(An installment in the Route 56 Trilogy and the Grumpy Old Man Saga)
Our tale of Mama Renie’s involves several sidetrips both literally and figuratively so let us begin our journey. The path to Mama Renie’s was a long and winding trail. it began when I became aware of Family Donut Shoppe in Londonderry which started my exploration of Route 56. For this trip to McArthur I sought out a co-pilot in the Grumpy Old Man. Readers may be familiar with the Grumpy Old Man from another installment in the Route 56 Trilogy – Carl’s Townhouse. One the first exploration of Route 56, I talked the Grumpy Old Man into going to Family Donut shop the first time by promising a trip to O’Betty’s in Athens after. At the mid-point of our first Route 56 adventure we passed through Mcarthur and the place below caught my eye. My eatery sixth sense kicked in and knew I had to head back some day (soon).
(Take a look at the sign in the photo). A sign on a pizza place which says Breakfast 6 am is the sign of a full service establishment that warrants investigation. Looking at the brick work (glazed enamel which was high-end in the 1920’s) of this building I could tell this place has a lot of history which meant – the potential for a lot of character.
So once again, I talked the Grumpy Old Man into joining me on another Route 56 adventure. This time we would go to Carl’s Townhouse and since Family Donut Shop was only 15 miles away we would head back there and then proceed to McArthur for a very detailed scouting mission.
Now long time readers of this blog are thinking “why would the Grumpy Old Man need to be talked into what sounds like a great day trip?” Well, the back story is complicated but I’ll provide some bullet points. I’ve known the Grumpy Old Man for almost thirty years and along the way we have had many good adventures: camping trips, a trip to Baltimore where I slept under a pool table and wore reindeer pants, a 4 day trip to Puerto Rico that nearly led to my death by pork and rum overdose and at least six trips to Lake Hope. The Lake Hope adventures are the ones that lead to the trepidation the Grumpy Old Man has when I make a trip pitch to him. Lake Hope Adventures typically involve the following: five to seven meals per day in Athens (sometimes going to the same place two to three times in a day), a long hike where we are sometimes unclear if we will finish…or survive, a hangover, often extended bursts of intestinal gas and on our last two trips drinking one bottle of Yering Station Fortified Shiraz which is the finest and one of the most potent wines in the world. And unfortunately for me can only be found at the Yering Station winery in the Yarra Valley and my supply is now depleted which is fortunate for the Grumpy old man. While the Grumpy Old Man enjoys a trip to Lake Hope he has found the rigors of my itineraries wear him out and age him about 1 year in 3 to 4 days. A shared bottle of fortified Shiraz seems to age him about 3 years. My additional selling point for our McArthur scouting run is that this little town is only 14.7 miles from the cabin we stay in at Lake Hope. Somehow in all of our trips to Lake Hope and the surrounding area we have never been to McArthur. So if McArthur did indeed have a good place to eat, I would have an alternative to Athens on our adventures and thus he would have some protection from my indulgences at Jackie O’s, Devil’s Kettle, Little Fish, West End Cider House and such. This added to a guaranteed trip to Family Donut Shoppe allowed the Grumpy Old Man to commit to be tripped.
However, after lunch at Carl’s and second lunch at Family Donut Shoppe, the Grumpy Old Man asked if we were going to skip McArthur and just head home. Of course my response was merely a roll of my eyes as we moved on down the road to our destiny (this is why I always drive so that my agenda can’t be trumped).
Upon arrival in McArthur we did a quick drive by of our target sites in town then exited the vehicle to explore McArthur on foot (which took about 10 minutes). We were not sure if Mama Renie’s was open and the Grumpy Old Man was reluctant to enter so I scouted it solo by trying to find an unlocked door. I was a bit disoriented upon entering because the interior is very dark with minimal lighting as well as a very dark, long wood bar and booths. I knew based on the look of the bar alone that Mama Renie’s was worth this trip. I returned outside to fetch the Grumpy Old Man and apparently I was not just scouting for myself, as two frumpy twenty something ladies that were also casing out the place entered when I came out to give the thumps up.
Since Grumpy and I were both full from our previous meals we just opted to order a beer a piece as we took time to soak in the atmosphere of the bar. I explained that we would not be eating but that would still like to look at the menu. The menu looked very promising offering a full breakfast menu, some sandwiches and of course pizza. One thing caught my eye because it was completely unexpected…..homemade potato chips. So against the protestations of the Grumpy Old Man I placed an order. You can see where the chips fell below.
These chips were great. Some were very crispy and a few still had some chewiness. All together the best barroom snack for a place like this. While we munched away we began to chat with our server/host to find that her son has owned the restaurant for over 15 years but in the past the place had hidden tunnels and trap doors used to hide and sell moonshine during prohibition. Other things that caught my eye during my exploration of the building were decades of photos of local sports teams – mostly basketball, which is big in Vinton County. I also found an old business license and photo of owners from the late 1940’s. All in all the place has the look and vibe of many of the neighborhood bars in Cleveland so the Grumpy Old Man felt right at home. I continued my discussions with our new friend behind the bar I decided that I needed to order a pizza (to go – even I was beyond full at this point) because she kept talking about how good the pizza was. We also covertly watched what the other people were eating (everything looked good) and heard an older couple struggling over what pie to order. In the process of their deciding we overheard that the pie purveyor Mama Renie’s uses is well-known throughout Vinton County. We did see a few slices of pie and they did indeed look exceptional.
Eventually, we reluctantly departed Mama Renie’s. The Grumpy Old Man was excited to head home but I told him we were not done yet, we needed to back track to check out the other place that looked good on our drive into McArthur. After quelling a minor mutiny we headed to Main Eatery to pick up a beverage only for the long ride back to Columbus. As we approached the building we noticed the 20 something frumps had followed us (henceforth known as the McArthur girls) and they did declare “we are not following you guys….really”. I know better, my guess is that they had spied the two boxes of Family Donut Shoppe donuts in my Subaru and were looking for an opportunity to steal them. So I gallantly insisted that they order first (so I could keep an eye on them and my donuts). After the McArthur girls ordered their shakes and planted themselves on the patio we started chatting up the woman at the ordering window. She went on at length about all Main Eatery has to offer including over 150 types of shakes, house make corned beef, fresh sauces, etc. Very impressive for a small building that just looks like a typical, generic soft serve ice cream stand. At this point the Grumpy Old Man was beyond distraught, thinking I was going to force another meal on him, he started to make a run for the house next door which had a Safe Place logo sign on the door. Since I was full and had a full pizza and box of donuts in my car, all I ordered as a small cole slaw for the road. We bid the McArthur girls adieu (until our next meeting, they did look like stalkers) and headed back to Columbus via SR 93 and 33.
I am happy to report both the pizza from Mama Renie’s and the cole slaw from Main Eatery were really good and made a fine dinner that evening. The Grumpy Old Man survived this adventure as well and still talks about the Family Donut Shop and the McArthur Girls each week.
100 W Main St, McArthur, OH 45651