Dee-lightful

The Mel-O-Dee Drive In: New Carlisle’s famous family dining

By Paula Johnson
Photo: The broasted combination platter at Mel-O-Dee drive in

There are places that have a place in our hearts simply because they’re institutions. Going there forever since you were a little kid kind of places, where the associations with home, family and comfort make you go back again and again, sometimes regardless of the quality of the food. Sort of like my grandmother’s stuffed peppers. Hers were truly awful—dry and nearly inedible, but I still long for that taste. No one else in their right mind would want to eat them. With that in mind, my litmus test for these kinds of restaurants is always this: if this place opened new today, would it be worth going to? There’s enough going on at New Carlisle’s Mel-O-Dee diner to say, probably yes. The same family, now in the fourth generation, has been running the restaurant since 1965. The Mel-O-Dee’s claim to fame is some homemade offerings and their chicken.

Benched

Hearing tales of this chicken, PIP (Palate In Progress) and I set off on a Friday evening. PIP had been to the Mel-O-Dee once in years past and remembered it being good, so we were anticipating some home style comfort cooking. The parking lot suggested everyone else in the surrounding area had the same idea. Apparently a wait is common at the Mel-O-Dee, as they’ve got long benches lining the entryway and hall to accommodate diners. We settled in front of the cash register and watched as patrons brought their checks to ring up, noting the cashier seemed to know a good number (many of them seniors) by name. Between take out orders and cashing out, she was busy. Our wait wasn’t long, maybe 15 minutes until we were seated with menus.

Diner dinner

The Mel-O-Dee’s menu is truly a diner menu—nothing beyond straightforward familiar preparations of straightforward familiar food. Sides include cottage cheese topped with pineapple and Jell-O salad! I can’t remember when I’ve seen that on a menu, even in a diner style place. Stuffed peppers, beef stroganoff over noodles, and turkey dinner with dressing were featured as specials for the evening. Though wanting to sample the chicken, I was unable to resist the lure of the turkey dinner ($10.95) once I saw it set before a neighboring diner. It didn’t look like the turkey dinner you’d have at home, it looked distinctly like one you’d get at a cafeteria or diner, mounded high with large slabs of white meat and a thick light brown gravy, nestled next to it a molded sphere of mashed potatoes. I was in. Especially since that evening was one of the first slightly cool rainy nights that signaled the shift to fall, and to heartier, more substantial food.

Unsurprisingly, the taste was what I anticipated—a little bland, a little salty, the stuffing a little sticky, the potatoes of the institutional variety. Though the Mel-O-Dee prides itself on a lot of homemade menu offerings, this probably wasn’t one of them. However, the salad I ordered had their homemade Italian vinaigrette, and it did taste pleasantly sweet and homemade. Also homemade was the bread served with every dinner. “We make about 100 loaves on a busy day like today,” our server told us. The bread is homestyle—thick slices, soft with a thin crust, the kind you’d use to make a PB&J sandwich. “We sell a lot of bread to go,” our server informed us, and added that the chicken, coleslaw and bread are their most popular take out items.

Broast-tastic

PIP was set on trying the Broasted Combination Platter ($13.99) featuring cod, a pork chop, and a chicken breast. We added on 2 chicken legs for me ($2.90) so I could satisfy my love of broasted chicken. Broasting is a method that combines deep frying and pressure cooking. Popular in family style restaurants and diners, it offers the advantage of crisp, not greasy lightly coated skin with really juicy interior meat. The pork chop was particularly good done this way (and you can also get it for breakfast along with eggs), as was the fish—again a great way to have fried taste and not a lot of grease.

PIP started with French onion soup, and chose the macaroni and cheese and the Mel-O-Dee’s famous coleslaw for his sides. The coleslaw was the standard variety, but well done, crisp, crunchy and fresh tasting. The macaroni and cheese was homey goodness in a bowl, a definite to order with your chicken.

Since our goal was to try everything the menu stated was homemade, we asked about the pies, and were told the cream pies were made in house, and that the fruit pies were baked in house. PIP tried the Chocolate Peanut Butter pie ($3.19). I tried the peach cobbler ($3.99) on special that night with some ice cream ($1.29). I was hoping for fresh peaches rather than peach pie filling, but the portion was more than generous and good warmed up with the ice cream. PIP found the piecrust flaky and pleasant, but the filling also really sweet.

“Our food will put a Mel-O-Dee in your heart,” is written on the menu. I left humming a pleasant, if dated, tune, feeling full and cozy from my time at the Mel-O-Dee drive in. Next time I’m in New Carlisle I plan to stop in for a pork chop and eggs breakfast.

Mel-O-Dee Restaurant is located at 2350 S. Dayton-Lakeview Rd. in New Carlisle. For more information, please call 937.849.1378 or visit melodeerestaurant.com.

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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