Road Eats: Clark's Dining Room

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Certainly the word "legendary" is too freely bandied about these days, but no word better describes a place that's been making great country-style iron skillet fried chicken the old-fashioned way for nearly a century.

Unfortunately, citing "dwindling customer numbers, increased costs of food, labor and maintenance," the Clark's legend is coming to a very sad end on Nov. 1. So last week, I took the last train to Clark's Dining Room I'd ever take.

Positioned on the corner of routes 40 and 13 in Jacksontown (close to Newark), the historic Clark's started out as a stagecoach stop on the original national highway. In 1918, the mini complex there - which included a bar, dining room, pool hall, barbershop and about a dozen sleeping rooms - became known as the Clark hotel and eventually the place to get a tremendous fried chicken dinner.

That hotel burned down in 1954 but "Grandma Clark," its then-78-year-old proprietress, wanted to continue serving her famous chicken dinners. That's when the soon-to-be-defunct restaurant still sitting at 40 and 13 was built.

When I pulled up to that old-timey establishment the other day, the place was positively packed with one-more-timers forming a line outside the door. Fortunately I knew to call ahead and get on a waiting list (strongly suggested) the second I left Columbus for the 40-or-so-minute drive. This made my wait insignificant before I breezily waltzed past the long line.

Once inside, I gazed at the familiar, simple, L-shaped, country-style wallpapered room and imagined hearing more country music while I broken-heartedly figured I'd never see this place again.

Overhearing the servers buzz the tables, I realized the customers knew the "menu" as well as the small waitstaff. Of course there's really not much to know, because you'll be having the wonderful fried half-chicken dinner ($13). Here's what to expect - if you get there by Sunday.

• Cole slaw - good, creamy, oniony and rich, and made with lacily shredded cabbage.

• House salad (in lieu of slaw) -just iceberg lettuce, but enlivened by a nice made-here dressing that's like a sweet "Catalina" French with plenty of black pepper.

• Fried Chicken (served family-style, as are all the sides) - not one bit greasy. Golden brown and crackly yet lightly crusted with succulent meat underneath. Incredible.

• Gravy - awesome. It's thick and has a deeply concentrated chicken flavor. In short, it's the kind of gravy you might a) want to eat like soup, b) take home to meet your mother or c) mainline.

• Mashed potatoes - Fabulous, of course, homemade and not unnecessarily over-buttered.

• Rolls, corn and green beans - mostly there to slow you down on the gravy.

• Pie -yeah, a towering slice of great homemade pie comes with the dinner, and there's usually about a dozen options. I often target the coconut cream variety, but you really can't go wrong.

Clark's Dining Room

6811 National Rd. SE, Jacksontown