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161 Diner | Dublin, OH

161 Diner (Facebook / @WFM_Columbus)
3670 W. Dublin-Granville Rd. (inside Whole Foods Market) (map it!)
Dublin, OH 43017
(614) 760-5556
Open Mon-Fri, 11a-9p, Sat & Sun, 10a-9p (brunch served Sat & Sun, 10a-2p)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? N/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 10 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Breakfast in a grocery store? Yes, you read right. Those familiar with Whole Foods Market know that their goal is to create more than just an average shopping experience. Instead, they want to keep you wandering the store for hours, sampling wines, buying gelato, tasting a wood-fired pizza, and more. In short, they are trying to recreate a central city market, in which small cafes or street vendors sell you meals on-the-go while you visit your favorite cheesemonger, butcher, and coffee roaster. Or even while taking your regular spot at your favorite diner counter. Yes, they’ve done even that. Enter the 161 Diner.

ATMOSPHERE: The 161 Diner is indeed a counter inside the Dublin Whole Foods. This WF is the first and largest one in greater Columbus, located in a plaza near the intersection of Sawmill Road and Dublin-Granville Road (Route 161). This means you have to brave the traffic of some of Columbus’ busier thoroughfares, which not everyone is keen to do. You can find the diner on the east side of the store, in the very large prepared foods section. 161 Diner is their version of the American diner, situated amongst Italian food, sushi, pizza, baked goods, and more. Brunch is only served on weekends, and it’s a busy affair. Even though 161 isn’t a traditional diner, it still has its regulars, and the counter stays full.

FOOD: I found a spot at the stainless steel counter and ordered a coffee. I believe they use some of the Whole Foods-brand coffee, but I don’t know for sure. Still, it’s well-brewed – not the acidic “angry water” (as my father-in-law calls it) that you find in most true American diners. Bonus points for serving cold cream with it. I had to search the counter for one of the jars of raw brown sugar. It seems fitting to the type of coffee you’d expect Whole Foods to serve.

I relied on the kitchen staff to suggest unique dishes to eat. They all recommended the sweet potato biscuits first. You don’t see these often enough on breakfast menus, and when they’re done well, they’re great. These very good, although not the best I’ve had. They make use of the sweet potato flavor, although they came out a little on the crunchy side for me.

This is helped by the serving of 365 brand (Whole Foods’ private label brand) jams. A crispy piece of sweet potato biscuit smeared with jam = all right in my book.

For my entree I again relied on the cooks behind the counter, and they all said, “You need to try Danielle’s Meat Cakes.” Um, what? If there’s any phrase that should give you pause in life, it’s “meat cakes.” Danielle’s meat cakes are loaded pancakes – three of them, to be exact – layered with meat, cheddar cheese, topped with strips of bacon, and sprinkled with more cheese. Oh, I’m sorry, does this picture make the dish look small to you?

Maybe this is better. As you would expect, the meat cake is served sizzling and pouring over with goodness. I didn’t even take a picture with the maple syrup (real, mind you) drizzled over the top. In terms of sheer breakfasty flavorfulness, it’s hard not to like it. Pancakes with meat in the batter? Check. Bacon? Check. Cheddar? Check. Crispy fried on the flattop? Check. It’s a breakfast blogger’s dream. Now, is it healthy? Eh… probably not. It’s a lot of food, and a lot of food straight from frying.

SERVICE: In case you were wondering, yes, Danielle, creator of the meat cakes, is a real person, and that’s her cooking my breakfast. All three of the servers working that morning were very friendly and accommodating. The food is all cooked right in front of you, and they clearly have regulars at the counter, even if this is a diner in a different context. That shows you they’re doing something right. A lot of people seemed to come straight to the diner, too. They weren’t dragging grocery carts behind them, just happening to stop for a bite to eat. They came to the store to eat at the diner.

OVERALL: Admittedly, I’m not a regular shopper at Whole Foods. It’s not in my neck of the woods, and the pricing is often beyond my budget. But whether Whole Foods is your grocery store of choice, or not, I think it’s worth at least one trip to the 161 Diner. I tried more of the loaded fair, but there is a lot more to explore: chocolate chip pancakes, prosciutto eggs benedict, even sweet potato biscuits and gravy. The pricing is a couple steps higher than a $4 breakfast platter, but I think the quality and quantity of the food is commensurate. (Sorry, I was jut looking for an excuse to use that word.) Whole Foods is known for well-chosen ingredients, so the construction of their prepared foods is pretty solid as well.

OTHER LINKS:
-> view photos of their updated menu (3/30/12)

Hamburger Inn | Delaware, OH

Hamburger Inn (Facebook)
16 N. Sandusky St. (map it!)
Delaware, OH 43015
(740) 369-3850
Open Mon-Wed, 6a-9p; then open 24 hours from Thurs 6a through Sunday 9p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? N/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

IMPRESSIONS: On a recent trip up to Delaware, Ohio, I finally made it to the Hamburger Inn. I’ve gotten many recommendations for it, particularly whenever I ask where to eat breakfast in Delaware. The Hamburger Inn – which is not an inn, to be clear – can be found on the very cool stretch of Sandusky Street in downtown Delaware. Along the strip there are all sorts of shops, galleries, restaurants, coffee shops, offices, and more, including the great Beehive Books, which may or may not carry a certain author’s breakfast book.

You’ll recognize the Hamburger Inn by the two signs out front: the brighter, newer one on the maroon awning, and the older, off-center letters, presumably the original signage on the building. The restaurant falls under one of those “don’t deny your DNA” spots. This comes from Alton Brown’s description of good restaurants: don’t deny what you do. Be honest with your food and your style, and customers will appreciate it properly. It’s all about expectations. The Hamburger Inn may not be the most imaginative restaurant, but it’s an honest-to-goodness old diner, and they do that well.

ATMOSPHERE: The Hamburger Inn is a single-room diner, with two big wooden U-shaped counters that jut out into the room. One side of the restaurant includes the kitchen, with the grill and prep areas. There’s no real counter seat to watch the grill, but you still get the camaraderie of sitting close to or facing your fellow diners. The atmosphere is that of a typical diner: white noise from some TVs, bustle in the kitchen, customers chatting.

FOOD: Being in an old-school diner (since 1932!), I chose the standard diner breakfast. It’s a good way to judge a restaurant. The result: good scrambled eggs, toast soaked in butter, a basic sausage patty, and some soft, sliced potatoes. All good, although the potatoes need some seasoning, and they need to be left on the grill longer. Not quite enough crispy brown edges for my taste. I also had coffee, which qualifies as that special blend of diner coffee: caffeinated, hot, slightly bitter, only partially improved by cream and sugar.

SERVICE: The servers are as nice as you can expect. Hamburger Inn, like all good diners, cultivates its regulars, so while we ate we noticed a number of people walk in, sit down, and be served their “usual.” You don’t get that way without a group of cooks and servers who are kind and welcoming.

OVERALL: As I said earlier, the Hamburger Inn is like most diners in that the food isn’t off-the-charts good, but the building and decor are fun to see, the service is friendly, and the portions are filling. Every good neighborhood or town needs its old diner, and this is clearly Delaware, Ohio’s. This makes it a necessary stop in any exploration.

OTHER LINKS:

Hamburger Inn on Urbanspoon

Photos: the renovated Honey Dip Donuts & Diner

Fans of the Kenny Road institution Honey Dip Donuts will know that it closed in early June for renovation. After about two months out of commission, they recently re-opened as the Honey Dip Donuts & Diner.

The new layout has lost maybe some of that old-school, outdated donut shop charm, but the new version re-captures most of it, and offers some bonuses. First, is the expanded seating areas.

In addition to the long counter, there are more two- or four-top tables.

The space is also overall brighter. Big windows, lots of new lighting. And there’s still the long, low counter with the little stools, where you can hang out with a donut and a cup of coffee.

You can also see into the kitchen. That offers more of the classic diner experience, allowing you to hear the hustle and bustle of the kitchen and see the cooks set your order up in the window.

One of the biggest changes is the addition of breakfast and lunch to the menu (this is very exciting news for a breakfast blogger). Now, while sampling a donut or two, you can also enjoy eggs and home fries, omelets, pancakes, French toast, and breakfast sandwiches.

Of course, there are still all the classic donuts. That certainly didn’t change. There’s one giant shelf up top, plus the smaller display case below. Out of respect, I didn’t take a picture of top shelves; we visited late in the day and they were mighty picked over.

I’m curious to know what others think of the new space! I hope to get in and try the breakfast soon. I’ll certainly post pictures when I do.

Sloopy’s Diner | Columbus, OH

Sloopy’s Diner
1739 N. High St., in the Ohio Union (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43210
(614) 292-7000
Accepts cash, credit/debit, and BuckID
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y
Date of Visit: Friday, August 5, 2011 at 9:00 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: Anyone who attends or works at Ohio State is familiar with construction on campus. We live with road closures and new buildings, but we also enjoy the fruits of all that labor. Cases in point: our beautiful renovated library, and our massive new Ohio Union. And a bonus that came with the Union: the designers wisely placed a diner in it.
ATMOSPHERE: Because Sloopy’s is, after all, situated on the campus of THE Ohio State University, you can expect very heavy Buckeye themes. Tile floors, plates, lighting fixtures, booths, signs, countertops, everything is decorated in scarlet and gray. It’s very fitting for a diner, actually.
If you go at mealtimes, especially during the school year, you’re bound to find crowds of students. However, the diner provides a wealth of seating, with two levels of booths, tables, and a looooong row of counter seats. For a diner, it’s pretty spacious.
You also get a big view of the kitchen, so Sloopy’s may not have that crammed-next-to-your-neighbor charm that smaller places like Nancy’s or Jack & Benny’s boast, but it still gives you enough of the diner flare.
FOOD: We started off with some coffee. Notice the checkered scarlet and gray around the cups and plates. Coffee was good diner coffee; bonus points for bringing out a mug of cream automatically.
We had heard tell of their popular cinnamon rolls, too, so we sampled one. It was pretty warm and soft. Definite cream cheese taste in the frosting. Not the best cinnamon roll ever, but I can see why people go for them. It works well as an appetizer for a group.
I haven’t seen too many breakfast sliders on menus, so we had to try one of these, too. It’s essentially a small breakfast sandwich with scrambled eggs and a sausage patty, but then it’s topped with crispy onions and a dash of barbeque sauce. This could make an easy light breakfast (or another appetizer). The ingredients came together well: the onions and a little bit of zest from the sauce sold it.
I ordered the smothered breakfast burrito: a flour tortilla packed with eggs, cheddar, chorizo, black beans, and salsa. I’m a sucker for a good burrito. This wasn’t the most dynamic, but it certainly tasted good and was filling. The chorizo and salsa were pretty flavorful, and you can’t argue with eggs and cheese. Came with a side of nice crispy hash browns.
Here’s the overhead artsy shot of my burrito.
And here’s the No Veggies Here omelet, loaded with bacon, sausage, ham, turkey, and cheese, then covered with black beans, avocado, and more cheese. We chose the side of hash browns. Like the burrito, the dish was delicious and portions were student-sized. You’ll certainly get your fill at Sloopy’s. It’s a wonderful combination of diner + student cafeteria, which means you’ll get a lot of comfort food.
SERVICE: Sloopy’s fully embraces the 1950’s diner theme. The menu is shaped like a record, and you’re of course treated to lots of 50’s rock music while you eat. Although the servers don’t come to your table on roller skates, you’re still treated well. Our service was great: very friendly and welcoming, able to suggest menu items and tell us about the restaurant.

Honey Dip Donuts & Diner | Columbus, OH

Honey Dip Donuts (Facebook)
4480 Kenny Rd. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43220
(614) 459-0812
Open everyday, 6 am – 4 pm
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm

IMPRESSIONS: Geographically, Columbus has itself pretty well covered, donutally. Grandview has DK Diner. Campus and the south side have Buckeye Donuts. Westerville has Schneider’s. The east side has Resch’s. And if you’re headed west, you’ve got Honey Dip Donuts.

ATMOSPHERE: The look and feel of Honey Dip Donuts is so decidedly old school, it’s almost painful. The half-lit signs that list the donut flavors. The pink shelves lined with trays of goodies.

That long, low counter that’s only wide enough for munching a custard-filled and sipping a cup of angry diner coffee.

But that’s the charm: they’re a simple, small, family-run donut shop that’s been going strong for decades. With their 30-40 varieties of glazed twists, buttermilks, cream-filleds, and powdered sugareds, why would they mess with a good thing?

FOOD: As expected, the main feature is donuts, and I haven’t had a bad one there so far. I’m a big fan of buttermilk donuts, and they do plenty of those, from chocolate or vanilla, iced or not, with a variety of flavors, too. The one thing I haven’t had yet is their pumpkin donut, which gets most of the attention at Honey Dip. I guess a return visit is in order.

The selection is wide enough that you’re bound to find something you like.

Here’s the half-dozen I brought home on this particular day. The two on the left are the signature honey dip donut, very light with a thin honey glaze. If you want something sweet, but not too sweet, this is your donut. The middle two are some very good buttermilk donuts. The bottom right corner is a chocolate buttermilk with, yes, chocolate frosting. The top right is a custard-filled bite of deliciousness.

SERVICE: Everyone at Honey Dip is very nice and helpful. The customers, too, are that breed of die-hards who will interrupt the server and start telling you which donuts are best. That’s when you know, for sure, they’ve got a good thing going.

OVERALL: In lieu of another trip to Tim Horton’s or Krispy Kreme, you need to find your way to Honey Dip. Let them show you what real donuts are like. Sidle up at the counter, strike up conversation with a regular, and enjoy another Columbus institution that deserves your support.

As a quick side note: Honey Dip Donuts will close on June 4, 2011 for 4-5 weeks of renovations. When they emerge, they’ll be re-christened the Honey Dip Donuts & Diner, with full breakfast and lunch offerings. Expect a report when their breakfast hits!

Honey Dip Donuts & Coffee on Urbanspoon

Risser’s Family Restaurant | Womelsdorf, PA

Risser’s Family Restaurant (Facebook)
4055 Conrad Wesier Parkway (map it!)
Womelsdorf, PA 10567
(610) 589-4570
Open Tues-Sat, 6:00 am – 7:30 pm; Sun, 6:00 am – 1:30 pm
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 9:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: The “family restaurant.” Now there’s a phrase packed with connotations! What does it bring to mind for you? For me, it recalls small one-off restaurants. Found in small towns around America. Usually close to highways. Definitely family-friendly. Often crowded with regulars. Serving one or two regional specialties but otherwise generally decent food. Family restaurants are close to diners, but bigger. Larger dining rooms. More room for big groups and buffet lines. Many of them, like Ernie Risser’s Family Restaurant, have a small diner side – if you want that type of experience – plus an extensive dining room if the whole family’s come to dine.

ATMOSPHERE: When it comes to the definition of family restaurants, Risser’s is all of the above. Some of my wife’s family is from eastern Pennsylvania, and they discovered it on a visit, parked along Highway 422 between the small towns of Womelsdorf and Myerstown. (Can we say German influences?)

On our visit, we opted for the diner side of things. Truly a tight squeeze. Small stools at the counter, snug little booths. Shiny chrome here and there. Sassy servers.

But the dining room offers more open seating and room for big families. (We returned on a later trip with a group of 15; they easily tucked us into the dining room.)

FOOD: Risser’s gives you all the family restaurant breakfast favorites: eggs, home fries, omelets, French toast, sausage gravy and biscuits. Plus a few not-as-common things: pancakes (called “hotcakes”) loaded with all sorts of fruit. Not just blueberries, but apples and cherries, too. Or there’s the dried chipped beef on toast (aka, an SOS). But no scrapple on the menu.

As we were visiting in the fall, they had a couple seasonal favorites on their specials menu. These include the apple hotcakes, which have apples and cinnamon in them, and the pumpkin pancakes, which are what you’d expect. Or you can go all harvest-crazy and do the autumn hotcakes: apples and cinnamon in… wait for it… pumpkin pancakes.

Good diner coffee. I like the big blue mugs.

We tried the sausage gravy casserole: two eggs, cheddar cheese, home fries, coated in gravy. Sure, it was good. Chunky potatoes. Mostly flavorful gravy. Nothing to write home about, but if you’re a fan of the little-bit-of-everything dishes, this your guy.

Here’s the creamed dried beef on toast. Pretty rich gravy drowning the toast. Nice meaty chunks. But nothing amazing.

A plain old blueberry pancake for my son. Big blueberries. A small lake of melted butter.

And of course, we had to have the autumn hotcakes. Not the greatest pancakes ever, but there’s really nothing to dislike here. I mean, come on… tasty pumpkin pancakes, chunks of apples baked into them, generous dusting of cinnamon sugar, plus a melted pad of butter. Oh, and you pour syrup on it. They’re fitting for the season: warm, sweet, and filling.

SERVICE: Our server was great. The right amount of sass, tempered by quick coffee refills and fast turnaround on our order.

Oh, and this is another mainstay of the family restaurant: the paper place mat with local advertisers.

OVERALL: If you’re traveling down Route 422 in rural eastern Pennsylvania, find a way to stop at Risser’s. It’s good road food – like the Kumm Esse Diner down the road – that offers you a few specialties in the midst of an otherwise ordinary, but solid, breakfast.

Risser's Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Time To Eat Diner | Bridgewater, NJ

Time To Eat Diner
270 Route 202/206 North (map it!)
Bridgewater, NJ 08807
(908) 704-9221
Open Mon-Fri, 5 am – 3 am; Sat & Sun open 24 hours
Accepts cash and credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Friday, November 5, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: In northern New Jersey for a family wedding, we needed some sustenance. One part of being the resident food blogger in the group is that everyone will turn to you when looking for breakfast, even if you’ve never been to the city before. Fortunately, my wife and I triangulated reviews between Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Google and came up with the Time To Eat Diner.

Time To Eat is like many of those roadside diners that capture some sense of the small diner, while still being built out enough to accommodate large groups. It’s the diner + the dining room. You can have your sit-at-the-counter, flashy-chrome diner experience, or you can have the plusher big family dining room experience.

ATMOSPHERE: Kudos to the Time to Eat crew for being able to accommodate such a large group. They stacked together a bunch of tables in the back of the dining room and gave us a harried server.

The atmosphere is just what you would expect. Small booths, kitschy 50’s memorabilia, and that just-off-the-highway feeling. It makes me think of the Broadway Diner in Baltimore.

Plenty of Elvis.

And Elvis guitars and Elvis clocks.

FOOD: I get a little nervous when I see menus like Time To Eat’s. They’re like a short novel. Pages and pages of items. It gets hard to sift through, even if breakfast only takes up three of those pages. I think of this as the Cheesecake Factory syndrome, in which the menu is so huge that you know there’s no way all that food didn’t just come out of a freezer. Because we had a big group, we ordered a big variety of things. Some hit and miss.

First off, coffee. Very good. A step up from the standard diner coffee. I liked the big mugs, and the individual serving plates with spoon and creamer. Also scoring points for the diner: colorful dishware. I like seeing that.

I tried the Sampler: two eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, pork roll, toast. Eggs were fine. The hash browns were okay, a little on the mushy side. Bacon, fine. Sausage, very good. Reminded me of English sausage: a little more plump. I ordered this dish partially out of curiosity over the pork roll. I’ve never encountered that on a menu before, nor have I seen taylor ham (also on the menu). I asked our server to clarify, and she said they are basically the same thing, and that they’re both essentially country ham. So: pork roll = taylor ham = country ham = salted ham.

My wife ordered the Eggs Benedict Florentine. It came with a side of hash browns. It was okay, but there was definitely a funny taste to the spinach and the hash browns. Almost metallic. A little off-putting.

Everyone’s toast came together in a basket. I find this charming because it reminds me of toast racks typical of an English breakfast. But it also confuses me, because I didn’t know whose toast was whose.

Also ordered a side of Potato Pancakes with sour cream. These were pretty good: crispy outside, warm inside.

Er… an omelet. I forget which one. Like I said, a lot of dishes…

The Toasted Bagel with Lox. This was a definite hit.

Breakfast burrito with all the accoutrement.

Country Fried Steak & Two Eggs. I had a taste of this, and it was quite good. I wish I had ordered this instead of the Sampler. I loves me some country fried steak.

Crepes! Sweet and tasty. Canned fruit filling.

Pancakes! Sausage! Eggs!

A veggie omelet!

Corned Beef Hash, with eggs and potatoes.

Lots of combos! French toast, eggs, sausage…

…or pancakes…

…or bacon!

SERVICE: Our server did a very good job, considering she had such a large group all to herself. She seemed pretty harried, but all told, the food came quickly and she got all of the orders exactly right.

OVERALL: I don’t know when I’ll next be in Northern Jersey. If I am, I don’t know if I’d stop at Time To Eat again. I think it’s worth at least one visit: the location is interesting (although a little hard to get to if you don’t know the local highways), the service is great, and I guess there’s enough variety on the menu that you’re bound to find something you’ll like. But I think the so-so dishes, especially the eggs benedict florentine, left me feeling like one visit is enough for me.

Time To Eat Diner on Urbanspoon

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