Through the process of exploring local diners and chatting with owners, I've discovered some common themes for endurance and success: Keep prices fair and consistent; keep menus consistent and predictable, while allowing for evolution as tastes change; enjoy working with people; treat staff and customers respectfully; appeal to all walks of life; serve breakfast all day. By design, Country Club Diner hits the mark on all these criteria.
The eatery has been in business at the same East Avenue location since 1934, which was considered part of Brighton at the time, thus more "country-ish" than the city. The diner's owner since 2005, Tom (who prefers to not share his last name, and whose father previously owned the diner from 1972 to 1993) says that his location is key, but adds that being able to keep up with what people want is equally important.
In his eyes, the longevity of diners depends upon maintaining a 1950's-style menu, he says, but also the adaptability to change with times. In the case of Country Club Diner, that means fresher food and a greater diversity of omelets and salads.
Serving breakfast all day is also a big deal. That's what makes a diner a diner and distinguishes diners from other places, Tom says. "People also have an expectation of fairness here. People know what to expect. We are that middle-of-the-road for everyone. We're not fast food, we're not high-end food, but we are good food."
Country Club Diner sits rather inconspicuously across from the East Avenue Wegmans, tucked up against another larger building. As does any diner worth its salt, it has stools at a counter, as well as about 25 booths. Its cleanliness sparkles, and so do the servers, who exude affability, attentiveness, and efficiency.
Any respectable diner also makes superb soups. New England-style clam chowders are no harder to find in this town than chicken French, but Manhattan-style chowder is rare. Country Club not only offers Manhattan clam chowder ($3.25/cup; $4.25/bowl), but offers it every freakin' day as a menu staple. Acidic and briny in the best ways, every spoonful had both vegetables (potatoes, carrots, celery) and chopped clams. Tom wasn't entirely sure of the origin of this menu anomaly, but says it had been offered as long as he could remember and he decided to keep it going.
I also downed a cup of the soup du jour ($2.79/cup; $3.59/bowl), Italian Wedding Soup, which had a rich chicken flavor, a heartiness that belied its brothy nature, and brimmed with pastina, carrots, and abundant tiny meatballs.
In addition to soup, I indulged in a classic patty melt on buttery, grilled marble rye ($7.25), which Tom sources from a baker in Pennsylvania. The patty was cooked to order, slathered with chopped sautéed onions, and draped with melty Swiss cheese. I opted for a side upgrade: homemade macaroni salad ($2.49). Creamy and scrumptious with large chunks of crisp green pepper and al dente macaroni, such attention to detail on a side dish illustrates the way Tom runs this diner.
My girlfriend Molly ordered grilled Swiss cheese with bacon ($5.25) on the same marble rye. The bread was golden and delicately crispy, the bacon was crispy, and all of it melted together in warm, salty goodness. Her sweet potato fries ($2.99) were crisp outside, tender inside, and oddly yet pleasingly reminiscent of a good fried cake.
Fortune smiled upon me when I met my friend Melody for lunch on another day and Country Club Diner was offering cheeseburger chowder as its soup du jour. Loaded with ground beef and finely diced hash brown potatoes and carrots, this thick, creamy, cheesy chowder was like eating a gooey cheeseburger with a spoon.
Lunch also included a hearty turkey club sandwich (again, on marble rye -- consistency, right?), replete with thick-sliced, house-roasted turkey breast, skillfully crisped bacon, fresh lettuce, and typical "meh" restaurant tomato slices. I opted for French fries ($1.50) instead of customary chips, along with a side of brown gravy, which was too bland for my tastes. Melody thought her hot meatloaf sandwich on traditional white bread (with real mashed potatoes, $7.89) was under-seasoned and a little dense, but she cleverly compensated for that by topping it with some of my cheeseburger chowder.
My breakfast visit with my breakfast crew (Molly and her two daughters) included a strawberry waffle ($6.45) that Norah ate quicker than I'd ever seen her eat anything, and a Belgian waffle ($4.95) that Jocelyn proclaimed was the best waffle she'd ever tasted. "It's mildly crisp outside, fluffy and tender inside," she said.
Molly, a food service veteran, appreciated the warmth of her Swiss cheese omelet ($5.25), noting that omelets usually cool off quickly. She added that the kitchen staff here knows what they're doing: The orders are accurate and come out quickly and efficiently. I savored the balance of spinach and Feta in my omelet ($6.59), which wasn't quite as browned as I had hoped for, but the home fries, which could've used some more seasoning, were browned and crackling, as ordered. My three slices of Canadian bacon ($3.05) were lean, tasty, and nicely charred.
If you need one more reason to eat at CCD, it's pie. The pies come from Special Touch Bakery, a non-profit, non-denominational organization that teaches vocational skills to those with developmental and intellectual disabilities, who make pies entirely from scratch from fresh ingredients.
Country Club Diner is located at 1743 East Avenue, and is open daily from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. 271-7710.