by Eileen Cartter
Just off the square in historic Mount Vernon sits Build-A-Biscuit, a tiny, sunny space with tables constructed from copper-painted antique suitcases and a hefty chalkboard menu listing savory and sweet toppings to be paired with the restaurant’s signature square buttermilk biscuits.
Build-A-Biscuit’s owner, operator and chef Cyndi Joyner, who hails from New York City, opened the storefront this summer.
As far as Mount Vernon eateries go, Build-A-Biscuit feels surprisingly niche. Joyner came to Ohio five years ago to reconnect with her family after years of traveling and living in and around Europe; she met and fell in love with a man from Mount Vernon a year later. “If I’m gonna stay, let me help zhoosh up Mount Vernon a little bit,” she said. “I’m a foodie … and the lack of options [here] was driving me crazy.”
“I thought my demographic would be students and young hipsters … appreciating a modern spin on things,” she said. “But then I get the older couples who are farmers and have been married for 50 years and are like, ‘My mama used to make biscuits like this.’”
Joyner made components of the dishes to order in the space’s makeshift kitchen, cooking cheese sauce in an electric skillet while Bon Iver’s “Holocene” played from speakers connected to Joyner’s phone. She prepares many of the basic ingredients in a commercial kitchen several blocks away, which she then has to transport to the restaurant.
Possible biscuit accompaniments range from beef brisket to chocolate gravy, which the menu’s “biscuit boxes” marry well. The “Mutha’ Cluckin’ Biscuit,” topped with spicy fried chicken, bacon, three-cheese sauce and tomatoes, though, was flavorful but a bit overwhelming. The chicken, covered in buttery hot sauce, was reminiscent of the Cove’s boneless wings; swapping out the chicken for a fried egg, however, would have made for a perfect breakfast sandwich. (Joyner had sold out of eggs that day.)
But better was the “Georgia Peach Biscuit,” filled with peaches cooked in a brown sugar sauce. It was the best kind of combination of butter, sugar and salt that really only could have been improved by a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
And the biscuits themselves: delicious.
It’s been a rocky start, however, for the restaurant, and Joyner said she may not be there much longer. “It’s so much work to cook the amount of food that I need for the day because the demand has gone up, and it’s just me,” she said. She’s currently in the market for a bigger space. “I’m gonna piss a lot of people off,” she said, “but until I find a [full-size] restaurant, I don’t like to do things unless I can do them properly.” Joyner looked into the Gambier Grill space when its lease was up over the summer, though its owner renewed the lease shortly thereafter, rendering the building unavailable.
Build-A-Biscuit’s standout is Joyner herself, the sunniest part of this visit to a biscuit restaurant on a 90-degree day. Her journey to Mount Vernon has been an unusual one: She lived in the Czech Republic before coming back to the States, and while there taught English, sang in a jazz band and coached contestants for the Czech version of American Idol. “This one kid was like, ‘I wanna be like Usher, you know,’ from Slovakia, poor thing,” she said, laughing. On Build-A-Biscuit’s Facebook page, commenters raved about both the food and Joyner’s company.
As of now, Joyner is looking for a sponsor to keep her business running, hopefully in a new space. Aren’t Kenyon students always saying that Gambier just needs one more restaurant?
Build-A-Biscuit is located at 35 Public Square in Mount Vernon. According to its website, the restaurant is open from Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. But call ahead first to make sure — Joyner just might open the kitchen for you.