Letters to the Editor: What is Dayton’s signature food?

On Sept. 20, contributor Dennis Bova asked a question that stirred fierce debate among our audiences: Does Dayton have a signature food? He invited readers to submit their responses to that question, some of which we’ve published below.

Have anything else you’d like to add to the conversation? Email your response to edletter@coxinc.com.

Dear Dennis Bova,

You asked, “What is Dayton’s signature food?” As someone who has lived here my entire life, I’ll try to provide you with a satisfying answer. When I think of the foods connected to the Greater Dayton area, I think of the crispy, thin-crust, square-cut pizzas made famous in this area by Cassano’s Pizza King (since 1953) and Marion’s Piazza (since 1965). This style was copied by Ron’s Pizza (since 1964), Giovanni’s (since 1968), and Joe’s Pizza (since 1975), as well as others who began their businesses after that.

Still want to consider an alternate signature food that is native to Dayton? How about Esther Price Chocolate Covered Potato Chips? We locals are very proud to call these 2 companies as being Dayton-made:  Mikesell’s Potato Chips (since 1910) and Esther Price Chocolate Candies (since mid-1920′s). These two extremely successful, independent start-up companies eventually teamed up to create chocolate covered potato chips using only the premium ingredients in their original recipes. This is a unique taste sensation, as it is sweet, salty and crunchy --- and very addicting!  These chocolate covered potato chips may not be the entree you’re looking for but they are so delicious one could easily devour an entire box as a meal.

Bon Appetit!

- Renee A. Smith

Memo for: Dennis Bova

First, welcome to Dayton.

That was a fun editorial and one with which many people will identify.

Being originally from Cincinnati myself, I’m well versed and a great fan of Cincinnati chili. I met my wife while stationed at Offutt AFB near Omaha, where Runzas were a signature sandwich but more memorable were the side choices of spaghetti or mostaccioli at the numerous and outstanding steak houses, many of which had Italian owners.

That gets me to a definite Dayton signature... the side choice of stewed tomatoes at our steakhouses of note. I’m not a fan myself but, when you see the Pine Club offering both its salad dressings and stewed tomatoes for sale at local grocery stores, it’s clear it’s a Dayton thing.

Doubt I will have beaten others to this obvious choice.

- R.B. (Scott) Kuhnen

Hello Mr. Bova,

Welcome to Dayton. My wife and I moved here from Scottsdale, Arizona about seven years ago and love it. I wrote for The Times Media Group in Arizona and before that The Tampa Tribune in Florida.

Anyway, you are correct. There isn’t really a signature Dayton dish.

Stan The Donut Man in Dayton and Bill’s Donut Shop in Centerville are well known local treats. Smale’s Pretzel Bakery and Jump’s Gourmet Peanuts, both in Dayton, are a must.

But we’ve found that when our out-of-state family visits they insist on two things: going to Esther Price Candies for chocolate turtles and to The Pine Club for their ribeye steak.

- Steven Solomon

Dennis,

Welcome to this neck of the woods. Beavercreek is where I do most of my shopping. I was born and raised in Ohio and Dayton was where we shopped and dined. Thin crust pizza, cut into squares, has always been known as Dayton pizza. Cassano’s ranks #1, Marion’s #2, and Donato’s is #3, although Donato’s originated in Columbus.

There are other similar pizzas in Dayton,  but Cassano’s and Marion’s are the originals.

I have lived in the Pacific NW, Texas, and Colorado and we pretty much quit eating pizza while away from Ohio because nothing measured up. All over the U.S., Ohio transplants share copycat recipes for Cassano’s pizza. Many people who aren’t native to Ohio, don’t feel the same way about our pizza. When we lived outside of Ohio, we couldn’t wait to come back to visit and have Cassano’s and Marion’s in the same trip home.

Near Dayton, in Darke County, is a city called Greenville.  It’s famous historically for many reasons including Annie Oakley,  Helen Keller, and the Greenville Treaty, but it is also known for its Maid-rites. People living in Dayton would make “Maid-rite runs” to Greenville and bring back bagfuls of Maid-rite sandwiches to share with friends.  Most Ohioans have a recipe for Maid-rites, but given a choice between Maid-rites and Cassano’s, Cassano’s pizza wins.

I hope you enjoy exploring this part of Ohio, including Dayton, Columbus, Cincinnati, Greenville, Xenia (bike trails), and all surrounding towns. No better place to be in the fall.

- Jo Newsad

I’ve been in Dayton for 45 years. There has been pizza dives come and go but one that’s been here longer than me is Joe’s pizza at the corner of Airway rd and Smithville. That is an amazing place to try if you love unique pizza. A second favorite is Marion’s pizza in Beavercreek on North Fairfield Rd and Dayton Xenia, in the big shopping center. They are bored number one in Dayton and have been a staple pizza joint for years. Hope this helps. Good luck and Welcome to Dayton. A must see is the Air Force Museum.

- Dave C

Hi Dennis,

It’s Marion’s Pizza. I moved to Florence, KY seven years ago and anytime we are in Dayton, and have the time, it’s Marion’s Pizza. I have had visitors from Indianapolis, Chicago and Milwaukee all rave about how good Marion’s Pizza is. I have hosted a few Knights of Columbus bowling tournaments at Beaver Vu Lanes, and the out of town bowlers always go to Marion’s Pizza. Have never had one person complain about the quality of the pizza from Marion’s.

- Dick Wendeln

Mr. Bova,

Just finished reading your piece. Very well written and spot on, even for one like myself born and raised in Dayton. I wracked my brain trying to think of such an establishment or perhaps a signature dish or foodstuffs uniquely Dayton, and I drew blanks even though I’ve worked in the industry here for 20+ years.

Then I had an epiphany of sorts and came across The Hamburger Wagon. I’m not sure if this qualifies as a signature food/establishment of Dayton per se, but it does have a wonderful history and is still in operation today.

Check out the link and let me know your thoughts if you wish.

Welcome to the area!

- Joseph Brannon

I know Dennis is new to town, but similar to Cinci Skyline Chili, Dayton is known for the following: Marion’s Pizza, Mikesell’s Chips and Esther Price chocolates. What a perfect meal for Daytonians!

I remember my uncle coming back into town over 50 years ago and he always wanted to have these three favorites!

- William Glaser

Responding here to Dayton-area newcomer Dennis Bova’s query on our seemingly lack of a local signature. Well, Dennis, it’s because we actually have several nationally known signature foods as well as equally recognized restaurants that serve it. Let’s start with the Pine Club whose famous dressing and stewed tomatoes get shipped all over the country. Next stop is Marion’s Pizza, known for its strange little cut up squares instead of triangle slices. A bag of Mikesell’s potato chips, also shipped out to other states where former Daytonians now live, can be followed with delicious Esther Price candy. And let’s not forget Dorothy Lane Market’s Killer Brownies. Mmm.

C’mon, Dennis, let me take you on a foodie tour of our great Miami Valley area restaurants.

- Jerry A. O’Ryan

Dennis,

I see you have yet to try breakfast pizza from the only Dominos in the world that serves it. Located at the intersection of Irving and Wilmington this dominos primarily serves the university, which is probably why they have a breakfast pizza to begin with.

Another place I have missed since leaving the Dayton area is the Diner inside Dots Market in Belmont. This place was a hangout for retired GM workers and still has some of the diner breakfasts around.

Sure none of these places are unique but I think they are still craftsmen of their own art (Even if that art is your run-of-the-mill blue-collar American food!): Wheat Penny, Christophers, La Colombiana, Slyders.

I hope you get a chance to try!

-Nate Wren (Former Dayton resident of eight years)

Dear Mr. Bova,

My wife this morning reminded me of what she considered the food of this area. She said “The Hamburger Wagon” in Miamisburg. She is probably right. It’s an old horse-drawn wagon parked on a street corner where people line up each day to get one of their unique brand of hamburger. It’s a secret recipe that only a few people know and many have speculated over the years what is in the hamburger meat to make it so tasty. The Hamburger Wagon has been around since the Dayton flood of 1913. It has been in continual operation since that time making it well over a hundred years old. There is a line in front of the wagon every day. I would say that my wife is pretty well spot on with that suggestion.

- Ed Breen

Dear Dennis,

Feel I HAD to bring Bill’s Donuts into the conversation. Yes, they’re just donuts, but on national radar (USA Today, Saveur Magazine, ..) AND in the paper, along with your article, was the report of the Centerville football being covered by CNBC this past weekend. Ask Dave Jablonski about the helmets the Elks have put in use to help protect athletes. Guess who helped purchase the helmets for the team? BILL’S DONUTS!

In operation since 1960, Bill used to sell donuts to the factory workers on the honor system out the back door of his shop while he cooked.

Thanks for your question - now I’m hungry.

- Colleen Crews

This letter is regarding Dennis Bova’s column about a signature food in Dayton, Ohio. I would have to say Esther Price Chocolates and a visit to the Pine Club Steakhouse are synonymous with Dayton. I’ve had chocolates from all over and where they are very good, I always come back to Esther Price! I am especially fond of their dark chocolates! And you haven’t been to Dayton unless you wait an hour or two at the bar at the Pine Club and then finally be seated to enjoy one of their fabulous steaks! It was a favorite spot of mine and my late husband’s. Enjoy!

- Rebecca Molnar

Dennis Bova has a point.  Dayton offers very diverse cuisine, which may be its signature food in itself.  But for my money, it would be the Frisch’s Big Boy. Oh, there are other Big Boy restaurants. I got all excited when there was one in upstate New York some years ago.  I was sorely disappointed! They used Thousand Island sauce instead of tartar sauce.... UGH! So my suggestion for Dayton’s signature food is FRISCH’S Big Boy,

- Roger Harter

Hi there!

I am also from Pittsburgh (South Hills) and live in Dayton. Went to college here, graduated from UD in 1993 and have lived here since 1998 (lived in Columbus for a few years before coming back here). There is no “Dayton food”.  A lot of the “natives” say Marion’s (blech) or Mama DiSalvos (NOT Italian like we have in Pittsburgh! My family is Italian!) or some other options, but there are no good, true, cultural foods here like there are in Pittsburgh. Even the Primantis was awful (I also live in Beavercreek). It just wasn’t the same as home.

Having said all that, Dayton is a neat, small city. It really tries to be bigger than it is - but it shouldn’t. It’s decent the way it is. There’s a bumper sticker you may see around town that says, “Dayton’s alright if you’ve never been anywhere else.”  It’s true and that’s ok!

- Andrea Rees

Hi, Dennis,

This is your “across-the-street” neighbor Jim Baumann. I’m not a Dayton native, but have lived in the surrounding area most of my life, and have been to many local restaurants and food establishments (some long since closed).  The Pine Club is known for steaks, Jay’s for seafood, Bill’s for donuts, etc., but I can’t name any particular food that is uniquely Dayton!  Good luck in your research!

- Jim Baumann