Date of Visit: Monday, January 21, 2013 at 10:30 a.m.
Nearly every comment, blog post, or review about Chef-O-Nette will tell you that it’s a diner that’s lost in time. And that’s absolutely true: when you put your foot in the door it’s like someone hit pause on a big universal remote. The entire experience feels a little like stepping out of time. Things inside Chef-O-Nette move at their own pace. The atmosphere is quiet and subdued, while the layout and decor don’t seem to have changed much since the restaurant opened in 1955.
Just looking around will reveal the charmingly dated layout and decor: floor partially carpeted and partially covered with formica, long green runner carpets, old school red leather upholstery, latticework walls, neon signs.
My favorite detail of the space are the two U-shaped counters. They stick out into the space at an angle and are surrounded by short-backed red swivel seats. The counter itself is low and wide; a long-legged person like me feels a little crammed sitting in those seats. I love that the open end of each counter leads back into the kitchen, so servers who appear in front of you to take your order or bring your food are standing in a little island.
Chef-O-Nette’s breakfast menu is fairly small. It mainly features the egg/meat/toast combinations, with pancakes and French toast, plus an omelet thrown in for good measure. The waffles aren’t listed on the menu, but there’s a paper sign near the door suggesting them.
I started with a cup of diner coffee. It’s just as you would expect: hot and bitter. I like, though, that they serve it in small cups. Smaller cups are easy to hold in your hand and they cool off faster. Part of me hopes to spend my retirement sitting in an old diner with a cup of coffee like this.
My 4.5-year-old ordered two eggs with sausage patties and toast. All very simple and straightforward. I don’t think the sausage is made in-house, but it was well seasoned. The toast is generously buttered, and the eggs are cooked evenly. At restaurants you frequently see scrambled eggs cooked flat and then folded over itself. So while they’re scrambled, it’s not the typical pile of eggs. This lets them cook the eggs faster, because they’re spread out across the flattop.
I also did the two eggs combination, but of course added bacon and hash browns to it. All good, but nothing blow-your-mind remarkable. Buttered toast, some crisp to the potatoes and the bacon, good eggs. Nothing fancy, but you don’t go to Chef-O-Nette for fancy. You go for simple and filling.
Speaking of filling, I also felt the need to order one of their waffles. Again, simple, and again, likeable.
Even though it isn’t strictly breakfast, I have to show off Mrs. Bfast w/Nick’s chicken-fried steak, too. I just love how beige this meal is. This is basic comfort food: crispy chicken with white gravy and a scoop of mashed potatoes, plus sides of canned green beans and rolls with butter.
I’ve said many times before that every neighborhood and every small town needs its diner. Well, Upper Arlington, this is yours. Chef-O-Nette has been serving breakfast on the slow-and-steady for nearly six decades now, and there’s no reason to change a thing about it. Families have gathered there over multiple generations, and here’s hoping they’ll continue for many more.
Fun historical note: Chef-O-Nette claims to have the oldest drive-through in America. Owner Harlan Howard has said that he can’t find record of any restaurant serving out a drive-through window (note, not a drive-in) earlier than Chef-O-Nette. Harlan has owned the restaurant for a long time, having inherited it from his father, who bought it in the 60’s. Harlan also says that no one knows the origin of the name Chef-O-Nette; that secret passed away with the first owner.