Mom and Pop’s Soda Shop & Eatery, located on 23 E. Utica St., takes patrons back in time to a 1950s soda shop, with plentiful food and a charming atmosphere.
Situated on the East Side of town, it is often overlooked by college students and locals alike. The non-descript exterior does not do the inside justice. Painted in whimsical shades of light blue and pink, the walls of the diner are lined with Coca-Cola memorabilia and exude Americana. The black and white checkered floor tiles and the antique red phone booth situated in the corner complete the classic soda shop image.
As you walk in, community bulletins and announcements are displayed, along with pictures of very full patrons, holding the empty plate from “The Belly Buster” challenge that the restaurant offers. For only $10.99, daring customers can attempt to tackle a platter piled high with three eggs, three pancakes, two sausage patties, a generous portion of home fries and toast. If challengers finish the feast in 30 minutes or less it is free.
While perusing the expansive menu, the restaurant owner came to our table, offering us a taste of freshly prepared pumpkin pancakes. The generous helping did not need any additional syrup or sweetener, for as the cook advised, it is quite sweet enough. Light and fluffy, with the occasional crispy caramelized bit, the pancake is packed with intense pumpkin and cinnamon flavor, just like a delicious slice of pumpkin pie.
After the delicious amuse bouche, the main course arrived. The cook offered a Cincinnati chili special, served with cheese and raw onion. As is accustomed with the mid-western favorite, the shredded cheddar cheese is piled high on top, gently melting by the heat of the chili. In order to fully appreciate the dish, all the different components must be enjoyed in one bite. Unlike typical Texas-style chili, Cincinnati chili features no chili peppers, instead using clove, cinnamon and allspice to flavor the dish.
Even though the dish lacked spiciness, the components blended together to form a uniform taste. The unique spice is unfamiliar, but worked extremely well to flavor the dish. With each bite, the onion provided a firm texture not found in the chili itself, which had a finer texture, coating the al dente spaghetti underneath like a hearty Italian meat sauce.
The Naked Cow, a simple one-third pound hamburger, comes with a heaping pile of homemade French fries and the option for a mountain of toppings. The skins are left on the crunchy fries. The juicy burger and a glass of Diet Coke makes a complete meal for less than $7. The flavorful food and the reasonable price make an excellent combination.
After the substantial meal, the cook re-appeared. The man was part chef, part food artist and part entrepenuer. Dressed in a white apron, stained with the many meals prepared that day, he came bearing free samples of soups he freshly prepared that day. The first was a corned beef and cabbage soup, an homage to St. Patrick’s Day, which the diner celebrates on the 17th of each month, serving a corned beef and cabbage special. Tender pieces of beef, potato, carrots and cabbage are delicately suspended in an intensely flavored, yet not overpowering broth. Even those who don’t like corned beef will find themselves rethinking the dish.
Just after we finished the first sample, the cook brought over another tasting. Having not received a delivery of clams that morning, the owner quickly improvised, creating corn chowder in the place of the traditional clam chowder. Both the pieces of skin-on potato and kernels of corn were perfectly tender and not mushy.
Following the plethora of samples, we turned our attention to the vast selection of homemade sodas available. Handcrafted with many different kinds of syrup including blueberry, cherry, grape, lime and shoe gin, they provided a unique taste into a world seemingly forgotten. The freshly prepared egg cream, consisting of chocolate syrup, milk and topped with a spritz of soda water, leaves a gentle fizz on the tongue, which become stronger as you keep drinking. Served in a small Coca-Cola glass, the blueberry soda shines bright blue, with a crisp bite and not-too-sweet finish.
While the food and drink is delicious, it is the owner and charm of the restaurant that set it apart. In order to dine at the shop, a diner must follow a set of rules including no cell phone usage while eating and that all hats must be removed. It is also a requirement that customers try everything put on their plates and though they are welcome to spit it out if they don’t like it, few do. The cook finds something each customer likes as a challenge and won’t quit until he does.
The owner also established a list of near-blasphemous questions that must never be asked, including whether or not the mashed potatoes or soups are instant, or if the sandwich meats are cold cuts. Nearly everything from the spuds to the soup is made from scratch daily.
The passion for the food is apparent in every dish served and every customer greeted. The meal is very good, but it is the overall experience that makes it extraordinary. It is unfortunate, however, that despite the great atmosphere, tasty food and two years in business, Mom and Pop’s is still a best kept secret among students