A Classic Roadside Diner
(Excerpt from a blog on OhioTraveler.com)
When I first walked into this Toledo roadside diner 25 years ago, it felt like my kind of place. Back from my Army stay in Europe, now in college treating my girlfriend (soon to be wife) to a great bite I could afford, the road leads here. It was 1992. The waitress said it still looked the same as it did when it opened in 1948.
Recently, my wife and I traveled several hours to see one of our kids and our niece attending school in the area. Their school wasn’t in the immediate area, but it was close enough for a road trip to the dear ole diner still frying up memories after all these years.
When we drove around the place hoping to find a parking spot, I asked the ‘kids’, “Whattaya think?”
A deep voice in the backseat said, “As long as it has burgers, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
So it goes.
We snapped a photo to commemorate the old roadside diner with its nondescript faded yellow brick, glass block windows, and neon sign. It still felt right, even after romanticizing it in our minds from back in the day. And, ooh, that smell: a concoction in the air that wafted somewhere between fresh-hand-peeled potatoes and thoughts of grandma’s pie cooling on a windowsill.
It’s funny how a mere scent can trigger a memory. The most memorable thing about Schmucker’s Restaurant, bar none, is the pie! To quote an old saying, the pie “is to-die-for.”
[To-die-for is popular American hyperbole from the 20th Century and means that something is so amazing that it is worth dying for. For example: “Get the pie! The pie is to die for!” – Idiom Origins]
When we went inside, we crammed the doorway with another cluster of folks waiting for a table to be emptied and bused. I hoped it wasn’t the one within arm’s reach because then someone else was sure to be loitering in my space while I ate. So, ya, Schmucker’s Restaurant is …cozy.
But that’s the charm of it. That, and the fact nothing changes inside these walls unlike the ever-changing world outside. The owner’s name is still Schmucker, albeit the grandchild of the founders Harvey and Nola. Heck, even the chrome stools at the wrap-around lunch counter are originals. Once we nestled into our seats, yes, by the door as feared, we became a quaint world unto our own. All was well.
“What’s that ringing?” my niece asked. “It sounds like an old movie.”
In the back corner of the restaurant, a worn, wooden telephone booth has been there since day one. After we heard it several times, we tried to record it but couldn’t quite get it right. So, my niece called the restaurant. We heard and recorded the old-fashioned ringing telephone a couple of times over until our waiter reached inside it and answered, “Schmucker’s…”
My niece panicked and hung up. We later confessed our sin, thinking we’ll make up for it in the tip.
Our waiter was a young fellow with a bright smile. He was everything you’d expect from a family-diner straight out of Yesteryear. He was friendly, helpful, patient, and attentive. But more than that, he was a conversationalist. And that’s the thing about a diner like this. You learn about not just the place itself, but the community it serves.
“Hold that thought,” he said to us as he backed away to seat some newcomers. Several minutes later he returned to pick up the conversation almost in the mid-sentence he pardoned himself from.
My son ordered up the Wimpy Burger Platter. I asked if he knew who Wimpy was. Of course, he didn’t. I don’t even know if he knows Popeye (outside of the chicken chain).
I couldn’t resist. I blurted out the catchphrase from the early-era television cartoon, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
Blank faces. Crickets. … “Is this a dad joke or something?”
[“A dad joke is a short joke, typically a pun, presented as a one-liner or a question and answer, but not a narrative. Generally inoffensive, dad jokes are stereotypically told with sincere humorous intent, or to intentionally provoke a negative reaction to its overly simplistic humor. Many dad jokes may be considered anti-jokes, deriving humor from an intentionally unfunny punchline.” – Wikipedia]
Perusing the menu, it was hard to make a decision between meals that had side notes like, “Just the way Mom makes it on Sundays.” Or, “Grandma Schmucker’s secret recipe since 1948.”
“Hot Roast Beef” seemed like such a staple comfort food for an old-time roadside diner experience. But then again “Fresh Perch” considering our proximity to a Great Lake was alluring, too. The menu had everything you may imagine for lunch, dinner, and even breakfast! I was usually the quick and decisive one to order but I seemed to be channeling my wife … “Uh, I’m sorry, can you come back to me?”
So, with a homestyle dinner, fresh garden salad, homemade soup of the day (Nola’s recipe), and an old-fashioned strawberry soda (they also had chocolate and cherry), I wondered if I’d be able to save room for pie.
Then I laughed and laughed and laughed.
I had to decide on one of Nola’s 54 pie recipes.
By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun