All things come to an end, and we knew at some point Duante Beddingfield would leave us.
Many of you know him from his work covering arts and events over the years here at Most Metro or the local newspapers. Some of you may know him from his jazz performances, singing at venues like Gilly’s, Blue Note, and the Levitt Pavilion. Maybe you’ve listened to his Monday night jazz show, Equinox, on WYSO over the last three years, or attended Stivers School for the Arts with him, or salsa danced with him, saw him hamming it up onstage in a play or at a karaoke bar, or maybe he supported you as an artist or small business owner. Maybe he pissed you off at some point. Even if you’ve never met him, you probably knew Duante.
We’re proud to be the first to announce he’s been hired to be the new arts and culture reporter for the Detroit Free Press. And proud to say we had him first! He’ll be leaving Ohio soon, but he asked if he could write one last thing on the way out. If you know Duante, you know he’s not only a major foodie but was also a professional restaurant writer in town for years, and so we’re presenting his list of the top ten restaurants he’ll miss most when he moves to the Motor City.
Duante was never known for keeping things short, so we’re posting it in two parts… Here’s part one – see part two here!
Chicken Head’s (aka The Chicken Spot) (3261 W. Siebenthaler Avenue, Dayton)
Decades from now, when we regale our great-grandchildren with stories of The Chicken Sandwich Wars of the Early 2000s – of the Colonel’s ridiculed surrender to General Lee’s, which led to the Donut Treaty; the fall of the Burger King during the Battle of the Black Bun; of the bloody Chick-Fil-A Crusades, which divided a nation and pitted brother against brother – one name shall ring out as the baddest mothercluckin’ in the buck-buck-buckin’, and that name is Chicken Head’s.
Opened just over a year ago as The Chicken Spot (only the name has changed, nothing else) in a tiny storefront on the northwest side in a time when businesses were closing left and right in that part of town, it was seen by many as a high-risk, sentimental move by chef-owner Anthony Head when a downtown or suburban opening would have all but guaranteed major success. And yet, success came quickly anyhow.
The superiority of the product (which I’ll get to in a moment) was undeniable; that was never in question. What mattered is that it was standing up and providing for an underserved population. West Dayton has received national news coverage for years as one of the country’s largest per-capita food deserts. But not only are fresh groceries too often out of reach for west side citizens; dining options in the long-blighted area are extremely slim. Save for a few low-level fast food shops that have been in place forever, no new food-related businesses open doors in that part of town. I know because I grew up there in the prosperous eighties and nineties, and watched it rot and die around me before I finally pulled up stakes and moved to a more convenient neighborhood across town because I was tired of driving 45 to 60 minutes one way for not only my bougie artisan cheese, but for bread and jeans and movie theaters and someplace I could take a girl on a date.
When The Chicken Spot opened, delivering a good product, made well, reasonably priced, right there in the hood City of Dayton leadership has firmly ignored and disserviced for years, two things happened among the people who live around there. It sent a message to them saying, “We’re here for you. This isn’t a chain – it’s one store. If other people want us, they’ll have to come to us. We’re here for you.” The other thing is the community recognized that and agreed, “We see you, and we love that you’re here for us. We’re gonna show up for you.” And they did.
And so did everyone else. Chef Head is no fool. With a deep background in corporate business leadership, a long history in culinary education in the region at both the secondary and collegiate levels, and name recognition in the dining scene as a groundbreaker and rainmaker, he knew what he had, and he knew what he wanted. The shop is nothing to speak of. No tables, no dine-in. Carryout only. It’s a small commercial kitchen with a tiny lobby to wait for your food, which will be handed to you in the kind of greasy, nondescript paper bag that can only mean great times lie ahead. Very low overhead, maximum profit. Not even a website, just a Facebook page. Why pay for marketing when you have a product so good the word of mouth works for you? Head’s name and connections would do most of the marketing. I mean, look…here it is, happening in real time while you read this, and he doesn’t even know I’m writing this.
And the word took mere days to spread. Soon, people of every background and income level were driving in from the far suburbs (places I refer to as “The Deep South,” like Miamisburg, Washington Township, and Springboro) and Way Up North (y’all know who y’all are) to get this damn sammich. Everybody was talking about it. The menu was based around it, a very limited menu that focused on doing a few things and doing them best.
So let’s talk about The Medusa.
Thick, marinated, breaded, fried chicken breast, on a sandwich bun, topped with home collard greens and mac and cheese, plus pickled onions. An entire soul food dinner on one sloppy, impossible sandwich. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s life-changing. Throw a slice of the pound cake in there for dessert, you got all you need.
Chicken Head’s praises have been sung by every regional publication. They eventually, reluctantly, joined Doordash, and later expanded their delivery area to seven miles, so you can enjoy the Medusa or a bag of jumbo wings in your home as far away as WPAFB base housing, West Carrollton, New Lebanon, and Brookville. Go to them, bring them to you…it doesn’t matter. The Medusa is the single most talked about menu item of the last year in Dayton. If you haven’t had it yet, get on board. (Facebook)
Pasha Grill (72 Plum Street, Beavercreek)
When I think of Pasha Grill, no matter what I’m doing or how I’m feeling, a smile immediately comes to my face. Mediterranean food, with a heavy emphasis on Turkish, is the focal point of their menu, and it yields some of the most complex, gorgeous flavor profiles you can find within a day’s drive.
Let me start by saying I have tremendous respect for this place because when it opened in 2008, it was the only locally owned restaurant at The Greene Town Center, Greene County’s sprawling, hotly contested outdoor mall development that opened in 2006 with a flight of chain restaurants, bars, and shops, delivering major blows to downtown Dayton, the Dayton Mall, and The Mall at Fairfield Commons all at once. We saw other locally owned restaurants come and go over the years, unable to keep up with The Greene’s high rent, and a couple of times over the years it’s looked like Pasha was all but done, but they’ve thrived over and over, and they’re still with us. Pasha Grill is a survivor, and that makes me rabidly want to see them supported indefinitely.
The great thing about Mediterranean food is it’s equally rewarding for vegetarians and omnivores. There are great, delicious options to be had on all sides, and there’s plenty available for the vegan and gluten free. The same, honestly, is true of pretty much any non-American or UK-related cooking, ha. Let me tell you about the Shepherd Salad. Plum tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, bell peppers, and parsley tossed in red vinegar and olive oil. It’s dynamite. There’s a small and a large – but even the small is large, just FYI. There’s the vegetarian mousakka, basically a veggie lasagna with layers of eggplant, potato, carrot, zucchini, and mushroom with bechamel sauce, topped with mozzarella and tomato sauce.
And for the true meat lovers, there’s the grill section of the menu. There are nine different types of kebab, all ranging from roughly $15 to $22, and depending on which one, they come with veggies and sauces and such. But if you order the Mixed Grill Kebab for $31.95, you get half portions of FOUR types of kebab (made from chicken, beef, and lamb, each with different seasonings and flavors), plus a bunch of pillowy fresh bread, rice pilaf, and grilled vegetables. It’s an absolute steal, enough to feed two or three (or four, if you’re light eaters or just kind of picking at it as tapas with wine), and is probably the best value in Dayton for the amount and variety of food you get. It’s worth it to pay a couple extra bucks and tack on an extra side of rice pilaf and an extra side of grilled vegetables. They literally bring you an entire, huge tray of just different meats. God, it’s glorious.
They’re also on Doordash. And, let me tell you…on a chilly evening, a delivery from this place can really light up your night. They deserve our support. (website)
9. Chiapas Mexican Grill (298 N. Main Street, Centerville)
When it comes to tacos around here, you simply cannot beat the ultra-authentic, soul-warming offerings made in-house by the folks at Chiapas. For five years running, downtown Centerville has been blessed with the flavor and value this place brings, and a new second location in Moraine will celebrate its one-year anniversary next month. They feature my favorite chorizo queso (they run a little small here; I always order two), and their chicken and al pastor tacos never fail to satisfy (though they also have steak, chorizo, carnitas, fish, shrimp, and tongue, if that’s how you get down). The tortas (super flavorful Latin sandwiches) and soups (don’t miss the pozole!) are wonderfully down-home in their approach, and as with any Mexican restaurant, there are a number of familiar dishes and combos…but make no mistake, this is not just any Mexican joint. If you’ve not been, do yourself the favor. Oh, and their chips are great! (website | Facebook)
8. El Meson (903 E. Dixie Drive, West Carrollton)
When it comes to other forms of Latin cuisine, look to this popular regional destination that’s still got new things to say in 2020. “El meson,” in Spanish, can mean a country tavern, but it can also refer to an inn, or a large table. Any or all of those feel appropriate here, where the Castro family invite you in as gracious hosts to enjoy a meal with them.
The staples remain over time, things like the overstuffed empanadas, addictive chicken tinga nachos, Cuban sandwiches, and famed tortilla soup. But the thing I’ve always had tremendous respect for is that El Meson never rests on its laurels, with the Castros complacent to keep a winning formula the same with the old “If it ain’t broke…” attitude. They’re always changing things up, always finding new ways for people to experience and interact with food and culture. Entrees rotate on and off the menu regularly. In non-Covid times, elaborate trips are organized annually to take groups of customers to Latin countries where they dine like citizens and delve into the lifestyles that gave birth to the dishes we love. Fun and informative, themed tastings and catered dinners are held almost weekly. They’re still among the only brick-and-mortar restaurants to take advantage of the food truck explosion, with vehicles traveling the area frequently. And this month, they’ll introduce Viva La Vida, A Recipe for Life, a video subscription streaming service where Bill Castro and chef Mark Abbott will provide monthly content about food, wine, cocktails, cooking techniques, and traditions from around the world.
The paella, a time-honored Spanish dish, is the jaw-dropping, signature house specialty (and the tart and tangy, vegan-friendly aji dip, which can also be purchased by the container, is always a big hit). A favorite for me is the carne asada fries, a rich, messy, smoky pile of punch-in-the-mouth flavor priced for one, but big enough for two and leftovers. Have it with a big, bold Spanish or Argentinian red wine.
It’s cool that El Meson always delivers the things you love, exactly as you remember them. But what’s even cooler is that the Castros use that consistency and comfort as a platform to continue pushing themselves and the restaurant forward, and to bring us along with them, so that while you’re never let down, they never give you the same experience twice. Mad respect. (website | Facebook)
7. Zombie Dogz (Food truck)
Damn, damn, damn. One of the first, and certainly one of the most seismic, casualties of the Covid-19 among the local restaurant scene was Zombie Dogz, which operated in brick and mortar form on Brown Street after rocking the region since 2012 as a food truck that cultivated a monster following for its premium hot dogs with wildly inventive toppings and horror-themed names. (The Dogz boast over 40,000 Facebook followers, equivalent to around 30% of the City of Dayton’s population; the Dayton city government itself has fewer than 35,000 followers on Facebook).
Though the restaurant has closed its doors, the beloved truck still preys by day and stalks the night, appearing at all corners of the metro area to serve long lines of customers, some of whom drive in from other counties or cities to carry back stacks of dogs for friends and relatives. I’ve waited for hours in freezing temperatures and pounding rain to scratch that itch that only the Dogz can, and I know many of you will continue to.
I’ve got a soft spot for my early favorite, the Dead Dixie, with diced green apples, barbecue sauce, bacon, and bleu cheese hitting an insane four-points combination of sweet, sour, salty, and umami. And I love the Waking Dead, a breakfast dog with bacon crumbles, sausage gravy, a fried egg, and maple syrup drizzle, taking the trophy for messiest meal in the Valley. But the big winner is the seasonal Germanator, a stunner topped with garlic-crusted beef, homemade beer cheese, and fried onions. And keep an eye out for the holiday season, when the Poultrygeist becomes available for a limited time. A giant hot dog heaped with white meat turkey, Stove Top stuffing, homemade gravy, and drizzled with original cranberry sauce? That’ll make your heart and your stomach grow three sizes, trust!
6. Old Scratch Pizza & Beer (812 S. Patterson Road, Dayton)
A giant from the moment it opened, this place slings high-quality, creative pies that keep people coming back again and again. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve picked up from them for family nights during the pandemic. Old Scratch’s team of master pizzaioli take great pride in their work and can be seen from anywhere in the main dining hall as they work their craft in tandem, like a fine tuned machine. Beer on tap, wine by the carafe, and a full bar with bartenders who are always fun and highly skilled make this as great a place to stop in for a happy hour with friends as it is for dinner with your household. Winning appetizers are the meatball tray and the whole roasted cauliflower. You can’t go wrong with any of the pizzas, but – and this is surprising coming from a red-sauce junkie like me – the white pizzas are where their innovation really shines, with options like the prosciutto arugula, which basically comes with a huge arugula salad on top of an already sumptuous pizza, and the Brussel Crow, with brussel sprouts, wilted shallot, taleggio cheese, bacon, and an apple cider reduction. The salads are massive meals unto themselves (not joking – they’re very, very big), and a soft-serve machine by the door sends kids home smiling. A Centerville location recently opened in addition to the original. (website | Facebook)
Check back tomorrow for Duante’s top five restaurants he’ll miss most.