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Looking for a new lunch spot? Try this affordable gem in the heart of downtown Dayton

Trust us: get the mac and cheese.

On a rainy Wednesday in Dayton, I made my way downtown to Marilyn’s Grill on the corner of First and Main for lunch. 

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The counter-style eatery boasted a menu of familiar comfort foods with their own twist. The radio played upbeat R&B music which added to the casual atmosphere. I noticed a doorbell rang upon a customer’s entry, which I thought was a homey touch. The decor was minimal, and left little to the imagination. But as I saw many take-out orders come in for a pick up, and noticed a few tables packed with men donning their work fashions, I thought there had to be something that made this place special -- and I came to find out there definitely was.

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Turkey club, fries and Habanero sauce and mac n' cheese (Alex Perry)

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I opted for the turkey club, mac n’ cheese and a bottle of water to wash it down.  

As I waited for my food, I chatted with the manager on duty, Albert Smith. His warm smile was practically infectious. We spoke about small business, downtown growth and the delicious secret recipe for this mac and cheese I kept asking about.

Inside Marilyn's Grill and behind the counter (Alex Perry)

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“Love and happiness” was all Smith would reveal -- but trust I’ll prod again to get the details on my next visit. 

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Albert Smith and a cook put together lunch orders (Alex Perry)

When I received my order, Smith had snuck in an order of fries so I could sample his newest sauce -- a sweet and smoky Habanero BBQ sauce that gave my fried potato slices the flavor of a delicious BBQ potato chip. Smith asked me what I thought, but my stuffing the fries into my face said it all. 

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At the ordering counter at Marilyn's Grill (Alex Perry)

“We love cooking,” Smith said. “Our specialties like our sauces are what keep folks coming back.” 

He tipped me off about their signature fried pound cake and sweet butter, and also their Sunday buffet that lays out all their best-loved dishes, sauces and sides.

Want to go?

WHAT: Marilyn’s Grill

WHERE: 143 N Main St., Dayton

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tues.-Thur., 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fri., 12-6 p.m. Sun.

INFO: http://www.marilynsgrill.com/

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