DAYTON EATS: 3 restaurants where the menus scream summer flavors

Grist Practice What you Preach salad, $9.75

Credit: Alexis Larsen

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Grist Practice What you Preach salad, $9.75

Credit: Alexis Larsen

With Labor Day weekend just a month away, now is the time to savor the pool, the heat and all of the flavors of summer.

Soak it all in, because it will be gone before you know it and a long, cold winter will take its place.

Seasonal menus all across town and across the county will flip and take on the markers of fall with deeper, moodier, heartier ingredients that impart the seasonal changes.

Right now is my favorite time of year to hit locally-owned independent restaurants that are practiced in the groove of celebrating summer with locally-grown seasonal ingredients.

Here are three restaurants I’ve eaten at recently, enjoying the flavor and promise of warmth on my face and vitamin D in my body with food that delights with fresh, bright, beautiful flavor.

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Coco’s Bistro

250 Warren St., Dayton

937-228-2626 or https://228coco.com

Last month was an important one for Coco’s Bistro.

Every year on June 20 it celebrates another year in business.

It just turned sweet 16, a true feat for any restaurant navigating the choppy waters with COVID and thin margins.

According to a frequently cited study by Ohio State University on failed restaurants, 60% do not make it past the first year, and 80% go under in five years.

Co-owners Karen Wick-Gagnet and Jim Gagnet continue to bring their A-game to the dining scene with the style, sophistication and flavors they have built their business on.

In a previous interview Wick-Gagnet shared, “we strive to be consistent in all we do, we love our staff, we love and appreciate our customers and we are committed to our business and community. Our dedication and discipline to the genuine desire to continually improve our offering, I think, have helped to facilitate our success.”

Coco’s patio is one of the spots not to miss this summer, or even fall thanks to the eight large portable propane patio heaters they roll out.

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The beautifully appointed covered patio dotted with bright green plants offers protection from the sun or rain with access to fresh air and, often, a nice breeze.

It’s a perfect spot to share fried brie ($16) with friends or enjoy a light Ahi tuna poke appetizer ($20). The summer menu has a wonderful beet salad complimented with bright grapefruit and savory goat cheese topped with grilled salmon ($17). The pan seared steelhead trout ($28) served with braised Spanish butter beans, cherry tomatoes, grilled onion, lemon aioli and lemon zest is a delicious, light flavorful treat that brings the simple flavors of the main ingredients to the forefront. A smoked half chicken with blueberry BBQ, jalapeno grits with a blueberry relish ($28) is a satisfying wonderful homage to a summer cookout.

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Coco's Bistro smoked blueberry BBQ chicken

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Coco's Bistro smoked blueberry BBQ chicken

Credit: Alexis Larsen

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Coco's Bistro smoked blueberry BBQ chicken

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

The Thai peanut dish with rice noodles, peanut sauce, onion, napa cabbage, chopped peanuts and cilantro ($24) is delicious. Add shrimp or a piece of fish if you want to have some protein with it. An elderflower gimlet ($13) is a great summer choice to wash it all down. That or the Art Basil cocktail made with tequila, watermelon, basil and lime.

Coco’s wine list is a great place to shop for a juicy libation to compliment the food as well.

Wick-Gagnet understands that dining is about experience. She has created a restaurant that is relaxed and inviting to compliment her flavorful seasonal menu of both food and cocktails.

Grist

46 W. 5th St., Dayton

937-802-4544 or http://eatgrist.com

If you’ve not heard of this place or the incredibly talented chefs and owners behind it — Casey and Patrick Van Voorhis — right this wrong and get over to their restaurant for a visit.

Housed in a quaint corner at Fifth and Ludlow streets, this little piece of heaven is not only a restaurant, but a spot to grab specialty homemade pastas and sauces to bring home for dinner.

There are sandwiches, salads, soup and desserts available for purchase as either dine-in or grab-and-go alongside all of the carbs you’ve ever longed for.

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Grist Chicken Sandwich

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Grist Chicken Sandwich

Credit: Alexis Larsen

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Grist Chicken Sandwich

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

On a recent visit I enjoyed a Bird Degree sandwich ($14.25). The menu is much more than clever, playful names — it’s also really fantastic food. I’ve never had a bad thing on the menu. In this case it was fork tender lemon-thyme chicken topped with pepper relish, marinated tomato, burrata, pickled onions, bibb lettuce and fried avocado on a homemade ciabatta roll.

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It was simple, delicious and lovely from start to finish and would be a great grab and go to take and eat next to the river downtown when the weather is nice.

My dining companion opted for a Practice What you Peach salad ($9.75). Chicken, steak or shrimp can be added for an additional charge to the display of preserved peaches, toasted farro, walnut granola, tarragon goat cheese, pickled pearl onions and bee pollen vinaigrette on a bed of arugula. There’s also a One in a Melon ($9.75) salad with melon, whipped burrata, shaved cucumber, pickled tomato, black olive oil, sunflower seed and verjus vinaigrette.

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Coco's Bistro Thai peanut dish with rice noodles, peanut sauce, onion, napa cabbage, chopped peanuts and cilantro ($24)

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Coco's Bistro Thai peanut dish with rice noodles, peanut sauce, onion, napa cabbage, chopped peanuts and cilantro ($24)

Credit: Alexis Larsen

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Coco's Bistro Thai peanut dish with rice noodles, peanut sauce, onion, napa cabbage, chopped peanuts and cilantro ($24)

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

A lemongrass poached shrimp po-boy ($14.75) with corn chow chow, blackened aioli, cilantro, spiced peanuts and shaved jalapenos on a hoagie roll is a beautiful medley of light summer flavors.

Grist regularly changes up its menu which is a wonderful thing. You never know what you’re going to find, but you always know it’s going to be good.

The Winds

215 Xenia Ave., Yellow Springs

937-767-1144 or www.windscafe.com

One of the dishes I look forward to every year is the Figs, Pigs and Goats ($14) dish at The Winds. For years I’ve enjoyed fresh figs stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped with Nueske’s bacon rubbed with cumin, black pepper and brown sugar. Broiled to tasty perfection until the bacon crisps, the goat cheese melts and the figs caramelize. Drizzled with Italian saba, a velvety syrup made from cooked grape must aged in wood barrels, this is a seasonal treat that delights every time it makes its way to the menu this time of year and one that I will never tire of. It’s great to start a meal or to end it as a savory rich alternative to dessert.

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The Winds Café, located at 215 Xenia Avenue in Yellow Springs, is open 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Credit: Natalie Jones

The Winds Café, located at 215 Xenia Avenue in Yellow Springs, is open 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Credit: Natalie Jones

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The Winds Café, located at 215 Xenia Avenue in Yellow Springs, is open 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Credit: Natalie Jones

Credit: Natalie Jones

Start the meal with the Petite Insalata Caprese ($10) with local cherry tomatoes topped with a spicy tomato vinaigrette, pearlini fresh mozzarella, whipped ricotta tomato leaf oil, a sprinkling of J.Q.Dickinson salt and farmer herbs. The Leo’s Bliss Version II salad ($10) combines mixed greens, chilled beets, green beans, pickled carrots, celery and cucumbers dressed with roasted sherry-shallot vinaigrette. Garnished with a lemon aioli and crunchy grain coated hard cooked egg, it’s a great way to enjoy summer.

As the menu says about this dish: “August is the best month…the best month for produce, the best month for vacation ... "

If you’re feeling like there’s room, order up some crispy zucchini fritters ($12) which combine Greek flavors of lemon, feta and oregano and are served with a colorful beet tzatziki.

For the main course go with a roasted swordfish ($28) that’s topped with a sweet melon salsa flavored with capers, fresh dill, lime and a tangle of herbs served on a bed of saffron rice to soak up all the flavors.

Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Share info about your menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and culinary adventures. Do you know of new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at? E-mail Alexis Larsen at alexis.e.larsen@hotmail.com with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.

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