K’s Hamburger Shop

If you want to make a friend, walk into a local diner and sit down at the counter. If you don’t wanna make a friend, better not sit at the counter.

On Saturday, I found myself in need of a quick lunch and in the neighborhood of K’s Hamburger Shop in Troy, Ohio. They’ve been in business since 1935 and they clearly know their way around food and hospitality. How do I know? Because in a town with plenty of food options, the place was packed at 2:45 on a Saturday afternoon.

Families packed into booths and a couple across the counter from me were clearly lost to the world as they chatted and sampled food from each others plates. Small kids ran to the counter with cash in hand and ice cream on the mind while the place buzzed with conversation and laughter.

It was chaotic and not one person behind that busy counter noticed that I was standing there looking lost.

A booth of locals took pity on me as I stood at the front door trying to figure out what the heck was going on. One gentleman waved me over and told me to order at the cash register and find a seat.

Turns out the only seat to be had was at the U-shaped counter. If you sit at the counter, you order from your seat. If you sit in a booth, you order and then go sit and wait for them to call your name.

So I grabbed a stool at the counter where I had a front row seat to the friendly banter among staff and customers. The daughter of the original owners was scurrying about alongside a white uniformed fry cook, waitress and waiters. There were four or five of them headed every which way.

Regulars popped in for white sacks of burgers and it sounded like the people at a booth down the way were solving all the world’s problems over plates of breakfast. Like any good diner, they serve breakfast all day.

I made friends with the couple next to me. She is a substitute teacher at the high school and their son works at K’s so they were particularly helpful in interpreting the protocol of this place. Among other things, I learned that the person who takes your order makes your food. That’s why there’s no dinging bell or cries of “order up.”

That conversation actually began with my favorite small town phrase – “you’re not from around here.”

It’s rarely posed as a question and is mostly stated with confidence. The woman said that anyone local would know how to order there because everyone goes to K’s.

Point noted.

I was seated right in front of the guy frying the burgers – not the best place for a vegetarian but I was so fascinated by the process so it worked out ok. They said he cooks their burgers in water, dropping them in as balls before flattening them with a metal spatula and giving them a blanket of cheese. They look greasy but they seem to be the most popular item on the menu.

A woman working at the WACO Air Museum down the road recommended the chocolate malt so I got a malt with my egg salad on white bread. It was a delicious lunch. They bring the malt out in the stainless steel mixer cup which makes it feel like an even greater treat.

The folks next to me recommended stopping by sometime on a weekday when it’s less busy. Evidently Saturdays are always like this. Truth is, I really didn’t mind how busy it was. It felt like a quintessential American experience.

Maybe it’s because I was starving, maybe it’s because the food really is good but I think there’s some magic to eating at a place like this. There’s something special about a meal enjoyed at an 87 year old diner.

If you’re ever in Troy, Ohio, stop by K’s at 117 East Main Street and be sure to try the chocolate malt.

Sam’s No. 3

Travel is an opportunity to get a taste of the local culture and the literal taste of local cuisine. I avoid chain restaurants as much as possible when I travel, choosing instead local joints and small businesses when I can.

This strategy works out great sometimes. Others, not so much.

On my last day in Colorado, we wanted to have a good breakfast and go for a hike before heading to the airport mid afternoon.

Diners are my jam so I was excited to find a nearby diner that had been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives.

It was ok.

I know – how arrogant does that sound?

Hear me out. We had some great meals on this trip including a couple of delicious breakfasts with great service, decent prices and terrific atmosphere. This just wasn’t one of them.

We were there on a Sunday morning and it was understandably busy. We waited about 45 minutes for a table, heightening the anticipation that it would be worth the wait. The menu is huge with plenty of variety so that’s good. The look of the place is cool and I always give restaurants brownie points for atmosphere.

But the food wasn’t that good. Bland potatoes and eggs with some sliced American cheese on top didn’t do much for me. The egg to potato ratio was all wrong as it was a ton of potatoes with two scrambled eggs on top. My friend didn’t love hers either.

However, lots of folks around us seemed pretty happy. So what do I know?

I am always hesitant to tell you about the things I dislike and prefer to focus on the positive. However, this was a valuable lesson that what’s popular isn’t necessarily what’s good for me. What’s not featured on tv may still be pretty awesome.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about a Colorado breakfast joint I did enjoy immensely.

Adventure Day Close To Home

Yesterday was epic. I didn’t travel far or do anything expensive. Instead, I spent the day being a tourist in my own backyard in nearby Chillicothe, Ohio.

The truth is, I didn’t actually do anything I had planned. The original plan was to go for a walk, hit a car show and eat Donato’s plant based pizza at the park.

None of this actually happened.

The lovely thing about solo adventures is there’s no one to complain when you go off script. What’s even better is that off script is often where the magic happens.

I started my day at Adena Mansion and Gardens, the historic home of Thomas Worthington. He was Ohio’s sixth governor, a founding father of Ohio who did so many things in his lifetime that he and his home will require their own story this week.

Ten dollars buys you a guided tour of the home, admission to a museum and access to explore the grounds. Here you’ll learn about life in Ohio when the state was young, about the life and career of this important figure in our history, and about others like Tecumseh and Henry Clay who visited here.

After that I hit up downtown Chillicothe which has experienced a rebirth in recent years. There are several nice specialty shops and restaurants here and the business community has done a great job of advocating for themselves. They have made improvements in the historic downtown and worked hard to draw in visitors who have money.

Downtown was busy as there were a couple of events in town and some stores were taking advantage of the extra foot traffic with sales. I don’t enjoy crowds so I didn’t dwell here but having live music was pretty cool

I had lunch at Carl’s Townhouse which is a 1939 era dinner that began life at the New York World’s Fair. A quick grilled cheese and fries were just the ticket to provide sustenance for the rest of my day.

Then it was a stroll down the street to Apollo Records where I chatted with the owner about the Flying Burrito Brothers and an amazing up and coming artist named Charlie Crockett. I found a great vintage Aretha Franklin album and a Roseanne Cash that I didn’t know but literally purchased for the cool cover art.

Then it was up the street to Grandpa Joe’s Candy Store for a cold drink and dessert before heading to Wheatberry Books for a new title and a chat with the clerk. She was excited about the Wendell Berry book I had chosen. Wheatberry is a small independent bookstore but their shelves are lined with all the books I either own or want to own. They even have a robust section for kids. Here’s something I once wrote on Wheatberry.

After that, it was a stroll through Yoctangee Park to see the swans, geese and ducks. I followed the sound of music to the ice cream truck because it was hot and humid and everyone’s a kid when the ice cream truck is nearby!

Afterward, it was a quick browse through Chillicothe Antique Emporium where I located a bargain and chatted with the owner about the old time soda fountain he assembled and added to his store. He collected the various pieces over time and from places as far away as Georgia. It is well done and you can sit for a cold drink, some ice cream or fresh popcorn! Click here for something I once wrote about that place.

Chillicothe has a lot of history and there’s much more than you can accomplish in a day. Hopewell Culture National Historical Park is an interesting stop to learn about the mound builders of this region. It has become internationally renowned and we are lucky to have it. In the summer, the outdoor drama Tecumseh tells the story of the Shawnee Chief who promoted intertribal unity to push back against the US Expansion into tribal lands.

Chillicothe has carved out a place for itself for specialty interests. The bookstore and record shop are practically unicorns in this day and age but there are other specialties. There’s an old school bike shop, a music store, a stained glass shop, a dojo and a place that specializes in aromatherapy. Plus antiques, clothing boutiques and a place where you can buy specialty toy soldiers designed for the serious collector. There is literally something for everyone in a tidy space along downtown streets lined with some very cool architecture. There’s even a great bike path and tons more to see and do than you can fit into a day.

Along the way yesterday, I had meaningful conversations with people who I never imagined I needed to meet. My Adena docent was fantastic and I met two retirees on my tour who I could have chatted with for hours. They didn’t bat an eyelash when I struck up a conversation and, as it turns out, they were open to talk about topics that I’ve never quite been comfortable discussing with my own friends.

It was an enriching and rewarding day, not necessarily for what I did so much as who I met along the way. More on that soon. For now, know this: the price of admission will get you into a place. The act of learning comes from talking to people about things that are new to you, talking to people about things that are important to them, talking to people about things that enlighten you.

Always, always, always be open to hearing someone else’s perspective.

Check back this week for stories about yesterday including more on Thomas Worthington and his Adena.

Here’s one more picture from the park.

Isn’t it peaceful?

Pete’s Kitchen

If you’re in Denver and looking for a quick diner breakfast, the local chain Pete’s has an old school diner called Pete’s Kitchen.

Choose from a booth or a stool at the counter. If it’s warm enough you can eat outside too. Wherever you sit, the food is good and comes out quick.

We went for breakfast one day. My veggie omelette, potatoes and toast made for a huge serving and it was all made fresh to order.

My stomach was on Ohio time so I devoured every bite. Prices were reasonable and I would absolutely go back if given a chance. Want to visit or just learn more? Visit their website!

Coney Island Diner

Coney Island diner with bike

It’s been a Mansfield tradition since 1936 and I can see why. The Coney Island Diner in the heart of downtown Mansfield was a highlight of my visit to the city.

It’s traditional American diner fare. That means burgers and fries, ice cream and comfort food. They do breakfast all day so I had a veggie omlette with home fries and toast for just a few bucks. It was a large portion and tasted like something my grandma would have cooked.

The atmosphere is great with dinette tables, booths, a counter and stuff on the walls. And you can tell that it’s a good place because they have regulars. An elderly woman who sat near me waited patiently for the waitress to stop by and confirm she wanted her regular order. And did she want hash browns or home fries today?

Another woman had two children in tow, clearly grandkids, who were having fun sipping milkshakes at the counter. Two men in electric company uniforms kidded with the waitress about her tip over their large platters of food.

My service was great, the food was good and it was delivered lickety split – all requirements of a good diner. If you’re in town for the prison, the carousel park or the host of other fun things to do in the area, be sure to stop by for lunch or maybe just an ice cream treat!

Coney Island Diner is located at 98 N. Main Street and they’re open every day except Sunday. Go check ’em out and let me know what you think!