I wrote recently about restaurant chains that are gone but not forgotten. What about ones, though, that are still around, still dishing out cups of comfort or plates of peace? They still exist. And in my mind their allure is not just about food. Some of the restaurants that make my list of favorites serve very average food, but they do it well: endless soft drink refills from a just-right soda fountain, mountains of crisp fries, free wifi, and friendly staff. Good food helps. The "regionalism" of the chains make them extra special. If you happen to live in an area where the chain operates, its regionalism makes you feel a little ownership in it. It's "your" diner. And if you're visiting, the regionalism makes you feel like you're being reunited with an old friend or discovering a little-known gem. So this list is devoted not to the Red Lobsters or Dennys of the world, but to the scrappy regionals.
Rachel, Aster, and I found ourselves in the tiny Ohio city of Xenia earlier today. This city is best known for being leveled by a tornado in 1974, although I know it best from the bike trail that splices through. Anyway, since we were hungry, what better place to sate one's appetite than Tudor's Biscuit World? This is a regional eatery found just in West Virginia, except, for reasons unknown only to the biscuit powers-that-be, there is one lone restaurant in Xenia, Ohio. The diner occupies a soft spot in my heart because it was the first meal Rachel and I enjoyed as a married couple. I know, romantic. We were on our way to South Carolina the day after our Ohio wedding and stopped at a Tudor's in West Virginia for breakfast. So this is my list of restaurants that are not gone and not forgotten that serve up the best dish of all: comfort.
TUDOR'S BISCUIT WORLD: Hmmmm, the name says it all: scratch-made biscuits serving as the basis for a variety of sandwiches. If you can put it on a biscuit, Tudor's probably serves it. This morning, I enjoyed an egg, potato, and cheese biscuit sandwich. This is a picture of the beauty before I consumed every morsel. SIGH, and I wonder why I am having trouble shedding pounds?
EAT N PARK: This is a Pennsylvania based chain (I must head East more than West) with decent food, decent dessert. When traveling from my home near Cincinnati, the first Eat N Park one arrives at is just outside Wheeling, West Virginia. I think I have a sentimental spot for it because that would sometimes be my "break" before summoning the strength to conquer the looming Pennsylvania Turnpike.
SHEETZ: Okay, technically, this is a gas station. But, wow, oh wow, they have good food (okay, "road food", not epicurean/foodie type stuff)...you just walk in, sidle up to a computer kiosk, custom make your sandwich or pizza with the press of a few buttons and minutes later your culinary creation is in your hands.
FRISCH'S: This is a Cincinnati based chain of diner-type food. The fare is fair, but it's our chain here in Cincinnati, so it makes my list.
SHARI'S: Finally, a western destination. Shari's is found throughout the West and specializes in that typical American comfort food. But what makes this place about as good as you can get in my book is their fundamental understanding that "breakfast" isn't just a morning indulgence. Shari's serves pancakes or eggs, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That's comfort!
VILLAGE INN: How excited I am when traveling westward to see the warm, welcoming orange signs of The Village Inn. Breakfast all day. Endless refills. Need I say more?
Comfort food is king in Canada. it's one of the allures of our neighbor to the north. When traveling the desolate, lonely Trans-Canada Highway, I am smitten to see a Tim Horton's (Okay, they are everywhere there...sometimes even on opposite corners...and they do have some in the States but they aren't the same in the USA and I can't figure out why....that comfort factor is gone) Other Canadian comforts: Swiss Chalet and Pizza! Pizza! Yum, yum, and yum.
So, are there any chains that should have made my list but didn't?