First Look: Diner
Find fancy comfort food with a side of nostalgia at Ron Eyester's latest restaurant
We pulled open the giant copper doors to enter Atlantic Station's new Diner only to find a scene immortalized in movies: a policeman sitting at a soda fountain with a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. It could be 1950 or 2015 in an archetypal setting like this. Serving classic, approachable food with a contemporary twist was chef/owner Ron Eyester's intention when he envisioned the newest addition to his mini empire of Atlanta restaurants (Rosebud, the Family Dog, Timone's).
The "Top Chef: Boston" alum from New York grew up eating at old-school diners. The walls of his two-month-old Diner are adorned with framed photos of the classic eateries, including the one Eyester frequented as a child. Near the entrance, there is a Warhol-esque display of Campbell's tomato soup cans. There are tufted booths, glossy, white subway tiles, Formica counters, and the prototypical midcentury, plastic beverage glasses. All that's missing is a jukebox.
With more than 100 food options, Diner's menu is quite large. It's divided among appetizers, salads and soups, sandwiches, entrées, all-day breakfast, and desserts. The newly added adult beverages menu includes classic cocktails, wine, and craft beer.
Appetizers ($6-$13) include familiar options like onion rings ($7) beer-battered with Sweetwater 420 and Disco Fries ($9), a poutine-like plate of fries, oozy mozzarella, brown gravy, and parsley gremolata. A side of rich, creamy mac and cheese ($4.50) with crunchy breadcrumbs on top could work as a starter, too.
Entrées here are pricier than typical diner fare. (There's a 12-ounce rib-eye on the menu for 28 bucks.) And other than the tender meatloaf ($17) with whipped buttermilk potatoes and garlicky green beans, there aren't many traditional diner choices. For example, a large portion of crab-stuffed shrimp ($19) comes swimming in a platter of white bean succotash and briny veloute chock full of celery and onions.
The Sandwich section is a roundup of the usual diner suspects, many with a modern update. The Reuben ($10), with its classic components of sauerkraut, toasted rye bread, and Russian dressing, is stuffed with roasted turkey and Gruyere instead of corned beef. The base-model beef burger ($9.75) is made with a blend of ground chuck, brisket, and short rib. Add cheese for an additional 50 cents.
Eyester loves breakfast items as much as he loves calling out ridiculous brunch diners as his alter ego, @theangrychef, on Twitter. At Diner, breakfast is served all day and is where the restaurant really shines. There are waffles, pancakes, Benedicts, omelets, and more. The Diner Breakfast Hash ($12) is faultless as a breakfast, lunch, or late-night nosh made with thinly shredded potatoes, house-made North Georgia pork breakfast sausage bits, caramelized onions, shrooms, and a drippy egg on top. A big bowl of shrimp and grits ($14) is flavored with leeks, celery, fried capers, shiitake mushrooms, and a Tabasco-sherry butter, although it's more like "grits and shrimp" with only three lonely shrimp. Rosebud's infamous chicken biscuit, the Nasty McAlister ($14) is also on offer.
Apart from a great breakfast joint, Diner could be a fun place to have dessert before or after a movie at the nearby theater. Like the rest of the menu, there is no shortage of options. Besides the milk shakes ($5), egg creams ($4.50), and floats ($4.75), the menu lists eclairs, brownies, and puddings ($4-$5). There are giant, soft, house-made cookies ($2.50), and cakes ($6.50) from Alpine Bakery, including a Chocolate Swiss Roll, which is exactly like the mini lunch box version — but on steroids. Pie slices are large enough to share with some to spare. Green tomato pie ($6.50) fooled us into thinking it was an apple pie with cinnamon-y chunks and flaky crust. The Big Ass Sundae ($11) is a whopping six scoops of High Road Craft ice cream topped with crushed Oreos, chocolate sauce, and, of course, sprinkles.
Like the image of that policeman at the counter, Eyester's Diner experience is filled with Americana, comfort food, and nostalgia. During pleasant weather, the patio with a view of Midtown's skyline is sure to be a draw. If you find yourself stumped by the sprawling menu, go for the classics, eggs, or a burger, and get yourself a giant cookie, too.