The 20 Mile House has gone through a few transitions since its birth in 1822. In the old days it functioned as a stagecoach stop and tavern as well as a post office for Twenty Mile Stand, the post-town that was 20 miles north of Cincinnati.
More recently it was the Hyde Park Chop House. In its current incarnation, owner Gerry Geisen and his brother-in-law and manager Gene Feagans are trying to bring a little history back to the place, focusing on the kind of simple, rib-sticking food that would probably taste pretty good after a long, dusty, bumpy stagecoach ride.
As you pull into the parking lot a disconcerting red neon sign detracts from the theme, but once inside the building the player piano, a chandelier that comes straight out of a spaghetti western and the 1920s comic wall art are much better at setting the mood.
For such an old building the 20 Mile House is squeaky clean. It shines from its tin ceiling to wooden floorboards. The long dining room ends with a fireplace that had a blazing fire the night we visited. The room has a warm and tucked-in kind of vibe, but some of the tables are separated from each other by a half-wall that might be a little too cozy if you're looking for some privacy with your dinner.
The tables, covered in burlap and glass, hold 19th-century news clippings from what was then called the Cincinnati Weekly Enquirer. (Apparently Dr.
Raduzy's sarsaparilla resolvent was a great blood purifier.)
The staff personifies the atmosphere you would hope to find at a friendly watering hole. As I watched them work I noticed how each server stops to survey the dining room when they enter to see if there is anything that requires attention whether it is in their section or not. Such flagrant disregard for territorial boundaries isn't often seen in joints that are higher priced than 20 Mile House, and it was good to catch a glimpse of a staff working together.
Even Gene pitched in, carrying trays and bussing tables in his sheriff's uniform. (Our server said that in the opening weeks he and Gerry did a little sheriff-mayor show for the patrons.)
The 20 Mile House offers appetizers, homemade soups, sandwiches and entrees. We started with a couple of appetizers and entered a bit of a chip coma induced from not paying attention to our server's caution that the Nachos ($7.99) plate was big. There were four of us, so we figured we could easily handle that and an order of Chips and Salsa ($3.99). (We seem to have fallen asleep in our stagecoach and ended up somewhere farther southwest than Cincinnati.) Needless to say we figured wrong, but I was disappointed that I had to stop shoveling nachos covered with cheese, guac, sour cream, jalapeos and olives to save room for another course.
For dinner we had the Filet (Big $16.99 and Bigger $20.99), the Baked Chicken ($9.99), the 20 Mile Vegetable Plate ($6.99) and the Pork Chops ($10.99). Between us we sampled a baked potato, mashed potatoes, a baked sweet potato, green beans, cole slaw and broccoli.
It seemed odd that the most expensive item we picked was the least favorite. The filet had a patty-like appearance that at first glance looked like ground sirloin. It tasted fine, though I wouldn't characterize it as big, and it was overdone. My stepdad said the pork chops were better than others he'd had out, but I think he was secretly making note of how much better his own pork chops were.
My mom almost fainted when she realized how much food five vegetables add up to. Her sweet potato was really good sweet and buttery, and the cole slaw was some of the best I've had; it seemed to strike the right balance between vinegar and mayo, a knack many places just don't seem to have. The green beans were slow-cooked with bits of ham, like those from my childhood. It's no wonder all four of us scarfed up every last pod.
My chicken won the table award for the best entree of the night. The half-chicken fell from the bone with the slightest touch. It was a good combination for the mashies, which I thankfully found to be more potato than dairy. I could have done without the gravy, though it was a little river of brown salt snaking through the valleys of an otherwise excellent mound of starch.
My predication is that the 20 Mile House is on the front side of culinary trend one in which we'll see menus with mid-range prices and simple, home-style fare. As our metaphorical stagecoaches try to outrun a faltering economy, global warming and a general 21st-century malaise, we're going to need a few more stops on the line to catch our breath, share a drink and bolster our spirits. ©
20 MILE HOUSE
Go: 3159 Montgomery Road, Deerfield Township
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Salads, vegetable sides, fish, chicken
Accessibility: Fully accessible