Morrow County Reflections: Good dining a Cardington tradition

I’ve always thought Morrow County, though considered a rural county, has offered excellent dining establishments. From confectionaries, and lunch rooms to restaurants, the county has had notable places to sit down and eat, whether it be, breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Focusing on my hometown, Cardington, according to the village history the first stand-alone restaurant was opened on South Marion Street by W. A. Kientz and E. A. Brown had a candy kitchen and restaurant on West Main Street in the late 1880s.

The Hotel DeGregory, built in 1854, had its own dining room. Overshadowing these dining rooms, though, were the 13 saloons doing business. History does not say when that number diminished.

However, the restaurants flourished through the years and Cardington always had a place to sit down and dine. I am still fascinated by the name of a restaurant listed in a 1921 phone book (Somethindelicious).

During my growing up years I recall the Green Gables south of Cardington owned and operated by Eleanor Smith and her mother. I remember Smiley’s Market on South Marion Street becoming a restaurant with different owners and names during the ensuing years. They offered good food, friendly atmosphere and a separate meeting room where many village groups met for meetings and dinners.

However, the restaurant that became the village’s place to dine from 1945 was Al’s Restaurant. It opened in a little frame building under the ownership of Paul Blair (better known as “Snake Hogan”) and Paul Fleming at 104 W. Main St. (once the site of Myers Meat Market). They called it Hogan’s Grill. However, times were tough with war rationing and they served only cheese and egg sandwiches.

Al Denton, discharged from the U S Army, could not find an auto agency to own so he bought the restaurant and named it Al’s Grill. He offered home cooked food and diners kept the place packed eating homemade pies, pan friend chicken, etc. He was assisted by his three daughters and a staff of 12. In 1963, the frame building was replaced by a brick structure just in time for the 1964 oil boom.

Although it was damaged during the tornado and an earlier fire, Al recovered each time, continuing to serve chicken and roast beef dinners, veal sandwiches and those mouth watering cream pies the public loved. Diners included Governor James Rhodes who visited during the tornado recovery. Also visiting was the Grumpy Gourmet, who gave it a four-star rating during a well publicized visit. Writers from Columbus and area newspapers visited the diner often.

Regular diners from the village included John Kientz, Cardington’s Winston Churchill look-alike, who drank his cup of coffee each morning with a dab of ice cream dropped in it.

When health problems forced Al to retire in 1985, he turned the business over to his daughters and their families. In 2001 they moved the business to 116 East Main Street where they could serve 90 people and also had a separate party room.

Al shared with this writer one of his secrets to success: “We give people good service — our waitresses take care of the people and we work to keep things clean.”

A notable part of the village’s history ended when Al’s Restaurant closed in 2011. Al passed away in 2005. Our memories, though, of dining at Al’s Restaurant will remain a warm part of our lives in Cardington.

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By Evelyn Long

The Sentinel

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