Local flavor by the clamshell in northeastern Ohio
You’ll find the takeout spot on a street corner in any mid-sized city in Middle America. It might be on a main drag, or in the shadow of an interstate, or located conveniently near an old steel mill. It’s the point where Rust Belt hunger meets the home-cooking traditions that past generations brought here during the Great Migration.
The best takeout spots are neighborhood joints. If you know, you know. If you don’t, well, like grandma might say, “You’d better ask somebody.” Sometimes, the rich aroma of seasoning blends—garlic salt, paprika, and robust black pepper boosted by fresh grease—is enough to tip you off. Whether it’s spareribs with coleslaw or chicken wings with fries, the sentiment is the same: the best food feels like a well-kept secret. The promise of that new discovery is what lures curious suburbanites and city dwellers to parts unknown in search of steaming-hot catfish, fried golden-brown, or chicken glistening with a barbecue glaze, with baked mac-and-cheese and a piece of white bread.
Here in the Midwest, as in cities across the U.S., humble Styrofoam takeout boxes promise beautiful home-style dishes in nearly any neighborhood where Black and brown folks reside, including around my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
The best takeout spots are neighborhood joints. If you know, you know. If you don’t, well, like grandma might say, “You’d better ask somebody.” Sometimes, the rich aroma of seasoning blends—garlic salt, paprika, robust black pepper boosted by fresh grease—is enough to tip you off.
Just north of Youngstown, in Warren, look for Eli’s Famous Bar-B-Que between a Goodyear and a KFC on the side of State Route 193. Go for a wing dinner: eight wings tossed in a sweet-and-tangy “mild” sauce unlike any other. You’ll get fries on the side and bread that sticks to the saucy clamshell. Chicken that’s crisp and tender is no minor achievement, and these wings justify the trip outside city limits every time. Combine that with a standout sauce and you understand why this spot is held in the highest regard. Nothing beats a “where-I’m-from-we-got…” spot, and in Warren, that’s Eli’s.
For a fish platter, try Galaxy Seafood, at the corner of Crandall and Belmont in Youngstown. It’s a neighborhood seafood carryout next to a barbershop, serving fish sprinkled with seasoning and soft, savory hushpuppies. Older people in Youngstown love a good fish fry, but you’ll hear good things about the catfish platter here from any North Sider.
On a busy weekend night, you might see a full dining room at Charlie Staples Bar-B-Q in downtown Youngstown. During the week, the quick-and-dirty takeout side always sees the most action. Walking through the side door, you enter a bar that looks like the set of a seventies blaxploitation flick. Ask the young lady at the takeout counter for a quarter-slab rib dinner to go, with sauce on the fries. The “Saucey Bread” on the side also comes soaked with the sticky-sweet secret-recipe vinegar-and-tomato concoction that Charlie bought from his barbecue mentor, Bill Robinson, in 1975. According to Charlie, Bill bought it from an “old lady” who’d come up to Youngstown from somewhere in the South in the 1930s.