Cover Story: Don't Need Nothin' but Eating

Cook away, Dixie

Una-Kariim Cross

Dixie Cherrington's Mount Adams restaurant still lives on in the stomachs of Cincinnatians. Now she wields secret powers with ranch dressing.

Ranch dressing gives her secret powers. The kids she feeds at Emanuel Center call her Miss Dixie, but during the 20-year-one-week run of her Mount Adams restaurant, diners and staff just called her Dixie. "Thank God," she says.

Except the dishwasher, Willie Durham, who once told Dixie Cherrington firmly, "My mama taught me to have respect for women, and I'll call you Miss Dixie."

"Yes, sir," she replied.

Durham had the best palate in the place. When her food was to his liking, he'd say, "Miss Dixie, it don't need nothin' but eating."

Not everyone treated her so well. She had run-ins with some government officials and food purveyors.

"Most of the time people called and asked to talk to Mr. Cherrington," she says.

"When I said there was no Mr. Cherrington, click."

Cherrington is her family name. Not only did she keep it when she got married, she put it on her restaurant.

An unassuming woman, her hair wrapped in a scarf, Cherrington finishes wiping down the counters after a morning preparing healthy breakfast, lunch and snacks for the daycare and after school kids and staff of Emanuel Center, where she came to work after closing Cherrington's.

"I was a better cook than a bookkeeper," she explains.

The Zanesville native fell for Mount Adams on first sight, at age 20, and has lived there ever since. All the while she worked other jobs, the thought of opening her own business on that hill tugged at her.

By the time she opened Cherrington's, she was 45, raising an 18-month-old daughter, and stubborn.

She insisted on tablecloths, fresh flowers, a changing daily menu written simply on a chalkboard, fresh squeezed orange juice for Sunday brunch and a Classical guitarist for weekends. The meatloaf was legendary, award-winning. Homemade soup stock, dinner rolls, pancake batter and desserts.

"Except for Mr. Graeter's ice cream, we did use that," she says.

She has no formal training to cook. Where she grew tall, women canned applesauce and jelly for the winter. It wasn't so much that her grandmother and mother taught her — they simply gave her leave to experiment.

At Cherrington's, all was simplicity and freshness.

"If something wasn't fresh, if we used frozen fish or something," she says, "we'd tell people, because that's what we thought was right."

She employed — and better yet, fed — many "always starving" Art Academy students. Her family lived above the restaurant.

"It was exactly what I had in mind," she says. "I was completely happy working there. At least when I'm 95 years old I won't say, 'Oh, I wish I'd opened this little restaurant.' Financially I wasn't too successful, but life is more than that. I'm a firm believer that you should spend part of your life doing something you totally enjoy."

Now she's content to work part time instead of 24/7. She clearly enjoys the kids, relishes finding ways to slip them the fresh vegetables she buys at Findlay Market.

Now it's the idea of writing a cookbook that tugs at her. ©

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