PEANUT BUTTER PIE
Nancy's Main Street Diner
Denise Shutek starts every day at 4:30 a.m. cooking biscuits and gravy, followed by soups and a handful of desserts as needed. And when you're talking about pies, such as her 6-inch-high peanut butter temptation, they're needed a lot.
The creamy peanut butter core, thick whipped topping and candied peanut crumble garnish make it a hit with regulars who call out requests for a slice ($2.50) of that "mile-high pie," says Shutek, who, along with her husband, Rick, took over ownership from her parents in 2007. The pie is so popular, Nancy's once went through 20 in a week.
Peanut butter, chocolate cream and coconut cream, the most popular flavors, are almost always displayed in dessert cases. But Shutek makes more than a dozen other flavors, including banana-split pie with banana, strawberry and chocolate.
Although there are at least three and as many as 11 options every day, if you don't see what you want, ask for it. "If somebody requests a pie, we'll make it," Shutek says. "It's something that grandma used to do for them. Now we do it for them."
Side Dish: Nancy's front diner car is a recent addition that once was home to Boston's Big Dig Diner. After going through several owners, it was abandoned, stripped and then purchased by local expert Steve Harwin, who restored it and sold it to the Shuteks.
OHIO CITY SKILLET
It makes sense that the inspiration for Harry Pallas' lineup of skillets came from a breakfast dish he encountered during a visit to Chicago 20 years ago: They're hearty, distinctly Midwestern, and — when it comes to the one named after the Cleveland neighborhood Pallas has called home his entire life — packed with a meat-lover's paradise of ham, bacon and sausage. That's before you even get to the grilled-but-not-greasy bed of cubed potatoes and after you've drilled through the three eggs any style dumped over top (we'll always take ours over-easy, please). With so much going on, you may not notice there are green peppers hiding in there, too, alongside the melted American cheese that holds the creation together.
Side Dish: During his 18 years of ownership, Pallas has put his own spin on the diner, which has been in his family since the 1950s. Although the space has a mid-20th century feel, it's decorated in true man-cave fashion with Pallas' own paintings of comic book characters such as the Hulk and Batman, obscure LP sleeves and old license plates. "My wife won't let me decorate the house," he says. "So I get to bring all my junk to the restaurant."
4116 Lorain Ave., Cleveland,216-631-7757
CHEF AT THE COUNTER
"Nick's Diner is definitely one of my favorite places for breakfast. I'm an old-school kind of guy and love biscuits with sausage gravy. The amount of food for the price is unbelievable. My own restaurant keeps me pretty busy, but I still make it to Nick's two or three times a month." — Eric Williams, Momocho
YELLOWFIN TUNA CLUBHOUSE
Diner on Clifton
There are two kinds of club sandwiches in the world. One is the straightforward double-decker that neatly corrals turkey and bacon between triangular pieces of toast. The other is the sort of sandwich ($8.25) created by the Diner on Clifton.
Yellowfin tuna steak spills out from between two thick slabs of oat bran toast and is topped with bacon, red onion, spinach and caper mayo (a pile of sweet potato fries are part of the deal, too). Such a creation could go wrong in lesser hands, but starting with the nicely cooked tuna steak, each ingredient seems perfectly chosen, prepared and placed. Such care is indicative of owner Perry Drosos' decision 11 years ago to make over his traditional, 24-hour spot as a contemporary eatery that puts its own spin on diner culture rather than faithfully emulating it.
Side Dish: The Diner on Clifton even takes requests. Customer suggestions have ended up on the menu at times, according to manager Maureen Szekelyi. So have employee experiments. "The Heather's Wrap was just made up by a girl who used to work here," Szekelyi says. "She was hungry, so she went into the kitchen and threw it together, and it stuck."
CHEF AT THE COUNTER
"I always get eggs or a cheeseburger medium rare at Clifton Diner. It's a great neighborhood joint. There used to be a regular cast of colorful characters. Some have gone, but the warm, familiar atmosphere always remains the same." — Marlin Kaplan, Luxe