Restaurant review: Nancy's Home Cooking
"I have missed these meals for too long," mumbled a wide-eyed man in a buttoned-down Izod. The brightly smiling waitress facing him was wearing a black T-shirt with "Eat it and Beat it" written on the back - a teasing reference to the place's give-your-waiting-neighbor-a-chance policy.
The teeny eatery was otherwise filled with returning regulars, mostly salt-of-the-earth types who were hunkering over heaping plates of gravy-drenched grub scooped out of huge pots. Welcome back to Nancy's, folks.
Nancy's Home Cooking is the feel-good restaurant story of the year. Oh heck, make that years, the decade, the new century. You see, Nancy's both defies and defines time.
In an era when oddball indie eateries are a dying breed, Nancy's did just that, it died. But in a Capra-esque - or Big Lebowskian "this will not stand" - turn of events, a major outpouring of community support helped restore the old girl miraculously back to life. Indeed, this would be the stuff of an unbelievable but happy Hollywood ending if it weren't all true.
So of course I wanted to write about Nancy's heartwarming change of fortune - it's the little place that could ... one more time. But due to Nancy's beloved status and fiercely individualistic personality, an actual review seemed silly, even superfluous.
Still, as I was surprised at the number of people I noticed talking about Nancy's legacy without much benefit of visiting the place, I decided a little description of a week's worth of eating at the reborn Nancy's seemed fitting.
Before proceeding, I should list the differences between the former Nancy's and Nancy's, the Sequel. There's not many: the place has gotten a fresh spring cleaning and a refurbishing of its simple scarlet-and-gray counters and booths. And Nancy's II accepts credit cards, and it even has an actual menu, too.
Unsurprisingly, said menu is basically there to inform you what you'll be eating that day. Because the reopened Nancy's operates exactly like its previous menu-less incarnation. That means there's always all the expected breakfast stuff available plus a daily lunch special or two - and little else.
So while you can order, say, a burger or a grilled cheese sandwich, why would you? People flock to Nancy's for its cherished specials, and since Nancy's has always been about community, don't you think you should eat what your neighbors are eating?
In other words, if it's Thursday, you'll be having Nancy's famous homemade chicken and noodles. Like all lunchtime specials here, it comes with lots of gravy, good green beans (long-cooked, brothy and flavored with onions) and mashed potatoes that are as authentic as the box they came out of (I'm not a fan of those, so I usually opt for extra green beans).
Eat it and beat it
Nancy's keeps time its own way, and here's how it flows (all lunch specials are $6.25)
Chicken and Noodles: This comfort classic features stout and stubby homemade noodles that are fun to chew on. They're decked out with copious chunks of tender, stewy chicken and enrobed in a thickish chicken gravy.
Baked Chicken: Hulking dark meat quarters with juicy meat and a crispy skin redolent of garlic. Also available might be a good old-fashioned open-faced roast beef sandwich or homey roast pork.
Cindy's Meatloaf: Approximately the size and shape of a shotput and nearly as dense. Honest and bereft of much filler, it's primarily ground beef with a nice touch of onion.
Chicken and Noodles (see Monday)
Pot Roast: Huge chunks of melt-in-your-mouth tender beef bathed in a dark salty gravy. Alternately, baked fish is available.
No lunch specials on the weekend, so for breakfast I went with my old favorite, the Garbage Omelet. (It's not quite as imposing as it sounds.) The medium-sized omelet was crammed with melty cheddar and diced and griddled ham, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, sausage and mushrooms - in other words, as dinery good as I remembered.
Nancy's Home Cooking
3133 N. High St., Clintonville
Price: $ (Up to $10 per person)
Cuisine: Family Fare
Hours: 6 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily