Florissant City Diner Keeps Alive the Feel of Americana
The hole-in-the-wall diner offers an experience of another era with friendly service at reasonable prices.
There aren't many tiny hole-in-the-wall diners left in this country, but Florissant still has one.
You know you're in for something good when you can feel like a cartoon character practically floating into the restaurant on a cloud of a delicious scent.
Photos of friends and family line the bar. A cork board by the front door is impossibly cluttered with business cards from regular diners.
As I sat down at a table, a man walked up to sit at the counter. The waitress shouted, "Bob, the usual?" from across the room. He nodded, smiled and picked up a newspaper as she brought him a cup of coffee.
A pair of teenage boys came in a few minutes later and the chef said, "Chicken fingers, boys?" They nodded without breaking stride in their conversation. It's that kind of neighborhood diner.
Florissant City Diner hearkens back to an earlier era. An old-fashioned movable type sign hangs above the grill advertising a Hamburger for $2.49, Grilled Cheese for $1.99 and an assortment of old-fashioned lunch counter sandwiches under $5.
You can get a modest breakfast with one egg, hash browns and toast for $3. Spend a dollar more, and you can add some bacon or sausage. If you're a big spender, The Fiesta Skillet was a deeply tempting bed of hash browns topped with onions, tomatoes, peppers, taco meat, cheese, and eggs however you like them for $6. Nothing on the menu costs more than $8.
I wanted to try everything, but eventually narrowed it down to the chopped steak and eggs with a pancake and hash browns. Let me be clear. This was a startlingly immense amount of food.
Whatever else you order, make sure to get a side of the hash browns. Instead of shredded potatoes, these are thin rounds sliced about three times the thickness of a potato chip. They're spread wide over the grill to brown up as much surface area as possible, plus absorb some of that delicious well seasoned grill flavor. Mine came out light, crispy and a perfect texture. With these on the menu, I can't imagine trying the fries.
The two scrambled eggs formed an immense yellow mound of protein, more akin to an omelet in texture rather than the random curdles that most of us make when scrambling eggs at home. I could easily picture it as a tasty base for any of the breakfast skillets.
The plate-sized single pancake was light, fluffy and a perfect golden brown with a nice balance of solidity and sweetness. A single pat of butter and a small drizzle of syrup was all it needed to bring out the flavor. Like the hash browns, it too tasted nicely of the grill. This is one of the things I love about diners. A good grill should have a little flavor of its own to infuse into the foods, and this one had a great char and a subtle flavor that infused my entire meal.
Since I really did want to try everything, the chopped steak was my compromise, so I could get an idea what their burgers are like without giving up on having breakfast. It was an immense, thick beef patty spanning a full third of the plate, char grilled until the edges were nice and crispy, while still remaining moist in the middle. Add a slice of cheese, some grilled onions plus ketchup, and this would be a terrific burger.
Although I was seated six feet from the soda machine, the hardworking waitress made a point to refill my tea three times. Open kitchens are popular in high-end restaurants. Watching the cook make my food from 10 feet away was equally appealing in this tiny hole-in-the-wall.
It also let me spy on what other diners were enjoying. There's something neat about the chef leaning over the counter and asking a regular, "Hey, you want to try cheese on your hash browns this time? It's good, you should be different." Corner restaurants where the staff knows everyone who walks in are rare and precious things.
The Florissant Diner is solid Americana - burgers, melts and massive country breakfasts at very reasonable prices, all prepared fresh right in front of your eyes in a tiny room that can only seat a dozen people. It's an experience as well as a place to get a darn good meal.
The total for a plate spanning pancake, massive chopped steak, scrambled eggs, delicious hash browns, two slices of toast and bottomless iced tea came to $11.19 plus a $3 tip for exceptional service.
I rate the Florissant City Diner an enthusiastic and rare A.