So said guests at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany’s free monthly Community Meal Feb. 17.
Church volunteers also have high praise for Ken Green, owner-operator of Rock ‘n Robin diner in Urbana who collaborated with Epiphany to offer fresh-made fish and chips at the recent free monthly supper in Epiphany’s dining room.
The church funded the meal and Green prepared it at the diner. Shortly before serving time, he personally delivered big, foil-covered roasting pans of french fries and fish fillets to the church kitchen and slipped them into a heated oven. Next came an Olympic-sized stainless steel bowl of slaw. And Green added a vat of tartar sauce and serving cups—-for free.
He returned to the diner and cooked up another batch of everything and replenished the entree during the evening. For the next couple of hours, church members and guests relished large golden-crusted fillets of cod, slim, crispy fries and hearty cabbage and carrot slaw with Green’s special dressing. Cake and cookies, coffee and cold beverages rounded out the meal.
Green was impressed with the Community Meal program underway at Epiphany and the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Mechanicsburg. He perched on a stool in the kitchen and talked about his other experiences partnering with area non-profits – Messiah Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Soroptimist Club of Urbana and the Northeastern High School cheerleading squad being the most recent. They were all fundraisers, he said, and he hopes to continue helping local organizations in this way.
Green is a relative newcomer to Champaign County, moving here from Carrollton, Ohio in 2014. In October of that year, he and his wife, Billie, fascinated by the vintage diner culture, purchased Rock ‘n Robin.
Curious about the diner’s history, he tracked it back to Huber Heights where it had been in service for some years but didn’t do well and was closed. It was pulled onto a vacant lot and ignored for about a year until it was spotted by former Urbana businessman Brad Yocom. He bought the diner and opened it as Rock ‘n Robin at the present location on Scioto Street.
Green said there were several major manufacturers of diners in the early 20th century, but he hasn’t been able to confirm the maker of Rock ‘n Robin. He was told there is a metal plate on the underside of the structure with that information. He navigated the crawl space with a flashlight, but found nothing. His research continues.
Green said he and Billie are hooked on the diner-style restaurant era of the late 1920s and early ‘30s. Rock ‘n Robin has the authentic characteristics: the streamlined shape of a train’s dining car; art-deco style stainless steel exterior, polished to a high shine; the casual ambience of the interior booths, counter and stools and a menu that varies little from the range of foods offered by the first horse-drawn “lunch wagon” which took to the streets of Providence, Rhode Island, in 1872. Green has developed some original taste combinations and recipes for sandwiches and entrees, but holds to many diner traditions including serving breakfast all day.
His high standards come through when he speaks of the spaghetti he makes for fundraisers. He said advance notice is necessary for that specialty as he cooks the sauce himself from an authentic Italian recipe. It’s a lengthy process of several stages and fresh ingredients and can’t be hurried.
Green has been surprised by the interest in the diner-eatery experience. Businessmen and women traveling through Champaign County often stop for a meal. One gentleman from New York City eats there regularly. And, has apparently mentioned it to friends. Green said it’s not unusual for customers from the New York area to introduce themselves saying, “Jerry told me about you.”
Green and his wife, Billie, have four children in the Urbana school system: Gaige, High School Junior; Layne, 6th grade, Junior High; Alex and Max, grades 4 and 3, respectively, South Elementary.
Green said he found a handsome, vintage photo of the Urbana High School’s original castle building with students on the lawn, the young men and women grouped separately, that the Champaign County Historical Society dated at about 1913. He framed it and has given it a place of honor on the wall at Rock ‘n Robin.
Free Community Meals at Epiphany are served on the third Wednesday of each month from 5 to 7 p.m. The next is scheduled for Wednesday, March 16.
The monthly meal program was begun in 2011 by the Mechanicsburg Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, which, with Epiphany, comprises the Northern Miami Valley Episcopal Cluster.
Our Saviour opens its dining room to the public from 6 to 7 p.m. the last Wednesday of each month. All are welcome at no cost. Both churches offer carry-out for those with limited mobility.