October 2012 Issue
Specialties of the House
Three popular diners share recipes for customer favorites.
There are many things patrons call their favorite at Schmucker’s Restaurant
. For some, it’s the hot roast beef sandwich, an entree plated with hand-peeled mashed potatoes and homemade gravy. For others, it’s the Dagwood, a double-decker featuring ham and sharp American cheese in one tier, bacon and a fried egg in the other.
But at this Toledo diner, the high point of any meal is served by the slice. On any given day you’ll find approximately 20 different kinds of pie waiting to tempt you. Doug Schmucker estimates his two full-time and two part-time bakers have recipes for 50 from-scratch varieties, everything from the best-selling chocolate peanut butter to banana split. His tart of choice, however, is Dutch apple. It was on the menu when his grandparents, Harvey and Nola Schmucker, first welcomed customers to their North Reynolds Road location in 1948.
“There’s a side street to a residential neighborhood on the south side of the restaurant,” he says. “They lived down that street. Grandma would bake the pies at home and bring them up here to serve at lunchtime.”
Ask Doug what makes his grandmother’s Dutch apple pie so special, and he answers without hesitation: the crumb topping, or “crumbles.”
“They’re just a perfect blend of brown sugar, butter and spice,” he rhapsodizes. “Serve that warm with vanilla ice cream on it — of all the pies we make, that’s my favorite one.” A light, flaky crust doesn’t hurt, either. Doug, who began helping his mother Alice bake for the diner as a kid, insists the secret to achieving that elusive perfection is simple.
“The less you work the dough, the better,” he advises. “If you overwork the dough, you’ll make it tough.”
Forget the hamburgers, french fries and milkshakes. Like Schmucker’s, many of Ohio’s oldest (and, some would say, best) diners were built on a solid foundation of old-fashioned home cooking. Over the years, they’ve been joined by new creations that owners concocted in their kitchens or adapted from others.
Michael Pappas, manager of Tommy’s Diner
in Columbus’ Franklinton district, knows the story well. When his Greek immigrant parents, Tom and Kathy Pappas, entered the restaurant business, their knowledge of it was limited to what Tom learned working in the Jolly Pirate doughnut shops owned by Kathy’s uncles. So they opened the diner with a menu that consisted mainly of simple-but-tasty dishes they knew how to make. One of their first specials was Grecian chicken, a dish that came with Kathy’s mother, Maria Stefanidis, from the Greek mountain village of Loganiko. Michael remembers Kathy making it for the family’s Sunday dinners. Twenty-three years later, Grecian chicken is still on the list of Friday specials.
“We have people who call and say, ‘Save us an order of white meat’ or ‘an order of dark meat,’ ” he says.
Like Schmucker’s and Tommy’s, The Echo Restaurant
is still whipping up dishes and desserts made with founder Louise Schwartz’s original recipes. Some date to 1945, the year the diner opened near the corner of Edwards and Erie avenues in Cincinnati’s Hyde Park neighborhood.
But current owner Stephanie Surgeon, who bought the establishment in 1995, has expanded the bill of fare to include her own creations. Two years ago, she added pumpkin pie pancakes to the fall and winter menus. The flapjacks were inspired by two things Surgeon says The Echo is known for in the Queen City: pancakes and pumpkin pie.
“The fluffiness of that cake with a little bit of syrup absorbed into it — I really do think I’m eating a piece of pumpkin pie,” she declares. “It really captures that flavor.”
The two-cake order, she adds, already has a following among regulars. She hopes that, like Louise Schwartz’s staples, it will ensure a steady stream of hungry customers for years to come.
Tommy’s Diner, Columbus
2–3 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon oregano
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water, divided
juice of 2 lemons
salt and pepper to taste
1 whole chicken, washed
4 Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut lengthwise into quarters
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine garlic, oregano, olive oil, 1/4 cup water and lemon juice in a bowl and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.
Split chicken along the spine, then lay flat in a baking dish so breasts and thighs are flat against the bottom. Arrange potatoes around chicken, then pour olive oil mixture over both. Bake for 60 to 90 minutes or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Remove chicken and potatoes from baking dish.
Mix cornstarch into remaining 1/4 cup water to make a roux. Pour drippings from baking dish into a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, stir in roux and continue stirring and cooking on low heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Quarter chicken and arrange quarters and potatoes on a serving platter. Pour gravy over chicken and potatoes.
Dutch Apple Pie
Schmucker’s Restaurant, Toledo | Serves 6 to 8
For the crust:
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
3 tablespoons ice water
Whisk flour and salt together in a medium-size bowl. With a pastry blender, cut in cold shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons ice water over mixture and toss with a fork to moisten. Add more water, a few drops at a time as necessary, until dough comes together.
Gently gather dough particles into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out dough, dusting with flour ever so lightly so rolling pin does not stick, and place in a 10-inch pie plate. Cut excess dough from edge with a knife and crimp.
For the filling:
5 cups apples (preferably Jonathan), peeled and sliced
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Mix sugar, flour and cinnamon in a bowl. Add apples and gently toss. Save lemon juice and butter for assembly.
1 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 pound butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and cut/mix together until crumbles form. Do not over-mix.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Pile apples into pie shell, pressing gently to fill. Sprinkle lemon juice over apples, then melted butter. Cover apples with a generous layer of crumbles.
Bake for 1 hour or until knife penetrates center of pie without resistance and crumbles begin to turn golden brown. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Pumpkin Pie Pancakes
The Echo Restaurant, Cincinnati
2 cups cake flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups milk
1 cup canned pumpkin
3/4 cup sour cream
For garnish and topping:
chopped pecans, whipped
cream, butter, maple syrup
Mix wet and dry ingredients separately, then combine in a large bowl. Do not over-mix.
Ladle 4 ounces of batter per pancake onto a large griddle or into a nonstick pan. Cook over medium to medium-high heat until batter is bubbly over the entire surface of the pancake and underside is golden brown. Flip and continue cooking until golden brown. Plate and garnish with chopped pecans. Serve with whipped cream, butter and maple syrup. Makes 8, 8- to 9-inch pancakes