Diner: Schoolhouse Rocks

Camp Dennison establishment teaches its eaters well with its classroom charm

Remember those stories your grandparents told about walking six miles in the snow to get to school? With hand-me-down shoes, worn-bare shoes or no shoes at all?

I picture myself in 50 years sitting in my rocker with a grandkid on my knee, telling the story of my elementary school's sole computer and its tiny, fuzzy, black-and-white screen.

It hasn't been all that long since I was in third grade, but I imagine things have changed. Do Trapper Keepers now come equipped with cell phone pouches? Are morning announcements communicated via e-mail?

We'll never know the exact ratio of accuracy to embellishment in these stories passed down through generations, and we don't need to. It's romantic to think about the passage of time along these lines.

It's just this sort of romance that the Schoolhouse Restaurant in Camp Dennison offers to its guests. They serve old-fashioned comfort food of the steak, burgers, fried fish and chicken liver variety.

But the main course is the building itself.

The restaurant resides in a Civil War-era schoolhouse that was something of an architectural wonder in its day as the first two-story school building in the Midwest. Abe Lincoln is said to have visited the school before reviewing troops in the nearby Camp Dennison, a recruitment and training camp for Union forces.

The school closed down in 1950, but 12 years later the late Don and Phyllis Miller brought new life to the building by opening the restaurant that's still in their family today.

On a recent lunch date at the Schoolhouse, a few of our neighboring diners have obviously been coming here for years, and my friend and I wondered if perhaps they actually attended classes here as children. A table of rowdy retirees got as giddy as schoolgirls watching the server (who could be your grade-school lunch lady) deliver their ice cream sundaes on a rolling metal cart.

The dining room, naturally located in a former schoolroom, is enough to make you forget that you're here to eat and instead bite your nails wondering if perhaps you forgot to do some bit of homework. An old flag perches in one corner. Antique collectibles line the shelves and pictures of Abe Lincoln and the original George W. (the one with the powder-white wig) hang proudly on the wall. On the stairwell up to the bathrooms, a cross-stitched Pledge of Allegiance seems so innocent when you think of all the controversy now surrounding its recital in schools.

Although I hear the Schoolhouse fills up for dinner, for me it feels most magical in the afternoon, when kids would have been sitting at their desks 100 years ago. The lunch menu is shorter than the dinner menu, but many dinner entrées are available in lunch-sized portions. The dessert menu is the longest reading assignment of all, with every flavor of pie, cobbler, cheesecake and ice cream you could imagine. Speaking of the menu, it's written in perfect cursive on the chalkboard.

Also on the chalkboard, a list of beer and wine options seems a little naughty — I like it. But, in what's probably a turn-off to the many family-oriented groups who frequent the Schoolhouse, they do allow smoking in the dining room. I think they should make guests sneak cigarettes in the bathroom, and paddle them if they get caught.

For lunch, my friend and I started with Corn Fritters ($3.95, small), washing them down with an iced tea ($1.25) and a root beer ($2.50). The fritters tasted like corn donuts — far too sweet for us, although I imagine kids would gobble them up.

Next we had a Meatloaf ($6.25) that could have come straight from grandma's oven, topped with thick, salty beef gravy. The only adjective suitable to describing our Fried Chicken ($5.25, small) is finger-lickin' good. Complimentary sides included green beans, a hunk of moist cornbread and fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy.

We finished our meal with Blackberry Cobbler ($3.25): hot, gooey and baked crispy golden. I'd have it again, but à la mode, and I'd save more room. It was pretty heavy for a midday meal, and it left us yawning like kids returning to afternoon classes.

To wake up before the drive back downtown, we hopped out to the yard for a game of tetherball, then over to visit the goats by the Schoolhouse General Store. A quarter in the feed machine will get you a handful of corn kernels and a slobbery goat tongue on your palm.

If you want a taste of history in your dining experience, get to the Schoolhouse pronto. You're sure to be charmed. ©

Schoolhouse Restaurant
Go: 8031 Glendale-Milford Road, Camp Dennison

Call: 513-871-5753

Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday-Friday; Dinner: 5-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday

Prices: Moderate

Payment: All credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Chicken, seafood and salads

Grade: B

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