A Mary Alice Powell appreciation

Mary Alice Powell was The Blade’s long-time restaurant reviewer, food writer and much more. She worked at the Blade from 1954 to 1995, and every time I’m looking The Blade’s microfilm archives and I’m looking (generally) at a Thursday or Friday, I stop by the Peach Section to see who Mary Alice visited that week.

There is a lot to like about Mary Alice’s columns, even to this day – they are to the point, funny, thoughtful, and demonstrated a breathless depth of the vast Toledo restaurant scene.

This 2017 story details her career better than I ever could, but I will point out that I was delighted to find one of Mary Alice’s favorite recipes was for Tomato Pudding, which I wrote about here in 2012.

The reviews are easy to find and bring back a lot of memories for myself and, probably, a lot of people, since Toledo is a restaurant town. Many of the places are, of course, long gone. Most of the links to her reviews here take you to the page, so look around a bit if you want to read it.

A Google Maps photo of Uncle John’s Pancake House in 2015.

One place that is not long gone is Uncle John’s Pancake House on Secor Road which opened the year I was born, 1963. Mary Alice visited the place in 1980 and gave it a pretty straightforward mention, although she did say the German-style pancakes were not as puffy as at The Original Pancake House (which is also still there, in a former Howard Johnson’s) around the corner on Central Avenue. That review also mentions Godfather’s Lounge – part of Dominic’s on Reynolds Road – and their battered potato chips. “Don’t share,” Mary Alice says about those.

On the day the 1979 U.S. Open teed off at Inverness Club, Mary Alice’s restaurant review was a sit-down with Ray Dyer, the owner of Dyer’s Chop House on Superior Street, probably Toledo’s best restaurant at the time, and definitely in its prime in 1979.

Although, as Mary Alice pointed out, “Dyer’s Chop House” was misleading. Fish was the thing.

There is such pleasure in ordering the fresh fish. One recent evening I had flounder, and for lunch a week ago, I tried Ray’s favorite, the broiled halibut. Every tiny morsel was so good, such a delight to eat, that one wonders why the heavily-breaded, deep-fried products sold in the name of fish in other restaurants are ever ordered.

Dyer’s menu varied because the fish available depended on the call to the Foley Fish Market in Boston every morning. The fish was put in barrels of ice and trucked to Toledo and was a mere four to five days from the water to the plate.

After falling into decline, Dyer’s Chop House closed in 1993 to make way for the Huntington Center. Ray Dyer died in 2007.

She got everywhere, even unpretentious out-of-the-way places (“you may have not noticed it, but you’ve doubtless seen it”) like Johnny’s Steak House on Reynolds Road, south of Airport Highway. In this review from 1993, the place was inexpensive and “altogther honest,” but as for the coffee, it was “consistently characterless.” I gather from Google Maps there is still a restaurant there.

The Colony Restaurant, always a favorite of mine growing up, was visited by Mary Alice in this 1984 review. It had just reopened after a fire in December of 1983, and it was a bit off. The famous onion soup “was just a clear broth served with a cup of crunchy croutons,” the mashed potatoes were cold (“I could have cried”) and the deep fried shrimp was OK, but not real hot either.

Mary Alice visited the Holland House – well known in Sylvania circles to this day has the home of the Moronburger – in 1980.

It is bright and light in green and white and gets credit for being one of the first local restaurants to feature large hamburgers. The name in the beginning and now is the moron burger and they come in half and full-pound sizes…

But, the real biggie at the Holland House keeps the meat in the cooler and brings out the ice cream. It is the Kitchen Sink and if you can eat it you are truly a moron.

It is 32 dips of ice cream with 12 different toppings and the price is $18.50. Seriously, it is not for one, but a group and is served in a large glass bowl with side dishes.

Is it Moronburger or Moron Burger? I thought it was one word, but Mary Alice used two, so maybe she’s right.

Mary Alice was quite recognizable around town apparently, as evidenced by this snippet from February 15, 1974:

I returned to the Wittenberg, on Sylvania Avenue, in keeping with the policy of this column to do a retake on food and service.

But, after owner William Wittenberg recognized me, food was refused, not only to me but to the three friends with me last Sunday afternoon.

“Out, Out, Out,” was Mr. Wittenberg’s order.

We got the message and left.

That takes care of the service, but it is impossible to report if the food has improved.

The website oldwestendtoledo.com recounts the story of the Wittenberg, if you’re interested.

In 1982, Mary Alice visited the new Boody House Restaurant five times. She went on opening night, Jan. 19, but didn’t count that because “the most disastrous dining adventure I have ever experienced.” But the soups were excellent, the table service was impressive, desserts were a weak point, but her overall impression was that the restaurant’s “food quality and service are advancing towards the goals” set for it.

I was happy to see how 92-year-old Mary Alice Powell is still submitting columns to The Blade (this one is about wearing masks during the pandemic). And, admirably, The Blade has a food critic on staff still, last I checked. So her legacy lives on.

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