We walked into Addy's Diner on a recent Saturday morning and grabbed a couple stools at the counter. Over our shoulder we spied a large party of a dozen people, which is murder on any kitchen but particularly problematic for one that measures its footprint in square inches. After asking if we wanted coffee, our server mentioned that the large party's order was just now hitting the griddle, properly calibrating our expectations.
My fears of a painfully slow breakfast were quickly allayed, however, as the cook — who also goes by "owner" — settled into an uncanny impersonation of an octopus, simultaneously cracking eggs, flipping pancakes, poaching eggs and about a dozen other perfectly timed tasks. Despite the ginormous order ahead of us, our breakfasts still landed in about 12 minutes, and my over-easy eggs were textbook.
We don't ask a lot of our diners, simply that they provide hot coffee, good food, efficient service and honest prices. To examine the food under a microscope is to miss the point. Still, we've endured wave after wave of pimped-out places offering things like "elevated comfort food" or "reimagined diner fare" — many to delicious ends — but at what cost? Diners like Addy's normally vanish into the annals of time, they don't magically resurface. Implausibly, both of those events took place at this very spot in the Colonial Arcade, also known as 5th Street Arcades.
After 35 years in the breakfast business, the owners of P.J.'s Luncheonette sold their old-timey diner to the owner of the newfangled Jack Flaps, which also (check Facebook) has a place in Ohio City. But in this narrative, the space winds up reverting to an un-twee diner after three and a half years. Even more poetic is the fact that new owner Joe Abouhassan was previously booted from his space in the Standard Building after 15 years of hash slinging.
The real winners in this saga are the customers, who get the benefit of a tastefully renovated restaurant space courtesy of the outgoing owner, coupled with the value of a modestly priced, user-friendly menu thanks to the incoming. Breakfast is served all day and includes a full meal of two eggs, bacon, toast and jam for a Lincoln and change. Upgrade to the Grand Slam ($7.99) and you'll net two eggs, two pancakes, home fries, meat and toast. Addy's pale golden pancakes are massive with a nice sponge texture, while the home fries are fluffy and crisp-edged, even after a dozen people beat you to the punch.
Three-egg omelets come pre-designed or custom built, with the popular Western ($6.99) flush with ham, peppers and onions, and the Diner ($7.49) struggling to contain the spinach, mushroom, pepper, tomato, onion and cheese. Construct your own from a list of veggies, meats and cheeses. Eminently portable and plentiful, the breakfast burrito ($5.99) is a tight twist of scrambled eggs, ham and cheese with a side of sour cream. Also on offer are french toast, waffles and even eggs Benedict.
With few moving parts, a patty melt ($7.99) leaves no room to conceal shortcuts. This one nails the basics: sweet sauteed onions, Swiss cheese melting into a medium burger, and golden brown rye bread still slick from the griddle. I'm not a fan of the sort of battered french fry served here, but they are fried to order, hot and crisp. Like the patty melt, a Club sandwich ($8.49) comes with a few immutable rules of construction, all of which are followed to the letter, right down to the frilly toothpick. Bacon, lettuce, tomato and thin-sliced turkey are interwoven between three slices of toast and then bisected corner to corner into triangles that even Pythagoras would applaud.
Start with a cup of meaty, zesty chili fortified with kidney beans and garnished with a packet of oyster crackers. Go light with an entree salad like the Cobb, crowned with grilled chicken and hard-boiled eggs. Or settle into a hearty platter of roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy. It's all waiting for you at the diner.
If there's a lull in the breakfast or lunch traffic, the first thing that Abouhassan does is scrape down the griddle, restock his ingredients and prepare for the next swell. After that he invariably makes the rounds of his appreciative customers, extending his palm to reveal a bag of peanut M&Ms, say, or to reconnect with an old friend.
During one of my visits, a group of well-dressed men burst into the diner with aplomb.
"You're back!" one of them said to the owner. "The place looks amazing! We walked all the way across downtown to eat here. Is it still the same menu?"
The smile that materialized on Abouhassan's face was bright enough to read by.