When I walk into the Pioneer Restaurant in Utica, Ohio I feel like I am visiting an old friend –only, I have never been here before. Perhaps it is because the atmosphere is filled with regulars who find comfort among the food and the company.
A steady stream of people come here for coffee and breakfast sausage in the mornings, or stop in for meatloaf on Thursdays and homemade seasonal pies at other times of the week.
I took a day-trip to satisfy my hunger for comfort food, which seems like the perfect way warm up a cold winter day.
The menu overflows with options much the way that my open-faced roast beef sandwich overflows on my plate. Tucked between my two freshly carved roast beef sandwich halves is a pile of homemade mashed potatoes covered in rich beef gravy.
Instantly, I forget about the cold Ohio winter and focus on warm food, a homey décor and a friendly conversation with my waitress Brandy who has worked there for more than 15 years.
Owner Jenny Cooper, who is busy making today’s cherry pie in the kitchen, even steps out to say hello to customers. By the time you leave the Pioneer Restaurant, open since 1972, you can’t help but be on a first-name basis with the staff.
The true magic of comfort food goes beyond taste buds. It’s the dose of nostalgia, the invite of friendship and the consistency of delicious, indulgent food that makes us fall in love with the small restaurants that serve it.
“Don’t mess with the meatloaf,” Jenny Cooper says jokingly about the Pioneer Restaurant recipes that have remained the same for decades. “When you have a restaurant that serves comfort food, you can’t change the food. It must be consistent.”
There are many great Ohio comfort food restaurants that are worth the drive just to indulge. Here are some others:
Maid-Rite – Greenville. Serving up mouth-watering sandwiches and milkshakes since 1934, Maid-Rite is a community staple. The overflowing loose meat sandwiches are legendary. Maid-Rite is also known for its fresh egg and chicken salads. Top off the meal with a creamy shake and make this a regular stop for your comfort food cravings.
Nancy’s Home Cooking – Columbus. Little has changed since Nancy’s Home Cooking opened in 1968. Regulars plan breakfast and lunch around daily specials that include home-style chicken and noodles, sausage gravy and hickory smoked pulled pork.
Bill & Mary’s diner – Canton. If you’ve got a thing for potato cakes, a drive to Bill and Mary’s Diner in Canton is in your future. While their potato cakes have developed a solid reputation of their own, specialty omelettes like the Chili Stretch and Sloppy Joe sandwiches will not disappoint. You can even find side dishes like Kielbasa and Hash on the menu.
The Plaza Inn – Mt. Victory. Family owned since 1959, The Plaza Inn truly caters to its regulars, even providing an air strip on-site for those who fly here for breakfast or lunch. Breakfast specials that start at just $4.29 include dishes like a Country Scramble or fried mush and bacon. On the buffet menus you will find broasted chicken, carved roast beef, Alaskan fish and beef pot roast.
Hungry yet? What’s even better than these small Ohio restaurants are the small prices they charge for their delicious food.
I need to get back to my homemade apple pie a la mode, but be sure to check out Part 2 of my series next month for more great Ohio comfort food restaurants that are worth the drive.