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Mixin' in the Village Gravy by Amy Magnusfabulous night out for the ladies

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Wheat PennyTwo Thursdays ago, my good friends about town started planning a ladies’ night out. Five families trade off month to month the responsibility of watching the kids at one family’s home while either the women or the men have an evening on the town. In the last trade, the men played laser tag. This month, the women had their go. In planning, I made a suggestion: Let’s support our friend and neighbor Elizabeth Wiley and feast at her new pizza palace, Wheat Penny Oven and Bar. Since all of us love her well-established restaurant Meadowlark, my suggestion was taken up immediately.

I found the date selected odd however. “Um, the 6th of September is my wedding anniversary.” I was halfway convinced this was a ruse, a rather awkward way to spring a surprise party. However, my friend Jen Clark responded “Ha! I know all secrets, and you’ll still be recovering on the 6th.” So true, Jen. So true.

So LAST weekend, Jeremy and I celebrated our anniversary with ambition and an intimate trip to the Big Apple. This Friday, I am free to go play with my friends.

red velvet cupcakesJust before we leave, I pull a batch of cupcakes from the oven. The cupcakes are my daughter’s brainstorm. Intending on surprising her Dad, she gave the game away when midweek when she crossed her father on the way to her room and a planning session with me. In hushed tones, she confided, “Mom and I have a secret so we will be whispering. You will have to wait Friday to find out what it is.” The choice of cake is my nod to the wonderful homemade cake Jeremy and I split in the O’Hare terminal on the final leg of last week’s trip. I found a recipe from the Sunset Magazine that meets two important requirements: First, the result should be something my daughter will eat, preferably not chocolate; second, the source of food coloring should be natural…in this case, red, red beets.

Friday morning, I roasted the beets in foil at 350 degrees for an hour and let them to cool. An hour before the families arrive, I purée the beets, mix the wet ingredients in the same food processor, then combine the wet to the dry in a bowl. The batter comes out a shock of fuchsia. My daughter fills the muffin pans with paper cups and—fascinated with the bold color—snaps pictures of me piping fuchsia mixture into the baking cups. We dotted half the cupcakes with chocolate chips and give them up to the 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. The cakes come out of the hot oven a rich burgundy. With a flourish, I turn over the spatula to my husband and his amazing ways with buttercream frosting. It is time to depart for ladies’ night out.

making cupcakesfilling cups

Wheat Penny Oven and Bar is in Dayton south of the Oregon District and just north of the Wayne Street entrance to 35 West. Driving south on Wayne, we spot the pizzeria easily; the emblem of a one cent piece shines bright before us. We park in a good sized parking lot brimming with cars and enter.

ladies night out

The staff welcomes us like old friends—which a few of us are—and appoint us seats with an unobstructed view of the kitchen. The room is vibrant. One warm orange wall sports geometric paintings in dramatic colors. The opposite wall is forest green as we arrive in the daylight and transitions to electric blue in the twilight of the evening. Throughout, the kitchen strobes bright white, a shining beacon of goodness.

family friendlyReady for a splendid pizza
cocktailtables at Wheat Penny

Wheat Penny's KitchenThe room is active and interesting, but what struck me first are the tomato cans. Once gallon-sized tubs holding over six pounds of pear tomatoes, they line the shelves under the kitchen window that Chef Elizabeth Valenti doles out pizzas. She tells me the cans come from Dan Magnuson, aka Dan the Tomato Man, of Soda Rock Farms. They would remind me of basket balls in their size and color but for the cylindrical shape. Elevated from their role of food packaging, the cans serve as pedestals for the larger pizzas delivered about the dinning room. It’s a clever repurposing and much appreciated as there is more room at our table for other tasty dishes on Wheat Penny’s menu.

We order cocktails then appetizers and pizza. A peppery salad comes first along with a plate of local melon and salami-like coppa from the Indianapolis based Smoking Goose Meatery. Grilled eggplant and roasted potatoes soon join us. Overall, I am taken by the exceptional produce and the high quality condiments—in particular, the vinegars and oils—accompanying them. The olive oil is so good that the kitchen uses it—no kidding—as syrup for the vanilla ice cream.

Wheat Penny'S Bar

local melonsplit eggplantroasted potato

Chef Wiley comes to greet us and is especially pleased to see that her neighbor Jen has brought three friends to share Wiley’s big moment. A spin off from the Meadowlark and its Monday pizza night, the pizzeria boasts an enticing menu with an array of inspirations. The Commuter pizza features another Smoking Goose meat—a kind of sausage called Mortadella—with fresh mozzarella, parmesan and crushed pistachio. Also lovely and tempting is the Tommaso named after local contracting and home cook Tommaso Gregor who taught Wiley its sauce. The Roman sauce is a reduction of balsamic vinegar, honey, and rosemary with butter added. A base for crispy onions, figs, and blue cheese, it flew from the kitchen at regular intervals.

The CommuterThe Tommasolet' s eat

Jen tells Wiley that she is excited to try the gluten free pie crust. Most of the pizzas coming out of the kitchen have puffy foundations that cradle their toppings like small children. The gluten free crust offers the same satisfying crunch as its California-style counterpart but the more subtle flat bread makes an excellent foil for the cheese in our tarte flambee featuring Nueske’s bacon, caramelized onions, fresh thyme, bechamel, and parmesan. Jen and I are both pleased as is the family who joins us at the shared table. Their youngest son gets his very own gluten-free pie and, when I ask his opinion, he nods his hearty approval.

gluten free crust

My approval is won also though perhaps more readily. Wiley and I go back a ways. She was part owner of the Winds Cafe when Jeremy and I worked with her to plan our wedding in the upstairs room above the Wind’s Wine Cellar. I ask locals “Remember the most beautiful weekend in Ohio the summer of 2003. That weekend is when we were married. I remember the blue-sky weather, the special grace that brought our friends and family safely to Yellow Springs and home again, and the kind attention Wiley and her staff gave the food and the wine on that day and know gratitude.

Bloody MaryI find it immensely pleasing—fitting even—to be celebrating the start of Chef Wiley’s new venture on the anniversary of that grand venture she kick off with us ten years ago. I look around the tasteful ordered room at Wheat Penny and see all the makings of an instant institution.

We are offered dessert, but we hope to connect with a fifth friend back in the folds of Yellow Springs. We say goodbyes and make our way back to the Sunrise Cafe just as the cafe transitions from restaurant to martini lounge. We order a round of drinks and slices of chocolate cake.

Our friend joins us on the Sunrise patio and orders a Bloody Mary. We are taken aback when it arrives crowned with a mini Vick salad. For my friend’s sake, I’m shocked as she pulls a long strip of bacon—still warm from the grill—out of the cocktail. She reassures me that she is not in fact a pure vegetarian, more a baco-vegetarian. She pronounces her cocktail quite good and wants only for an olive.

transform to Fabulousladies night at the Sunrise

We get ready to leave when there is a commotion in the hallway that leads from the patio back into the cafe. Our ladies night is destined to end with a drag show—the Sunrise’s first ever—and there is a transition to FABULOUSNESS underway. In long eyelashes, a luxurious mane of curls, and sparkly makeup, one queen muses her skirt might be too short for the crowd. I laugh and reassure her honestly, “Not when you have the legs for it.” She says, “Thank you,” with a winning smile.

cupcake party

Back at home, I find the house asleep but still alive with evidence of a splendid ball. The children have covered red velvet with snow white icing and silvery sugar bobbles.

ladies at the snowball

Atop the fabulously glam buttercream clouds, elegant princesses dance…some in solitary regal form, others clustered together in sisterly harmony. The tableau suggests a gay hurrah and a memorable night as wonderful as our own.


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