Derby was not a Youngstown original, in the 1960’s and ’70’s, it was a great, affordable place for a nice dinner out on a date night and a great place for family gatherings. It’s another one of those places that seemed to weave in and out of the fabric of our lives.

What are your memories of the Brown Derby?

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Spinning Bowl Salads

20th-cent

2oth Century Restaurant, photo courtesy of Morris Levy, used with permission.

One of my favorite college memories was a small group of friends that would gather for dinner at the end of each quarter at Youngstown State. We would meet up at the 20th Century Restaurant, with its art deco architecture, and usually several of us would end up sharing one of their legendary Spinning Bowl Salads. The 20th Century was located on Belmont Ave, at the “Belmont Point” where Belmont and Wirt Street merged.

The Spinning Bowl Salad was a trademark of the 20th Century Restaurant from its beginnings in 1941. The restaurant was opened by Harry and Faye Malkoff, who ran several other restaurants in the area including one of our favorites, the Golden Drumstick, located on the South side. Faye Malkoff was apparently a culinary genius. In Classic Restaurants of Youngstown, her son says that she based the recipe on one used at Lawry’s Steakhouse in Los Angeles, adding her own unique touches (p. 112). I’m inclined to believe this version of the history, although there is an alternate claiming it was picked up from the Blackhawk Steak House in Chicago. A Baltimore Sun article from May 10, 2000 makes this connection and provides a recipe that sounds like the salad I remember.

The big deal with the Spinning Bowl Salad was that it was made at your table, the bowl literally being spun as the salad was tossed and the special blue cheese-based and crumbled egg dressing was added. It was a show as well as a feast–we’d often share one, along with other entrees.

The restaurant had a diverse menu and it was all good–everything from steaks and spare ribs to deli sandwiches and pasta. Living on a college student budget a plate of spaghetti, a share of a Spinning Bowl and one of their famous chocolate creme pies or New York Cheesecakes would leave you pretty satisfied.

By the time I started going there to eat in the early ’70s, ownership had passed to Joseph and Morris Levy, along with brothers Marvin and Jacob Newman (Classic Restaurants, p. 112). I regret that I never visited during the heyday of the Malkoff’s ownership, but it sounds like the Levy’s kept the wait staff who had worked for the Malkoff’s along with a chef trained by Faye. I spoke to Morris Levy who gave me permission to use the picture in this article. I joked with him that as sometimes boisterous college students he probably had to shush us. He said most likely he would have joined in with the fun. At any rate, we always found the 20th Century a great place for good food and celebration.

During this time, much of the business growth on the North side had moved north of Gypsy Lane into Liberty Township. The area of Belmont on which the restaurant was located began to decline and customers felt increasingly unsafe visiting the restaurant. Ultimately, it was closed in the late 1980’s and is no more.

Still, as restaurants go, a forty-five year plus run is pretty amazing when so many start ups last only a few years. It was a great place for first dates, anniversaries, celebrations, or a place for a good lunch if you worked downtown or on the North side. It combined a unique atmosphere with great, distinctive menu items. And for most of us, what we will remember most is those awesome Spinning Bowl Salads.

I hope you will add your memories of the 20th Century to this post.

[After sending a copy of this post to Morris Levy, he sent me this recipe for the Spinning Bowl Salad.]

           SPINNING BOWL SALAD

Dressing: 50% Miracle Whip,  50% KRAFT Zesty Italian. Whip until smooth.

Croutons: Use day old white sandwich bread cut into
squares.  Bake lightly on both sides,  sprinkle with powdered garlic/
liquid butter mix, then  bake somemore.

Hard boiled egg: grated. Crumbled blue cheese

Head lettuce chopped coarsely, optional a tad of escarole

Enjoy,  Morris ‘Blondie’ Levy

[Want to read more of “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown?” Click “On Youngstown” here or on the menu to see over a hundred other posts!]

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Review Part Two

In week two of my recap of “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown” posts, I cover the period from mid-summer through Halloween which includes “keeping cool”, a couple of posts about the Canfield Fair, back to school, autumn leaves, football, and Halloween.

Canfield Fair Ferris Wheel

Canfield Fair Ferris Wheel

I also wrote some more topical posts on the arts in Youngstown, Youngstown neighborhoods, re-purposing, restaurants, and, of course pizza! I also throw in here a post on the Mahoning River which has not appeared widely before.

So here are the posts from mid-summer up to the present:

1. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — PizzaThis was the second most popular post in this series and the winner of the informal “best pizza” poll was Wedgewood, although over 30 different places were mentioned. Needless to say, lots of good pizza in Youngstown.

2. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The ArtsOne of the surprising things, both past and present about Youngstown, is the thriving arts community and the value placed on beauty.

3. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Keeping CoolMany of us didn’t grow up with air conditioning and in this post I explore all the ways we kept cool on those hot summer days in Youngstown.

4. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Mahoning River.  This has not been posted before on the Youngstown Facebook groups. I explore the history of the river that runs through Youngstown, its gradual return to a place of beauty and the challenges of river cleanup.

5. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Idora ParkIdora Park was the amusement park for many of us growing up in Youngstown. I review its history and sad end — I think most of us regret that we allowed the carousel to be sold away.

6. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Church FestivalsSummers were also the time for many of the great church festivals that are still a big part of Youngstown life.

7. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Canfield Fair FoodWritten around the time of the fair, this post celebrates many of the great places and favorite foods at Ohio’s biggest county fair.

8. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Fair MemoriesBesides food, there were many other fun things to do at the fair, and I remember some of our perennial favorites!

9. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Back to SchoolThe funniest thing about this post was that as an afterthought, I mentioned how most of us used cigar boxes for pencil boxes and included an image of a cigar box.  That’s what everyone commented on and some still had those cigar boxes!

10. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — RepurposingThe cigar box reminded me of all the things we saved and found new uses for in working class Youngstown.

11. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –NeighborhoodsYoungstown was a city of neighborhoods and strong neighborhood identity is key to its future.

12. Review: Steelworker Alley: How Class Works in YoungstownThis was a special post reviewing a book written by Struthers native Robert Bruno, a sociologist. Bruno puts in words the values of the working class that this whole series explores as he chronicles the life and decline of the Youngstown steel industry and the nature of the working class.

13. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — RestaurantsThe arrival in my home of Classic Restaurants of Youngstown prompted this post celebrating the great places to eat, all local, that we grew up with in Youngstown.

14. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Autumn LeavesI explore memories of autumn leaves from the beauty of Mill Creek Park to the smell and haze of burning leaves across the Mahoning Valley.

15. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Libraries.  I set my own memories of libraries against the backdrop of the history of Youngstown’s library system and its importance to the aspirations of the working class.\

Scanned from 1970 Lariat

Scanned from 1970 Lariat

16. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — FootballMemories of Friday night lights, rivalries like Ursuline-Mooney, and Chaney High School coach Lou “Red” Angelo.

17. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Halloween. I was reminded in this post that there was a time when people went trick-or-treating for several nights in Youngstown, and found out that everyone else used pillowcases, which were just awesome for holding lots of candy.

So, with last week’s post, that is the series so far. Some of my ideas for future posts include talking about things like Youngstown rock bands and music venues, our love of automobiles (American-made of course), and seasonal posts about Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays.

Readers comments on these posts have reminded me of so many things I’ve forgotten. In that spirit, some of you may be wondering, “why doesn’t he write a post on …?” Truth is, I may have forgotten–but I would love to be reminded and would be happy to acknowledge anyone whose ideas I use!

 

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Restaurants

classic-restaurants-3-14

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?

 

The Pleasures of a Good Meal

Yesterday I wrote about the places we sleep when we are on the road. Well today I am home, and we celebrated by going out to a local steakhouse, modestly priced, that gave us top rate treatment. So I thought I would reflect on some of the factors that made for a good dining experience. Once again, I would argue that none of these need be limited to only the best restaurants.

1. They didn’t try to mix restaurant and sports bar. It seems that more and more modestly-priced establishments are trying to do this to bring in customers. I confess that I am easily distracted by TV screens. But sometimes you really want to focus on the one you are with. I wish I were better at not being distracted by these things but perhaps a better plan for me when I want to enjoy good conversation with my wife or other good friends is to go to a place that remembers that often eating out is simply about good food and conversation.

2. Neither of us are the slender, svelte people we were in college! Thankfully they didn’t try to shoehorn us into one of those tiny booths for people who are.

3. They didn’t rush us or treat us like we were on an assembly line. Our wait-person worked with the kitchen so that food came out when we had finished the previous dish we were eating. This made for a leisurely, enjoyable experience. So often you can’t finish an appetizer before the salad arrives, or the salad before the entree. And sometimes it feels like you have to hold onto your plate for dear life if you don’t want it taken away! Not today.

4. Our food was prepared the way we wanted it. We like steaks medium. Often they come to the table medium-well to well done. I hate to send food back when it is overcooked because I know it will be tossed. So if it isn’t burnt to a crisp, I probably won’t. Didn’t even need to think about it–just right, tasty and juicy.

5. Our wait-person was there when we wanted her and not otherwise. Personally, I hate the “are you still doing well?” question. I either feel like I’m getting graded are am tempted to say, “I was until three minutes ago, and then things really went south!” The check was presented just as we were finishing dinner and declined dessert, was accurate and quickly processed.

None of this is rocket science. It seems to me that any sit down restaurant can do these things. So many do not and it seems to me that the only explanation of this is either poor training, procedures and management, or that they take the customers for granted.

Sometimes you simply want a leisurely, satisfying meal. For those who follow this blog because of the focus on books, it is not unlike those days we leisurely curl up with a good book and immerse ourselves in it. Today was one of those days when it came to eating and because they did so well, I want to give a shout-out to the Longhorn Steakhouse at 6035 Blazer Memorial Pkwy., Dublin, OH 43017.