Monday, March 11, 2002

Special cooking at late eatery

Northside meets southern fixings

By William A. Weathers,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kay's Restaurant on Spring Grove Ave.
(John Curley photo)
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        It's after 1 a.m. Sunday and the aroma of jack salmon baking in the oven hangs in the the air.

        The two customers who placed their food orders at Kay's Restaurant in Northside have been waiting a while, but they don't seem to mind.

        “If you're looking for a fast-food restaurant, you're in the wrong place,” says co-owner Wanda Lloyd-Daniels, who says her home cooking is well worth the wait.

        “It's going to be delicious,” she said. “I try to make you feel like the food is coming out of your kitchen.”

        Last year, Mrs. Lloyd-Daniels, 48, and her husband, Hershel, 46,. purchased Kay's — a Knowlton's Corner landmark for more than 70 years. They reopened it in November.

        The eatery, which features sky blue walls and an otherwise Spartan decor, offers lunch and dinner seven days a week, and stays open until 3:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

        “It's really good,” 15-year-old Miranda Heidler says from a front window booth as she finishes her jack salmon meal. Her dinner companion — Karla Vanderlinden, 16, of Oakley — responds with an enthusiastic, “Yeah,” when asked if the meal was worth the wait.

        “My one problem with Cincinnati is everything closes so early,” says Ms. Heidler.

        Shortly after 12:30 a.m., more customers trickle in to the mostly undiscovered eatery. w

        “You want your onions sauteed?” asks grill master Mr. Daniels, to a customer who has ordered a double cheeseburger to go.

        The customer, Donnie, a 48-year-old security guard, says he noticed the restaurant when he stopped at the gas station across the street. Apparently impressed with how his cheeseburger was prepared, he inquires about the Sunday dinner menu before he leaves.

        “Baked chicken and pork barbecue,” Mrs. Lloyd-Daniels answers.

        Kay's menu features Southern home cooking, including o yams, macaroni and cheese, cabbage, collard greens, country fried steak and catfish. One of the house specialties is the “Wanda Burger,” two grilled quarter-pound patties of beef, with lettuce, tomato, and onions.

        Mrs. Lloyd-Daniels said she learned her culinary artistry from her mother, who grew up in Alabama. She started cooking for large gatherings at her church, Faith Tabernacle in Walnut Hills, where she was often told “You need to open a restaurant.”

Miranda Heidler, of Northside (L), and Karlen Vanderlinden, of Oakley (R) play Uno while waiting for their meals at Kay's Restaurant.
(John Curley photo)
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        The couple does double duty as cooks and servers on this Saturday night. As business grows, they plan to hire more employees.

        Mrs. Lloyd-Daniels is a union electrician who operates a construction company. Her husband is a businessman with a background in information technology, a former food and beverage manager for a Florida hotel and a Navy veteran.

        Eventually, they plan to open several other restaurants in Cincinnati.

        To fill their employee needs, they envision opening a culinary school that would train chefs to duplicate Mrs. Lloyd-Daniels' signature brand of home cooking.

        The name of the restaurant will soon officially be changed to Wanda's at Kay's Restaurant, Mrs. Lloyd-Daniels explains, to reflect her Southern home cooking menu while maintaining homage to the original Northside landmark.

        About 1:30 a.m., Willie Smith, 33, and his girlfriend Sharon Davis, 34, both of Northside, take a seat at the counter on their way home from a neighborhood bar.

        “I was walking down the street and I was hungry,” Mr. Smith says.

        A short time later, John Johnson, 41, of Westwood, and his female companion who have just come from a party, take a seat in one of the booths.

        “There's no place open late at night like this,” says Mr. Johnson, who works as a cook for a country club. Before he leaves, Mrs. Lloyd-Daniels tells him he would be a good candidate for her planned culinary school.

        Just before 3 a.m., the last customers leave the restaurant with their takeout orders.

        “Don't forget tomorrow is banana pudding and sweet potato pie,” Mrs. Lloyd-Daniels advises with a smile.

        If you have a suggestion for Night Watch, call William A. Weathers at 768-8390; fax 768-8340.


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