Every year of the last three, I’ve gone to Columbus, Ohio over the Memorial Day weekend for a film festival. Who’d hold one in Columbus, Ohio when there’s Cannes to go to? People who are interested in old movies, that’s who—as old as 1915. It’s called Cinevent, and the movies, shown in the “ballroom” of a Ramada, are merely a side attraction, the main purpose is room after room of movie collectibles, from massive original posters worth thousands of dollars to dupe DVDs of old TV shows going by the last day for a few bucks each.
I, however, don’t collect stuff, I collect experiences, and fix them with pins on the internet— especially experiences of the past, still living in old movies or as refugees-of-a-lost-era businesses. So part of attending Cinevent, of course, is seeing what Columbus offers to eat, old and new. The first year I went, I stuck close to the hotel, and it was dreary fast food; but in subsequent years I learned to head down High Street toward Ohio State University and the hopping “Short North” area. One place on High north of the university which I discovered on Roadfood.com and first visited last year is Nancy’s Home Cooking, a tiny dive of a diner (Roadfood likes places that squeeze a lot of customer-cook interaction into a tight space) with a U-shaped counter which snakes around just enough room for the cook to operate in, and barely enough for “Nancy” (actually Cindy King, but I’m sure many assumed she was Nancy) herself to reach over and retrieve the finished dishes from him. If she ever entered his space, it’d constitute grounds for divorce in most states.
It was easy to see what locals loved about Nancy’s— they mostly seemed to know each other and the staff, they always had Ohio State sports to discuss, and the food was all-American and dirt cheap. In fact, no prices are even indicated anywhere (the only menu is what’s painted on the wall); you take your ticket to the grillman, and he arbitrarily devises a total on the spot which is guaranteed to be at least a dollar or two per person less than you could possibly imagine it being.
That said, I didn’t love the food at Nancy’s the first time. I had read that the thing to do was to have them ladle sausage gravy over your home fries. (You’re thinking, ah, sausage gravy, they must have biscuits and gravy. Nope, no biscuits. The gravy is there for the home fries, nothing else.) So I did that and… it was greasy and gloppy, moving the whole breakfast down about one row on the periodic table.
I might not have gone back this year except… well, for one thing there aren’t that many breakfast choices not named Bob Evans. And for another, word came that Nancy’s was closing June 1st. Apparently years of not only not charging enough for meals, but not charging a lot of folks at all, had caught up with Nancy’s:
In 2004, I was on disability due to two back surgeries. Once a week, my son and daughter and I would stop at Nancy’s for breakfast. If Cindy was cooking that day, she’d always tell me: “Big John, you’re not working. Put your money back.”
So how could I not go? Like my beloved old movies full of the dead and forgotten, Nancy’s was itself about to leave the realm of contemporary existence for the half-life of memory. I grabbed a couple of attending New Yorker film buffs, and we squeezed ourselves into a booth built for jockeys while one of the New Yorkers regaled us with tales of his encounters with the likes of Deanna Durbin.
This time I skipped the gravy and went minimalist—an omelet and home fries. It was great. Oh, you’re just being sentimental because it’s about to close, you say. Maybe, but really, it was just want you want in a diner breakfast, the home fries crispy and soft at the same time, the omelet not so eggy that it smothered the freshly griddled taste of ham, onion, cheese. (One note about that— one of the New Yorkers ordered hers with just ham, onion and green pepper, and soon learned that in this part of the midwest, cheese is assumed unless you write NO CHEESE on something. But they were gracious about banging out another one as quick as could be… and probably they took another couple of bucks off the already too low bill.)
Nancy’s is closed on Sundays anyway so today, if you read this on Saturday, may be your last chance to go there. Or not; there was a fundraiser last Saturday, so who knows what the status may be. I hope Nancy’s will still be around next year, but if it isn’t, well, it’ll just be one more ghost casting shadows of memory in Columbus over Memorial Day.