Watts Restaurant: Nostalgic diner captivates with meals like grandma’s

Watts Restaurant

Nostalgic diner captivates with meals like grandma’s

Roger McCoy

Roger McCoy

Comfort food is in order this time of year and that’s why our family-friendly restaurant pick for October is Watts Restaurant in nearby Utica.

Founded 1912, Watts is known for its homemade pies and traditional recipes, including beef and noodles, and ham with raisin sauce.

“Watts is definitely the last of the old-school restaurants,” says Roger McCoy, who bought the restaurant from the Watts family in 2015. “We small-batch cook every day, so it’s sort of like going to grandma’s for supper.”

Longtime customers appreciate that McCoy has preserved this well-loved restaurant that’s endured by staying true to its roots.

“As soon as church lets out on Sunday, it’s standing-room only.”

Why make the trip from Columbus?

Nostalgia. Watts’s got it all – from booth seating to sympathetic servers to a display case full of dreamy pies including lemon meringue, butterscotch meringue and coconut cream.

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“The restaurant opens at 11 a.m., but we’re here at 5 a.m. making the pies,” McCoy says. “We use old recipes, so our butterscotch is made in an iron skillet and we use Crisco in our crust.”

Also, driving less than an hour northeast of Columbus to Utica affords a couple other worthwhile stops. Pick apples and pumpkins at Legend Hills Orchard, and soak up the rustic beauty and charm of Ye Olde Mill, where Velvet Ice Cream is made.

Watts puts its own spin on Velvet Ice Cream. For instance, the seasonal Pumpkin Pie is transformed into a pumpkin pecan roll after it’s mixed with nuts and topped with marshmallow and caramel sauces.

“It’s amazing,” McCoy says.

What to eat.

Some menu items are influenced by McCoy’s German heritage, including the Kraut Salad made with sweet sauerkraut, and an interesting Banana Salad that’s simply a banana on a fresh bed of lettuce, dabbed with Jif creamy peanut butter and drizzled with house dressing.

Watts also is known for its Lake Erie trout, homemade egg noodles and fried bologna.

What’s in it for the kids?

Comfort meals for kids cost less than $5 and include the regular standouts like hamburgers, corn dogs and spaghetti.

Our kids liked that they were each given an Etch A Sketch to play with during lunch and were permitted to take home a piece of candy from the throwback rack stacked with Razzles, Necco Wafers and Swedish Fish.

Watts Restaurant is located at 77 S Main St., Utica.


Ye Olde Mill

Drive to Utica rewarded with silky ice cream at scenic setting

Normally we wouldn’t travel 45 minutes from Columbus just for an ice-cream cone when we have so many choices around our hometown. But on a pleasant Sunday in May, we decided a drive to the country was in order, and having a sweet reward at the end of our journey was motivation enough.

Our destination was Ye Olde Mill, a restored gristmill on 20 picturesque acres in Licking County. It’s also the manufacturing facility of Ohio’s own Velvet Ice Cream, which this year marks its 100th year making the tasty treat.

Founded in Utica in 1914 by Joseph Dager, the ice-cream manufacturer is now run by the fourth generation of the Dager family. The company relocated to Ye Olde Mill in 1970, and the location has become a family destination. More than 150,000 people venture here each year to sample the ice cream and other simple pleasures, such as fishing in a pond, riding in a horse-drawn carriage and hand-feeding miniature horses, a sheep and a goat.

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The main building is the old gristmill, which dates back to 1817. It symbolizes how Velvet’s ice cream was originally made, using a hand-cranked method. The restored historic mill serves as its headquarters and has become the trademark on the cream’s packaging.

Inside is an ice-cream parlor, restaurant, museum and gift shop.

Velvet started out serving just three flavors: Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Today the selection includes nearly 50 flavors handwritten on a chalkboard. I ordered Italian spumoni, a flavor I normally only see in stores around Christmas. My children ordered double scoops strawberry cheesecake and cookies and cream. The icy, stacked spheres hid their faces as they slowly licked them away.

Ye Olde Mill annually hosts the Utica Sertoma Ice Cream Festival over Memorial Day weekend, an annual Father’s Day celebration with barbershop quartet and old-fashioned carriage rides, and regular entertainment on Sundays throughout summer. Visit on July 20 for National Ice Cream Day and Aug. 25 for National Banana Split Day.

Ye Olde Mill, located at 11324 Mount Vernon Rd. in Utica, is open daily from May through October. Free public tours are held weekdays at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The walking tour lasts 30 minutes is wheelchair accessible.

For more information, visit velveticecream.com or call (740) 892-3921.