Sub-par pub grub

Springfield’s Hickory Inn: nothing special


Photo: Full rack of ribs from Springfield’s Hickory Inn

By Paula Johnson

If I look at what a place is setting out to do, which is the premise for all my reviews, then how do I rate Springfield’s Hickory Inn? It’s a highly popular casual neighborhood mainstay in business since 1947 with various owners, the latest taking over in 1978. The menu is basic fried pub grub, plus pizza, plus Mexican, plus Italian pasta dishes, oh and plus more than a few entrees like steaks, ribs, chicken, and seafood. I’m always suspicious of places that cast that wide of a net, wondering how they could possibly do such a variety of cuisines well. My verdict on what we experienced at The Hickory Inn is explained in one word: Sysco.

What is Sysco? It’s America’s top food supplier serving nearly 400,000 American eating establishments, from fast-food joints like Wendy’s, to five-star eating establishments. They are the Walmart of food suppliers, the height of convenience and cost effectiveness. Labor costs plummet with Sysco since it’s basically slit the bag and drop it in the fryer. The company has a long history of championing frozen foods. Sysco founder John Baugh has been quoted as saying, “frozen foods taste better than anything I could grow in my garden.” In the words of Sysco itself, they offer meals that require nothing more than the ability to “heat, assemble, and serve.”

Freezer to Fryer

We all know restaurants need to make a profit, and nobody wants to see them succeed more than me—I’d be out of a job if they didn’t. And Sysco can allow places to serve food cheaply. Example: Each reheated Angus country fried steak will bring in almost $5.00 in profits. I’m not saying you can’t “Sysco” responsibly. A lot of restaurants do. They order ingredients to make other things—ingredients like flour, sugar, salt, (plus things like detergent, plastic wrap, and plastic gloves) at really great prices. Example: A 25-pound bag of Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice is $20.95, while a 1-pound box bought through Amazon Grocery costs $2.09. But, here’s the problem. It’s incredibly easy and profitable to serve Sysco’s ready-made items right out of the box. They are what’s wrong with most places that go that route. No restaurant diner should pay a chef to defrost and heat. Cooks are called cooks for a reason. And we didn’t see much cooking at The Hickory Inn.

I’ve spent a lot of time explaining Sysco because it goes to the reason why I can’t really recommend places like The Hickory Inn that don’t make anything in their kitchens. And while I don’t know for sure that everything we had that night came from Sysco (there are other supply houses such as GFS), I know it wasn’t made in-house. We asked our server specifically if anything we ordered was made fresh and she confirmed it was not. And that she couldn’t think of anything that was. It’s just not the kind of food I’m interested in eating or writing about, which is why I’ve spent the better part of my allotted word count not writing about the food I ate at The Hickory Inn.

The Pie’s the Limit

However, I’ll recap what we tried, and make a recommendation for what to order should you go. That would be the pizza. We tried a white and a red, with the white being the clear winner. I found the red sauce to be overly sweet. We added several toppings which added up in price, the large coming to $25.00 and the small to $20.50. You could certainly get by with less, but the toppings were the best part so I wouldn’t skimp. The crust is average—somewhere between the regionally popular, thin, cardboard-style and being overly bready, though extremely dry and lacking any body or chewiness. Acceptable, no more, no less.

Seventeen of the twenty appetizer options are fried. (Remember how easy it is to open a bag and drop it in?) We tried Fried Ravioli, Fried Corn Dog Bites, and Fried Grouper Fingers. We added a burger ($7.75), and decided to try two of the entrees, a Strip Steak ($27.95) and BBQ Ribs ($22.95). The steak was inedible—gristly and tough and barely cooked (we requested medium rare). The ribs were better, but the sauce was candy sweet and overwhelming.

So going back to my original question, what does The Hickory Inn set out to do? Serve mostly bar food and pizza at mostly okay prices, and if you aren’t looking for anything fresh or cooked in their kitchen, I guess you will be fine. For my interests, I will look elsewhere.

The Hickory Inn is located in Springfield at 652 N Limestone St. For more information please visit www.TheHickoryInn.com or call 937.323.1779.

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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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