Eat at Sam and Ethel’s

It’s the same menu, not the same food

By Paula Johnson

Photo: The dinner-plate sized blueberry pancake at Sam and Ethel’s

That’s a quote from PIP (Palate In Progress) as we critiqued our breakfast at Tipp City’s Sam and Ethel’s Restaurant. We arrived on a mild Sunday morning a little after 10 to find a collection of families congregating under the retro neon sign bearing the names of the restaurant’s founders. They were waiting for a table on the front steps of the old house that now serves as the restaurant. It’s listed on the register of historic buildings, along with a host of others on Tipp’s charming Main Street. Inside at the counter, I asked, “Is this wait typical?” “Yes. It’s a Sunday thing,” I was told. “But it’s worth the wait I promise!” the woman behind the counter assured me. And it was.

Wait for it

We took our place outside at one of the stone benches in a little mini courtyard next to the steps. Relaxing music of the contemporary singer-songwriter variety wafted down from speakers periodically placed on poles along the street. It looked like we would have a bit of a wait, so, after a time, we meandered Main Street to see what was there. We came across an independent bookshop, a few antiques places, a tearoom and a coffee house on our stroll. After wandering back to reclaim the bench for a few more minutes, the call for our table finally rang out. If you’ve gotta wait, this was a pleasant place to do it.

Inside the door, we were whisked to the first booth in a row lining the narrow dining room under the canopy of a lovely pressed tin ceiling. On the other side, a counter spans the length of the space. Our booth offered an excellent vantage point to the kitchen’s pass-through window, where we witnessed several cooks efficiently piling up steaming plates of breakfast offerings. There are two more rooms adjacent, one with a mantle which probably would have been the house’s dining room, and another behind it. Sit in the front room if possible and enjoy the old-timey atmosphere—and the view of the pies displayed in covered glass pedestals on the counter.

Breakfast basics

Sam and Ethel’s breakfast menu is neither exotic nor extensive. Eggs, bacon, sausage or ham. Corned beef hash, a few omelets and pancakes. You’ll not find even a whiff of eggs Benedict here, let alone blintzes with fresh berries and Greek yogurt. Their regular lunch and dinner menu centers on basic comfort food, as does the breakfast lineup. So we settled in on the basics: eggs over medium, bacon and hash browns for me and eggs over light, sausage, sausage gravy with a biscuit and a side of corned beef hash for PIP.

Keep waiting for it

Unfortunately, the wait for these basics took a long time—a really long time—made longer due to the previous (albeit pleasant) wait for a table. PIP and I wondered what all the fuss could really be about. But the lady at the counter said, “It will be worth your wait!” And she was emphatic. Practically winked at us. What did all these people know that we didn’t? Would this be the case of another local legend not living up to its reputation? Would Emperor Sam and Empress Ethel have no clothes?

Dressed to kill

Turns out Sam and Ethel were fully dressed—to kill in fact. When our breakfast arrived it was perfect. Perfect in the best way a breakfast could be. Everything done exactly as ordered, with quality ingredients. Thick, smoky rashers of bacon, golden crusty hash browns, with a similar pleasing crunchy exterior to the corned beef hash. In so many breakfast places, these same ingredients would swim in grease and slide off the plate. The bacon would be skimpy, overly smoked and unpleasantly salty. The eggs, rubbery.

Then there was the sausage gravy. Often sausage gravy is floury and chalky, lugubrious and unpleasantly thick without a lot of taste. This gravy had a bright note to balance the creamy—and a liberal amount of black pepper. PIP is a stickler for sausage gravy, never finding quite the right one. “This might just be it,” he declared.

Pillowy pancake perfection

Like PIP’s quest for the gravy grail, my search for the perfect pancake has been ongoing. Mostly, they are overly browned on the exterior, greasy tasting and usually topped with gag-inducing blobs of a non-butter substance. “Crimes against pancake nature!” I’ve often groused to the long-suffering PIP. I had ordered up one blueberry pancake (buckwheat and pecan are also offered) in lieu of toast with my breakfast, expecting the usual pancake debacle.

When this fluffy, cakey, perfectly cooked, non-greasy, dinner plate-sized wonder arrived, both our jaws dropped in momentary silence. PIP held his breath, imagining a world where I would no longer spout off about the inadequacies of the pancakes I was eating. Imagine no longer PIP. I’ve found my joy—with ONE caveat: the absence of real maple syrup to top it off. A pancake this stellar deserves nothing less, and I’d love to see them offer it.

Mush memories

PIP had his moment of nirvana with Sam and Ethel’s mush. “It’s just like my Grammie’s!” he sighed, transported back to childhood, as he forked up another chunk from the crispy slabs. Again, another dish which was distinctly not greasy, this mush was crunchy golden outside and creamy inside.

Our server, Cara, checked back with us to see how we were enjoying our breakfast. I asked her if there was a Sam and Ethel. “Oh, a long time ago,” she said. “Then their son took it over and ran the place for years. After that, the current owner bought it.” “So you really know this place’s history?” I asked. “Yes—I’m a distant cousin of Sam, the original owner,” she reported.

Sam and Ethel, I am certain, would be proud of how things are faring at their establishment these days. Absent the wait, this was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in Dayton. Anywhere you go for breakfast on a Sunday morning, you’ll probably have a wait. As PIP said, “Don’t wait at Bob Evans. Wait at Sam and Ethel’s.”

Sam and Ethel’s Restaurant is located at 120 E. Main St. in Tipp City. For more information, please call 937.667.0113 or visit samandethels.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.

Tags: , ,

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.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Got an Opinion?

YourOpinionMatters

We are interested to hear what you think.  Please send us a message. [contact-form 4 “Opinion”]  

Springfield’s hidden gem

CoverHartman2

Referred to as an American Folk Art site, I didn’t know what I expected on my journey to Springfield’s Hartman […]

Debate 7/17: Flag on the Play

DebateBok

Q: Should persons with certain known behavioral tendencies such as suicide or violence be prohibited from owning guns? Legislatures across […]

Conspiracy Theorist 7/17: Hooray for Domino’s

Year after year, the same roads are torn up and road crews patch them. But they never really repair them. […]

On Your Marc 7/17: Good any day

First, a funny story. Larry Lee, the big tackle from Roth High School, for a number of reasons decided he […]

The Cult, Stone Temple Pilots, and Bush at Rose

CULT 2016 Tim Cadiente-2

“Rock and roll never forgets,” the classic rock song goes, and Billy Duffy, guitarist and founding member of the British […]