[NOTE: OK. I'm out of order. The sequence of events is off. We made this trip to Ohio before we went to Philadelphia, but because the blog publishes in reverse order anyway, its a confused timeline. It doesn't matter. It's breakfast that matters.]
So, we’re up really early on Friday morning, December 6, loading the van at 5:30 am, getting to the location before 6:00 (!). We’re shooting when they click on the OPEN sign. We didn’t even have to stage it.
We’re shooting at the little breakfast and sandwich place that unabashedly called itself The Best Breakfast & Sandwiches. Bold. Ballsy. Before dawn. It’s located just outside the Columbus city limits, in the suburb called Westerville. It’s not far from Exit 29 off interstate 270, the circle road that goes around Columbus.
We have a few moments to scope out the place before customers arrive. The pre-dawn crew includes Tom Spangler who owns this place with his wife Jan, George Trautman who helps behind the counter, and a waitress named Suzanne Fickes who is there to get the tables set and to be ready for the earliest eaters.
Our trusty cameraman Bob decides that it’s too dark at the grill-and-burners cooking area, where a lot of the action takes place, and he and Glenn clamp a light from the celing to throw some light into that area.
Our new friend Nick Dekker told us about this place. He writes the blog called “Breakfast With Nick,” and he’s agreed to be our guide to good morning meals in the Columbus area. I asked him to recommend two or three places, and this is one of them. He’s been here only once before himself but he was knocked out by the food. He arrives about 9 am.
We leave Nick alone for a while because there’s so much to see and shoot, and we do several interviews with early customers. Nick holds off ordering till we’re ready to shoot him eating, and we watch while he scarfs down the country fried steak with gravy and eggs, potatoes. toast and whatever. It all looks good.
We talk with people on camera and off. There is an amazing sense of loyalty and family here. Customers really love this place, its tasty food and the people who cook for you and who serve you here. They make a big todo about knowing everybody and it seems genuine. Kelli Stover is waiting on Nick today but since his first visit (when he became conspicuous by taking pictures of his food) a week or so ago, he’s been a known player here.
Tom and Jan keep the place humming: delicious and efficient, and their presence here makes a statement. So much of the charm of being in a mom-and-pop place is the interaction with the owners, the mom and the pop, who obviously care about the business, and after years of working in chain and corporate restaurants, these two obviously relish the one-on-one relationships they have built with their customers here.
We interview Tom while he’s cutting up the Best’s popular potatoes. “The secret is: we rub the potatoes with bacon grease before we bake them,” he says.
I take remarkably few pictures. When it’s really busy all of a sudden, I slice bread and make toast for a few minutes behind the counter, and I carry my camera around, but I don’t snap as many food shots as I would like. But the food here is much loved. And patrons rave about the eggs, the bacon, the pancakes, the omelets.
We watch and videotape while Tom makes an order of his famous corned beef hash. It may be the dish that most people encourage you to try if it’s your first visit to the Best. It’s nothing out of a can. It’s potatoes and chunks of corned beef, onions and spices, and it’s topped with eggs. It’s a beauty of a breakfast.
The morning is over fast. People start ordering sandwiches. It’s lunchtime.
Tom insists that Glenn and Bob and I try his chicken wings. “The best chicken wings you’ll ever eat,” he brags. And he backs up the claim with some extraordinary wings. He marinates them before baking them, then he fries them. They are superlative. I would stop back just to have more of them. There are lots of reasons to stop back here.
That afternoon, we meet Nick near the Ohio State campus where the Wild Goose Arts Cooperative has a gallery and meeting space. He and his wife are both members of this co-op, and it’s a good quiet spot where we interview Nick again about breakfast, his blog and the joys of breakfast in Columbus, Ohio.