Book Review: Lost Restaurants of Columbus OhioDecember 1, 2015 11:10 am Mackenna Swing
Columbus has been called the crossroads for people of all walks of life. It’s the metropolitan melting-pot of the Midwest; alive and thriving with a vibrant culture. This diverse nature has allowed Columbus to become birthplace and launch pad for many big names in the restaurant industry, such as Cameron Mitchell, Marzetti’s, and Wendy’s, just to name a few. In Lost Restaurants of Columbus Ohio, past Columbus Historical Society President Doug Motz and Short North Gazette columnist Christine Hayes promise to guide readers through a “time-travel, back to a land of fine and finite dining…”
For organizational purposes, the book is divided into six chapters: “Diners,” “Neighborhood Haunts,” “Downtown Favorites,” “Lavish Dining,” “Themed,” and “Chains.”
Following World War II, Columbus restaurants sought to feed the masses, even before the existence of fast food. Immigrants with Greek, Austrian, and Hungarian roots heavily influenced the dining culture of post World War II. Favorites include QCB, or “quick, quality, best;” Downtown breakfast hangout Jack and Benny’s; and the Queen Bee, which reigned for about fifty years on South Fourth Street before becoming Dirty Franks in 2009. Motz and Hayes claim one can “still stand in the corner and inhale the diner ambiance.”
World War I & II, Prohibition, the Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression — natural disaster and destruction have all influenced the historical context for many restaurants. These establishments left their mark on Columbus culture for centuries to come due to loyal customers and dedicated employees, who made them truly unforgettable. Notable restaurants include Reebs, which once sold so much Budweiser to customers that Budweiser sent a fleet of signature Clydesdales to the restaurant; and Engine House No. 5, originally a fire house for German immigrants which later underwent a one-million dollar renovation to become a firehouse-themed restaurant with waiters who wore red suspenders and served customers birthday cake by sliding down fire poles and ringing the bell.
Motz and Hayes take readers through metropolitan Columbus, which has been revolutionized over the last century. Downtown restaurants include Mills, a “regular haunt of the Dawn Patrol,” a group of newspaper folks, policemen and firemen, among other insomniacs; One Nation, located on the 38th floor of the Nationwide building, which had a “15 mile visibility radius on a clear day;” and Tom Johnson’s, which once supplied all the fish for Elks’ annual clambake at Beulah Park.
The largest portion of this book is dedicated to this chapter, and extended historical biographies are given to some of the most monumental restaurants Columbus has seen to date. Notable spots include The Maramor, a cocktail lounge with a Parisian vibe, and run by all-female management for over fifty years; Marzetti’s, which manufactured dressings later selected for both Arby’s sandwiches and Wendy’s hamburgers; and the Jai Lai, where Woody Hayes often held press conferences and where students were shuttled by helicopter to the Ohio Stadium during Ohio State’s 1974 football season.
In this chapter, Motz and Hayes guide readers through Columbus’ most eclectic scene: themed restaurants. The most memorable include Water Works, an industrial district warehouse with claw-foot tubs for seats, and wooden water barrels and fire hydrants for interior décor; and the Terrace Room at the Union, a venue with Parisian Haute Couture and female servers who wore maid-style uniforms.
To conclude the tour down memory lane, Hayes and Motz end with chain restaurants. A few highlights include the Cooker, a Nashville-based restaurant which opened a test market in Columbus under the notion that “if it worked here, it would work nationwide;” and the Fifty-Five Group, a popular food chain where Sous Chef Cameron Mitchell got his start.
The final section of the book is dedicated to recipes, which Motz and Hayes include so that readers may learn exactly how to cook the savory Jai Lai herb butter, or the rich Maramor fudge cake and fudge sauce, or even Marzetti’s Famous Minestrone Soup, just to name a few. The recipes allow readers to participate in Columbus’ rich cultural history by tasting the foods that built the city; as well as to create community, by bringing friends and family together with the pretense of delicious food.
Through Lost Restaurants of Columbus Ohio, Motz and Hayes create an intricately woven foodie narrative for our city, while keeping readers engaged as they reflect on the history of the place they call home.
Lost Restaurants of Columbus Ohio is published by American Palate: A Division of The History Press. For more information about The History Press, visit www.historypress.net.