By Jim MacQueen
They say there’s no place like home for the holidays. To some extent, I agree. I enjoy the annual turkey roasts and experimenting with stuffing and sweet potatoes as much as the next cook, I guess. But ever since the kids fled the empty nest, cooking a big meal just isn’t the same, and I frequently find myself sharing Thanksgiving with strangers at a holiday buffet.
We are blessed with several fine ones in the greater Akron area, and it is not my purpose to sell you on a particular place. Among the ones I know of are those at Tangier on West Market, Piatto Novo and the Cathedral in Cuyahoga Falls, the Galaxy in Wadsworth, and the 356th Fighter Group by the Canton-Akron Airport. But I have a favorite, and I’m going to tell you about it because it embodies everything I think you should look for if you are going to spend an important part of your holiday away from home. After all, a holiday meal should be special, and if the place isn’t special, it’s just food.
My special place is the Oaks Lakeside Restaurant at the Oaks Lodge on Chippewa Lake in Medina County. It’s about 15-20 minutes away by Interstate 76 and then north on Lake Road (turn right at the truck wash!). Chippewa Lake is glacial remnant, and is actually the largest natural lake in Ohio. Originally part of the Western Reserve, it was granted to Samuel Fowler in 1825, and the Village of Chippewa Lake was laid out in 1873. A railroad was built to transport ice cut from the lake to Cleveland.
The Townsend family held a major stake in the railroad and vacationed there in their private rail car. Eventually they purchased the Robb farm, built many of the buildings around the old Chippewa Lake Park, and created the estate, then known as Five Oaks, that is now the Oaks Lodge. The estate was completed in 1914 and was a showpiece of gracious living in the ‘20s. Chippewa Lake Park also became a major attraction, drawing people to the community well into the ‘50s and ‘60s; the park closed in 1978 under pressure from larger, more modern theme parks.
In 1961, Don Casper and Al Hitchens acquired the property and began to create a fine dining establishment with a statewide reputation. The food was traditional upscale…steaks, chops, and seafood. It was the ambiance that made the building special, and that is still the case today. When Casper and Hitchens passed, ownership went to Casper’s three nieces, and Bonnie Casper Drushal serves as CEO today. Johnny Pollizi runs the restaurant, essentially the general manager and executive chef.
It is the atmosphere that makes the Oaks such a terrific holiday destination. The building is old but in superb condition. Several rooms in the old mansion have been converted to dining rooms and a modern kitchen serves the restaurant operation. A wonderful old bar is at the hub of the house. The entire back wall has been converted to glass, overlooking the patio, the outdoor dining operation (closed by holiday time, of course), the expansive lawn and gazebo, all leading down to the lake’s edge.
At holiday time, the establishment is appropriately decorated, and the meals are buffet style. The holiday buffet menu is going to have all the favorite traditional items, turkey, ham, roast beef, chicken, stuffed seafood. What usually makes this buffet special are the side dishes…Yukon Gold potatoes, various vegetable combinations, dressing, sweet potatoes, a large variety of salads, and of course, special holiday desserts. A great bar and an excellent wine by the glass list make sure that it will be a holiday feast.
Like most holiday buffets in the area, the Oaks will be very busy. Whether you choose this place or another, you should plan to call first to find out about hours of operation, the menu, special dietary needs, and available reservation times. I would not try to dine out anywhere on a holiday without first making a table reservation.
I noted before that we dine out because there are usually just the two of us, but I should point out that many times, we see entire families at holiday buffets. I think it’s great if you have a lot of people to feed, or just want to take the burden off the usual family cook. Getting out of your usual digs and joining a bunch of others to celebrate a holiday is a great idea. Give it a try this year. Here is a link to The Oaks web site:
And to some of the other establishments hosting Thanksgiving Buffets tomorrow: