Nutcracker Family Restaurant: Quizzical ’50s-style diner near Pataskala makes you smile

Nutcracker Family Restaurant

Quizzical ’50s-style diner near Pataskala makes you smile

After visiting the impressive Works science museum in Newark, we were famished. Wendy had heard about a ’50s-style diner in nearby Pataskala, so we sought out the Nutcracker Family Restaurant.

It’s easy to see where the place got its name. There are nutcrackers everywhere, on wall ledges, windowsills and even on top of an old gas pump.

The combination of retro signs, neon lights, classic candies at the checkout counter and other ’50s accouterments didn’t seem to jibe with the dozens of nutcrackers, which emit a Christmasy, Germanic vibe. Still, it’s one of those places that elicits a smile when you enter.

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The counter has seating for half a dozen or more, and I suppose the wonder of finding a place like this amid rural Pataskala was worth the effort. The fact that the Nutcracker has been open more than 20 years is impressive enough on its own.

But the food isn’t something to write to Vienna about. My Reuben sandwich used what seemed like a pressed type of corned beef that wasn’t overly flavorful. Wendy said her veggie burger was “good.” The kids had kids meals, and they were decidedly kids-meal like.

However, like 6- and 8-year-olds would say, they can’t wait to go back. “It was so much fun,” Rosie said. She and Max dared each other to pick up one of the nutcrackers that was decked out like a firefighter. Wendy thought they would be glued down, but they weren’t.

They also enjoyed an animatronic-type band that appeared from behind a curtain and played along with the music they chose for a quarter on the jukebox. They also loved that their meal came with a free lunchbox, which they each chose upon departure.

The bottom line is that the Nutcracker Restaurant is a fun place to seek out if you’re on an adventure. As long as you check your “foodie” instincts at the door, you’ll enjoy the visit.

That said, the pies are made fresh daily, and weekly specials include all-you-can-eat perch on Tuesday and Friday, all-you-can-eat pasta on Wednesday and all-you-can-eat fried chicken on Thursday. Veterans eat free on Veterans Day and the day after Memorial Day.

The Nutcracker Family Restaurant is located at 63 E. Broad St., Pataskala. For more information, call 740-964-0056 or visit


Punderson State Park

State park pleases with resort-like property, particulars

After a full day of touring covered bridges in Ashtabula County, my family and I stayed the night at Punderson State Park in Newbury, Ohio, before heading back home to Columbus.

We arrived on a foggy afternoon in early May. Daffodils and red bud blooms lit up the gloomy weather and the sight of the park’s English Tudor mansion was something out of the movies. A concrete statue of a gargoyle perched atop a ball near the entrance added considerable intrigue.

Is this really an Ohio State Park, or the scene of a Sherlock Holmes mystery?

It’s certainly a park. Tucked away in rural Geauga County, Punderson is one of the eight state parks in Ohio that have a lodge. There are 26 cottages available near Punderson Lake, a 150-acre body of water that has one boat launch and 18 seasonal docks for rent. The park offers boating, hiking trails, camping, fishing, tennis, and golf at a Jack Kidwell-designed, 18-hole course. Punderson also is a fine location during the winter for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.

The lodge was named after Lemuel Punderson, the local township’s first settler in 1808. The manor house took about two decades to build and was completed in 1948.

After the Ohio Department of Natural Resources took over the lake and surrounding area in 1951, the manor house was renovated into a lodge and opened in 1956. It was renovated in 1982.

The Punderson lodge apparently has been the site of several ghost sightings, but I tried not to think about that. We didn’t see or hear any ghosts, nor was I looking for their company.

We did, however, encounter a friendly host at dinner. A restaurant inside the manor offers fine dining overlooking the picturesque lake. The dining area appeared reserved for honeymooners and solitude seekers, not parents with two cranky kids. But our waitress made us feel at ease, assuring us that we were just as welcome.

Mike ordered blackened prime rib, and I had a slice of splendidly prepared halibut. Our children enjoyed grilled-cheese sandwiches with wedges of watermelon.

Afterward, we retired to our room for a ghost-free night’s sleep in a room in the manor.

In the morning, the restaurant serves a full Sunday buffet, which smelled delicious as Rosie and I made our way down the hall toward the indoor pool for a quick dip. Large windows along two walls provide a great view of the natural lake, which was formed during the Ice Age.

Rain kept the children and me indoors, but it didn’t stop my husband from awakening at 7 a.m. and playing a round of golf. He said he got 15 holes in before it started raining hard.

What impressed me most was the cleanliness and seclusion of the park. It felt more like we were at a private resort. As a manor house, the lodge doesn’t have soaring ceilings or a great lobby sitting room. There’s a winding staircase that leads to some rooms. We went upstairs and discovered a small room, tucked away, that’s used as a library.

Punderson is one of eight state park lodges that participate in the “Stays for As” program, which rewards students of any age for good grades. Just show proof of an “A” on a report card, and receive $10 off the published room rate. Only one report card per room may be applied for the discount of up to $50 off.

Other participating parks include Burr Oak, Deer Creek, Hueston Woods, Maumee Bay, Mohican, Salt Fork and Shawnee. (The only other state park lodge is the Lodge at Geneva.)

For more information, visit or call 1-800-282-7275.


Lynd Fruit Farm

Pick your own apples among 500 acres of orchards

You forget just how good an apple is supposed to taste until you take a bite out of one picked fresh off the tree.

I recently sank my teeth into a crisp Gala apple while picking a bag for my family at Lynd Fruit Farm in Pataskala, east of Columbus. The apple was crisp and sweet and reminded me why everyone is so gung-ho about pick-your-own farms.

My daughter, Rosie, and I pulled into the crowded parking lot at Lynd’s, 9090 Morse Rd., one recent Sunday afternoon. The market offers a variety of fruits, vegetables and fresh-baked goods. They had lots of pumpkins and Halloween crafts, too.

I asked for crisp apples to munch on, and one of Lynd’s employees told me to drive a quarter mile down the street and turn in a driveway. We came to a brown barn, then followed the arrows into the orchard. Our available bounty was Gala and Golden Supreme apples, both sweet, firm and juicy.

Lynd’s goes back seven generations, offering 500 acres of orchards with a dozen varieties of apples for the public to pick from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. Lynd’s also sells apples to Kroger and Wal-Mart. The public picking runs from early September to early November and typically includes a dozen varieties.

We paid $16 for a 20 lb. bag. Lynd’s takes credit cards as well as cash. We took our time, filled the bag and paid as we left. An employee said you can sample apples as you pick them.

We drove down a dirt road past rows and rows of apple trees. Ones available for picking were designated by colored tape strung from tree limbs at each row’s entry. We chose a row where the trees were plump with apples. The trees were a little taller than me, so I could reach the apples at the top, while Rosie picked apples toward the bottom. We both selected the prettiest apple we could find, and took a bite. They were warm, crisp and delicious.

We filled our bag in no time, then took some extra time wandering through the orchard. Rosie relished in running down the long paths between rows of trees. It was less worrisome than her taking off in a department store.

I enjoyed the freedom of being in the open air amid nature’s bounty.

Lynd Fruit Farm is located at 9090 Morse Rd., Pataskala. For more information, visit