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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Marion's Piazza, Englewood

Today we visited Marion's Piazza in Englewood, mostly because it had been about 4 years since my cousin had eaten there, and he had a craving for their pizza. We had just finished "unfinishing" a basement by removing the remaining wall studs and insulation, and had worked up an appetite. As we entered, I realized that I had actually eaten at this location before, with my sister back in the mid 1990's. As I recall, at the time I thought the pizza was pretty good, kind of expensive, and I was enthralled by some sort of holographic/3D video game they had.

This time around, we were at first simply happy for the warmth from the ovens as we entered and escaped the blustery arctic cold air. I noticed a sign on the way in that is worth mentioning - "no checks or credit cards" - in other words, this place is cash only. (but there is an ATM near the back of the place) Afterwards, we sat down to take a look at the menu, and decide exactly what to order. The menu is a single page affair, with the items & prices on one side, then locations & contact info on the other. It is divided into five sections: pizzas, salads, giant sandwiches, deli sandwiches, and pasta. It didn't take us too long to settle on a 13" pepperoni & mushroom pizza, a couple of orders of garlic bread, a meatball sandwich (sub), and Reuben sandwich. Later, when the order was ready, we also added a pitcher of root beer. Total price for everything: about $33 to feed a party of 3. One oddity that I noticed was that this is probably one of the only places I've seen that has both Coke and Pepsi available - normally you get either/or when it comes to the kings of pop. I like having a choice.

While they were preparing the order, I browsed around the restaurant. The center portion of the restaurant was well lit naturally with some interesting skylights. The walls on the west side had recessed painted murals. Out by the entrance, there is a room with one of the few surviving arcades in the area, so if you have young ones, or are young at heart, you may be in for a treat with some game time. However, I felt the most interesting feature was the "celebrity wall".

The celebrity wall has photos of various movie & TV stars. Many of these are autographed, and the majority actually show the folks either eating or seated in the restaurant. There were probably 40 or 50 of the photos, but I felt some of the more notable ones were as follows; Loni Anderson (WKRP in Cincinnati), Tony Randall (The Odd Couple), Rosemary Clooney (singer), Barbara Eden (I dream of Jeannie), Vincent Price (numerous horror films), Bill Bixby (Incredible Hulk, My Favorite Martian), Mclean Stevenson (MASH), Dom Deluise (comedian, 25+ movies), Jim Nabors (Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle), Barry Williams (Brady Bunch), among many others. How does a Dayton, Ohio restaurant attract so many celebrities? Well, it turns out that back from the late 1950's through the 1970's, (& even as late as 1995) a theater group called the "Kenley Players" worked hard to get various TV & movie stars to appear in local stage productions around Ohio, mostly during the summers. They held their cast parties at Marion's Piazza, and thus the local connection. As part of this research, I found that Marion's was founded in 1965, and thus has been around for 45 years.

OK, back to the actual food. Within about 10 minutes, our order was ready. The pizza itself was very flavorful, thin crust, and crunchy. I also noticed that it was cut into very small squares, which would be quite kid friendly. The 3 of us eating ended up giving it a rating of 8.3 out of 10. Garlic bread was not quite as crunchy as I expected, but had a fine buttery garlic taste. Meatball sub had a lot of sauce, and plenty of meat, with the meatballs being very mild flavored. The Reuben was quite light, not heavily sauced or greasy, with more meat than I expected.

All in all, I'd have to say the place has some pretty decent pizza, a pleasant atmosphere and great history. Expect to spend a bit over $10 a person if you have an appetite. There are only 2 improvements I can really suggest. First, I'd like to have an explanatory plaque added to the celebrity wall, giving some details - so people don't have to look all of this up online. Second, the website is basic to the extreme - saying "coming soon" since 2006. It would be well worth it to put up a nice website with some detailed company history, online coupons, that sort of thing.

Update: Just found a nice coupon that I'm sharing. Good for 25% off any pizzas, but not valid Friday or Saturday. Good through February 28. Just print & take with you.

Marion's Piazza 404 West National Road, Englewood (7 total area locations)
telephone: 832-0333

Dayton Dining

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pop's Diner 7430 Miller Lane (north Dayton)

This week I'm reviewing a place I first noticed about a month ago, towards the north end of Miller's Lane, on the east side. The place is called Pop's Diner, and it is family owned. (currently by the brother of the original fellow) I have to admit that I passed it up the last time, mostly because my son didn't want to try it, but also because I figured it would be overpriced, and that it wouldn't have much selection. I am happy to report that I was wrong on both counts.

Upon entering, the kitchen was on the right, and seating and salad bar on the left. There was a large board up near the entrance on the left proclaiming all of the specials, of which there were about 6 or 7 on the night we visited. Wait staff was pleasant, and I was asked if I knew what I wanted up front, which is great if you have a favorite, or if you've been there before. I was impressed with two beautiful painted seascape murals on the walls, and spent some time after being seated just admiring the two of them. In retrospect, I wish I had gotten a shot of at least one of them to share, but you'll have to go in to see for yourself!

I was tempted by one of the night's specials, a half barbecue chicken. However, I'd already had chicken recently, and decided to look for something more interesting. They have the menu organized into different "genres", if you will. They have all day breakfast, a kids' menu, Italian, mini meals, seafood, grilled items, barbecue specials, melts, hoagies and more. All in all, I counted around 120 choices - not including appetizers, desserts or salad bar. Although I'm sure I'll go back to try more of the other selections, this time around I ended up going with something from what they called "Pop's Baskets" - Clams in a Basket, for $8.25. This has clam strips, french fries and onion rings with cocktail sauce on the side. It also comes with soup or the salad bar, and I decided to try the salad bar. My son ordered a patty melt, which is a half pound hamburger with onion and swiss cheese on rye. For $6.99, it came with fries, soup, coleslaw and a pickle.

I went to check out the salad bar while they prepared our main meals. The salad bar certainly wasn't large, - it was double sided, and measured about 12' in total length. This was a true salad bar - no meat dishes, but then you really wouldn't expect that when it is included with meals as low as $6.99. It worked great to give me something to snack on while waiting. I'd like to point out one thing about the salad bar - quality. They might not have a 50 foot long feed trough, but what they had was good. I could tell that the items were very fresh. I was especially delighted to see that the tomatoes that were used were actually ripe! (a rarity in Ohio in the middle of winter) The greens offered were a mix, and thankfully not all iceberg. Another pleasant surprise was the potato salad, a white, creamy mix that at times reminded me of mashed potatoes, but was served cool with herb flavorings. When questioned about this, the night manager told me that it actually reminded him of something they fed the men back when he was in the service. (if that's the case, military food may have really improved since the old days)

After I had finished a plate of salad, my son said he really enjoyed the chicken and rice soup they had brought him. Just a couple of minutes later, they brought the main dishes for our supper. I was rather astounded at how large the burger was on my son's plate, even though it was presented in two pieces. Heavily topped with melted swiss cheese, it certainly met any definition for a "melt". My son, however, was very disappointed that they ran out of pickles that night, because his meal was supposed to include one, and he really loves them.

For my part, the basket they delivered seemed to weigh about two pounds! It was appropriately "ringed" around the edges with onion rings, with the clam strips on top in the center, and underneath it all were the french fries, which were crinkle cut. The onion rings were the first to go, and were not over breaded. They were not quite what I had grown fond of at the various county fairs, but were still quite good. After that, I started eating the clam strips. While tasty, I was slightly disappointed with the very small size of many of the strips, and actually ended up eating many using a spoon. The french fries were good as well, but there were simply so many that after eating the salad and other items, I couldn't even eat half of them.

Overall, this was a great experience, which would have been made even better with fewer but larger clam strips. After trying some of the leftovers, I can also say that if you like rye bread and Reuben type sandwiches, I really think you would enjoy the patty melt. When driving past again in the future, I may grab one of those as takeout.

Update: here are some coupons good through March 1

Pop's Diner
address: 7430 Miller Lane (east side, about 1/10 mile south of Little York Road)
Dayton, Ohio 45414
website: (includes 10% off first visit coupon)
telephone: (937) 264-3201
open 7 days a week, 6 am to 9:30 pm

Dayton Dining

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Kettering Italian Oven - Kettering, Ohio

For some time I've wanted to try out the Kettering Italian Oven. At least a couple of times a month I've found myself in the area, but always on Sundays, when they are closed. Today I decided to drive over just for a visit. The place has been in business since 2004 and is family owned. Before that, there was a Pisanello's Pizza at the location. (I actually worked at one of those when I was in college)

The exterior of the place is spartan brick, as is the rest of the strip mall where it is located - on the east side of Wilmington Pike. The inside has several Italian themed wall hangings, but I really have to give them bonus points for their Brutus Buckeye and Ohio State Buckeyes items on display. Go, Team! A TV is present, and the dining room is on the small side, so you really can't escape it. However, the volume was turned down very low, and they had wheel of fortune on. Plus, they came by and asked everyone if the volume level on the TV was ok. I've never had anyone at any other restaurant ask that, so it was a nice change.

While I perused the menu, I noticed that my table was shaking. I was pretty sure I wasn't having some sort of episode or attack, so I started wondering what might be causing the table, and therefore the menu in my hands, to vibrate in such a manner. I finally realized that I had arrived after 7PM, and therefore, the dishwasher was probably working overtime doing dishes from most of the folks who had eaten earlier. I'm guessing that the dishwasher must by one of those industrial models - probably slightly out of round - and since I was eating at one of the tables against the interior wall, it was probably right on the other side. I was more amused with this than anything, and the sensation only lasted a few minutes. It rather reminded me of those "magic fingers" beds that were popular back in the 70's, where you could put in a quarter, and the whole thing would vibrate for a while. I doubt most folks in the restaurant were even aware of this.

The menu has the expected selection of pizzas, salads, fried foods & appetizers, a good selection of subs, and 8 pasta items. The fountain drinks seemed a bit pricey at $1.99 + tax, however I also noticed that a 2 liter bottle of pop was available for the same price. I was tempted for a short time by the chicken parmesan, and also by the gnocci. However, in the end nostalgia won out, and I ended up going with a small green olive and banana pepper calzone. I also added a couple of the garlic bread sticks, just to give them a try. Just to clarify, back in college I discovered calzones at a local pizza joint, and enjoyed them just about every week. However, strangely enough, I realized it had likely been more than 10 years since I'd had one.

The "small" calzone turned out to be 11" across, and although I enjoyed it very much, I could only eat a little more than half. I can only imagine how big a large would be. It had a nice crunchy crust, plenty of cheese, and generous amounts of banana peppers and green olives. The breadsticks were ok, but I really couldn't discern any garlic flavor to them. However, for the most part this was made up for by the pizza sauce dip.

One thing I'd like to mention is that the owner came by the table and brought by the bill only a couple of minutes after bringing the food. I only wish that more places did this, because it really saves time - no waiting 5 minutes I also didn't have to ask for a doggie bag/takeout box. From some of the discussions during ordering, it became obvious that many of the customers were regulars. The place has a very friendly atmosphere, and an excellent level of service that is above and beyond what I have gotten at most other restaurants.

room for improvement department: I really would have appreciated a few more choices in the pasta portion of the menu. Perhaps something with shrimp or scallops?

Kettering Italian Oven
Address: 4654 Wilmington Pike Kettering
(between E. Rahn & David Road)
Telephone: (937) 294-0744
hours: Sun & Mon: closed, Tue.-Thur: 11-9, Fri & Sat 11-10

Dayton Dining

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Las Piramides, Centerville Ohio

In business since 1993, Las Piramides is located in the old Washington Township High School building near the intersection of routes 725 and 48. Dating all the way back to 1886, it is nice to know that the place has some history behind it, and it is great to see a building like this being put to a new use, when so many others are carelessly bulldozed to make way for another strip mall.
Here's a bit of history:

I first visited this restaurant back in the mid 90's, and have been back a number of times since then. There were a couple more opened in the Dayton area, though one of those has closed, leaving just this location and another in Huber Heights. Although both are nice, the Huber restaurant was built in a more modern fast food building. As such, when given the choice, I prefer to eat at the one built in the old school, mostly due to the sturdy building, and I guess I sort of like the idea that I'm eating lunch at the same place where lots of local school kids ate through the decades. In fact, I suppose there is a chance, if your family is from the area, that your own ancestor ate lunch here daily as a student! I also enjoy the art murals that they have painted on the ceilings.

We arrived at around 4:30 for an early supper. The parking lot only had about half a dozen cars at this time, partly because it was early, and also because the slush and ice made for somewhat poor driving conditions on this day. As such, it seemed to be a slow day for the restaurant, but we hoped that also translated into fast service for us.

As always, they brought out generous servings of corn chips and salsa for everyone to munch on while waiting. This time around, the salsa seemed a bit too much on the spicy side for my taste. I usually need a mild, or medium-mild, and this was full blown medium or more. Although the chips can be a good enough appetizer in their own right, (especially considering the large size of the meals here) I decided to order the "Las Piramides Appetizer" tray for $7.99. I did this mostly because I had a $25 gift certificate that required spending $35+. The platter was described as 2 each of cheese sticks, chicken fingers, stuffed jalapenos, and 4 chicken mini tacos. I'll have to admit that I was a bit underwhelmed by the appetizers, though they were delivered quickly about 6 minutes after we ordered. I'm thinking this is possibly because they delivered it on a HUGE tray that made the appetizers seem smaller than expected. When ordering the appetizer tray, I asked to see if mild jalapenos could be used, and was assured that they were not too hot. Ironically, I noticed that they were actually rather cold when we got them. Even so, they were still pretty good. Thankfully, this minor issue turned out to be the only real negative aspect of the meal.

I've included a shot of the menu, to provide an idea of the prices and selections available for supper. Note that in addition to these, there are also "make your own" combination platters, where you can select any two items from the list of taco, burrito, enchilada, tamal, tostada, chalupa, & chile relleno - for just $7.99 (all combos include rice & beans) There are more than 30 numbered selections on their menu, so this photo only shows about half of them. My wife went with a combination platter, my sister got #31 - the chicken fajita quesadilla, and I decided to try #9 - camarones rellenos. This was a rather unusual choice for me, and I believe the first time I've ever tried anything seafood related at a Mexican restaurant.

The waiters must have been paying some attention, because just a couple of minutes after we finished the last of the appetizer plate, our meals began arriving. My sister's thoughts on the fajita were that it was healthy, with very fresh vegetables, not too much cheese, good quality chicken breast, and a generous portion size. My wife says that her burrito was very good, but felt that the waiter should have been able to anticipate some of our needs better, such as offering a child seat since she was holding a baby, and refilling our drinks before some of them became empty.

My own camarones rellenos, or "shrimp with cheese" turned out to be a real delight. The plate included two skewers of jumbo shrimp, each wrapped with bacon, and smothered in a white cheese sauce. There were also onions and bell peppers in another cheesy mixture, rice, a guacamole salad, and 3 flour tortillas. I ate some of the shrimp by themselves, then ate all but three in the tortillas, mixed with various ingredients from my plate. Delectable! I really can't stress how good this meal was. Again, the amounts were generous, so I ended up with leftovers, which included about three of the bacon wrapped shrimp. Even though I was stuffed, these were so good that they only made it a little less than 3 hours in my fridge before I couldn't resist snatching the last few for a snack. The next time I go back, it will be a difficult choice between trying something new on the menu, or getting another batch of these.

Las Piramides south
address: 101 W. Franklin St., Centerville (route 725 between 48 & Virginia Ave.)
telephone: (937) 291-0900
typical prices: $9-$13
Open 7 days a week Sun: Noon-9, M-Th: 11-10, Sat: Noon-11
lunch served from opening to 3pm

Here's a link to a coupon for $4.50 off two lunch entrees. Note that it is only good Sunday through Thursdays - not Friday or Saturday, and that it expires in just a few days. Print out and take the whole page.

Dayton Dining

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Boulevard Haus - German restaurant downtown Dayton

Downtown Dayton finally has a German restaurant! This was particularly exciting to me, because I have traced folks back to Germany on both sides of my family tree. Also, I had wished for a number of years that we had a local German restaurant. About the closest we could get formerly was to eat at an occasional fundraiser put on by one of the nearby German clubs.

My first impression was that although the front of the place was easy to find, the parking was not. It turns out that you need to drive around through the parking lot of the Clear Channel Radio building, and then you find the parking lot on the West side of Boulevard Haus. Upon entering, the dining area seems much smaller than expected, but there are additional areas to eat over by the bar, and also down in the basement. I was rather hoping for some traditional German music, but the establishment instead features "world music" (rap/dance type) that is popular in Germany right now, along with the occasional older song.

My wife ordered the Chicken Riesling for $19, while I got the Bavarian Sampler for $22. The Bavarian Sampler includes "Tender shortribs, currywurst, grilled bratwurst, wiener schnitzel, red cabbage, sauerkraut, spatzle" and mustard sauces for dipping. Bread and an excellent creamy butter were brought out to our table within a couple of minutes of placing our order. I have to say that the "pretzel bread" is excellent. I probably could have filled up on that alone.

Unfortunately, I was both very hungry and excited about trying out the different choices on my plate, so I completely forgot to take pictures of the food this time around.

The currywurst is a large sausage, cut up into small sections, with a sweet, tomato based sauce that has a very small amount of curry in it. It was not hot at all, and overall had a sweet taste. The shortribs was really one massive rib and chunk of meat. While it was adequate, it was also a mite overcooked. I think that the rib could benefit from marinating, to both enhance the flavor and internal moisture during cooking. Thankfully, this was only a detraction because it was so-so, while the rest of the meal was magnificent.

The grilled bratwurst was very good, and I especially enjoyed chunks dipped in the sweet mustard dipping sauce that was provided. The weiner schnitzel was also tasty, mild and flaky, and I enjoyed some of the more robust mustard sauce with it. The red cabbage was, as expected, mild and sweet. Often I find sauerkraut too bitter for my tastes, and I find myself drawn to the sweeter "bavarian" variety. While not as sweet as the bavarian style, Boulevard Haus's kraut was mild, and I surprised
myself by finishing most of it. The spatzle was something new to me, a delightful tiny flattened ball of pasta with a hint of oil and herbs, which reminded me somewhat of pierogies.

Room for improvement department:

- Some may find the "world/dance" music to be distracting from the dining experience.
It would be fantastic to offer diners a choice by featuring traditional German music downstairs.

Boulevard Haus
address: 329 E. Fifth Street, Dayton (North side of street)
telephone: (937) 824-2722
website: (includes menu)
closed Sundays
open for lunch M-F 11:30-2
open for supper starting at 5, Mon-Sat

Dayton Dining