The last place you'd expect to learn of the barbecue bargain of Elyria, Ohio, is at a Washington psychiatrist's dinner party. But I filed the name in my head until it was my son's first birthday away from home at Oberlin College, a mere few miles from Elyria.
It took a call to the chamber of commerce, where some Midwestern elitist tried to convince me that I should send my son to a more posh Elyria hot spot, but I persisted. Then I called Mitchell's restaurant to arrange a surprise party, for about $6 a person, payable in advance.
When my son arrived for dinner there were balloons and streamers and ribs and potato salad and corn bread and so much more that afterward he roamed the restaurant trying to give away the chocolate cake this bunch of voracious college freshmen couldn't finish.
And when I finally got to Mitchell's myself this spring, I understood why. It's a time warp and thus a price warp. Cheese sandwich, 40 cents. BLT, a dollar. Ice cream, a quarter. Nothing much more than a couple of bucks. The kids sprawled in the wooden booths may be talking Woody Allen, but they are drinking iced tea or milk -- no booze here -- and picking the bones from their mound of oozing, crusty, absolutely great fried chicken for about the price I paid for it when I was a college kid in Boston and the talk was Bergman.
Sure, you can't expect a T-bone for under $6 to be more than a half-inch thick, but with it you get an earful of the lingering summertime talk on the front steps through the screen door, and you get plenty of maternal hovering over whether y'all are enjoying your collards and your ribs. And, of course, you are, right down to licking the last sweet-tangy-sticky bits from your fingers because it's a shame to waste them on the napkins.
You figure the chicken is best, but you wouldn't pass up a barbecue sandwich or a plate of ribs in its favor -- you'd just order it all. Plus mashed potatoes with gravy, because how often do you find them made from real potatoes anymore? And you'd certainly manage a dish of the warm homemade peach or apple cobbler. With ice cream.
Mitchell's is a good down-home kitchen, and a good neighborhood gathering place. And a good place for those college kids to have around when they need a dose of good home cooking and homey friendliness.
Kind of renews your faith in the advice of psychiatrists.