Restaurants can be so demanding, what with all the showering, teeth brushing, hair combing and outfit selecting required to look halfway presentable. Diners, on the other hand, have always been our come-as-you-are refuge, where coffee is a given, conversation is optional and tabs easily can be paid with the loose bills in one's pocket. Diners, also known as the only good thing New Jersey has going for it, come in all shapes and sizes. The affable, affordable greasy spoons of our misspent youth have been joined by more ambitious chef-driven diners, where the focus still is on breakfast and lunch, but the ingredients and composition are anything but average.
Here are a few of our favorites.
1332 Carnegie Ave., 216-239-1141, hotspotcafecleveland.com
It's tough to beat the location and free parking of this contemporary diner, which has helped plug the gap when it comes to downtown breakfast providers. Morning items include buttermilk pancakes, sourdough French toast, corned beef hash and breakfast burritos. At lunch, guests can choose from housemade soups, a half dozen salads, half-pound Angus burgers, and a number of deli sandwiches like roast beef with horsey sauce.
13101 Triskett Rd., 216-671-0430
For decades, George's Kitchen has been the place to go for quick-fire service, generous portions, and consistent food morning, noon or night. The massive menu runs the gamut from three-egg omelets for breakfast to Greek moussaka for dinner. There really is something for every taste and appetite here, with corned beef hash and country-fried steak with eggs and home fries to crusty patty melts dripping with grilled onions, triple-decker Clubs and even veal Parmesan.
North Main Diner
16 North Main St., Chagrin Falls, 440-893-9599, nmdiner.com
For as long as folks can remember, there has been a diner in the heart of Chagrin Falls. These days that diner is North Main, where locals fuel up on home-style favorites like buttermilk pancakes with housemade sausage, griddled mashed potato cakes with pepper gravy, and country-fried steak and eggs. At lunch, classic Mawby's burgers are served with the requisite paprika grilled onions, house-roasted turkey is paired with mashed potatoes and sage gravy, and from the 1940s-era soda fountain come genuine phosphates, malts and egg creams.
The Diner on 55th
1328 East 55th St., 216-361-0550, dineron55th.com
When this shimmering chrome diner opened at East 55th and St. Clair 15 years ago, it literally and figuratively brightened up the entire area — and it isn't just the flickering neon and oversized exterior clock. A classic the day it was born, this diner dishes up timeless staples all day long, starting with breakfast sandwiches, french toast, or flaky biscuits with sausage gravy and eggs. Blue Plate Specials like liver and onions come with potato, soup, salad, bread and butter. For the lighter appetite there's a Cobb salad brimming with fresh greens, grilled chicken and hard-boiled egg.
Mike & Dee's Diner
629 Euclid Ave., 216-621-1505, mikeanddeesdiner.com
Except for the setting, a small interior space off the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express on Euclid, this is a classic breakfast and lunch diner. There's room for 50 on swivel stools at a lengthy counter or at low-slung tables. In the morning, the flattop fills up with French toast, pancakes and three-egg omelets. Lunchtime is all about matzo ball soup, triple-decker Clubs and crispy fries, and griddled Reubens with corned beef, Swiss and kraut on rye.
Big Al's Diner
12600 Larchmere Blvd., 216-791-8550
If there's a better way to start the day than with a visit to this Larchmere mainstay, we haven't discovered it. Everything that flies out of that cramped kitchen is diner perfection, from the over-sized pancakes to the biscuits and gravy. Mushroom and cheese omelets with onion-topped homefries and a side of buttery grits will set you straight, as will the hearty corned beef hash with tender potatoes, green peppers and eggs.
2621 West 14th St., 216-241-5025, grumpys-cafe.com
Grumpy's has been a vital component of the near-westside for more than 20 years. Now in its second home, this well-worn gem is warm, welcoming and homey. Diners flock here for breakfast items with a creative twist, like walnut-crusted French toast topped with cinnamon honey apples, or a jambalaya omelet stuffed with chicken, shrimp, ham, sausage and rice. The pitch-perfect Walker Hash marries spicy home fries with eggs, chorizo and andouille sausage, okra and cheddar cheese.
3900 Lorain Ave., 216-961-5199, jack-flaps.com
Squarely in the "new-fangled" category, this edgy diner in Ohio City does things a bit differently — and that's great news for diners. On tap are a host of creative plates built around pancakes, waffles and French toast, many of which are savory not sweet. A breakfast banh mi fills a mish-mosh bagel with Vietnamese sausage, fried egg and kicky kimchi, while the "Real F*ing Breakfast Burrito" is stuffed with adobo-braised beef, eggs, hash and cheese. It's gilded with smoked tomato salsa and crema. On the sweet side of the menu are items like French toast with peanut butter, jam, Nutella and "cereal milk whipped cream."