Diner aficionado Richard Gutman described the American diner to Smithsonian Magazine as a “friendly place, usually mom-and-pop with a sole proprietor, that serves basic, home-cooked, fresh food, for good value.” The first diner appearance is in 1872 with Walter Scott’s “night lunch wagon.” Open later than traditional restaurants, it was a place late shift workers could grab a bite to eat. Samuel Jones added seats for the patrons at the wagons in 1887, and the name evolved to “rolling restaurants” the “lunch cars” followed by “dining cars,” before finally landing on “diners.” Given Gutman’s basic recipe for what makes an American diner iconic, you can easily recreate the atmosphere in your own home. The recipes for your fresh food are waiting; all you have to do is keep reading to see nine diner dishes that are classic American fare.
1. Bette’s Buttermilk Pancakes
Bette Kroening the owner of Bette’s Oceanview Diner in California shared her buttermilk pancake recipe with SFGate, and she cautioned at-home chefs not to overstir the batter. The recipe yields around twenty-four four-inch pancakes–plenty if you want to feed your family a diner-style weekend breakfast.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups buttermilk
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
- choice of berries, sliced bananas, raisins or chopped toasted nuts (optional)
- Oil for griddle
Directions: Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Lightly beat the eggs with the buttermilk, milk, and melted butter. Just before you are ready to make the pancakes, add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients all at once, stirring just long enough to blend. The batter should be slightly lumpy.
If you want to add fruit or nuts, stir them in now, or you may sprinkle them on the pancakes while they are on the griddle. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or heavy skillet over medium-high heat (375 degrees on an electric griddle). Pour 1/4 cup batter per pancake onto the griddle or skillet, spacing the pancakes apart so they do not run together. When bubbles appear on the surface of the pancakes and the undersides are lightly browned, turn and cook for about 2 minutes longer, until lightly browned on the bottom. Serve immediately on warmed plates with the topping of your choice.
2. Hash Browns
Alton Brown has a recipe via Parade for hash browns you make at home that are diner-worthy. For crispy hash browns, it is recommended you get some water out of the potatoes before cooking them. To do this, you can squeeze your grated potatoes inside a towel to release the moisture, or squeeze them with a paper towel.
- 4 small Idaho potatoes (or russet potatoes)
- 4 tablespoons bacon fat
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Directions: Scrub and rinse the potatoes, but do not peel them. Place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat; preheat for 5 minutes. While the skillet is heating up, grate the potatoes using the largest holes of a box grater. Remove moisture from them. Add the bacon fat to the skillet and scatter the potatoes evenly in the pan. Sprinkle with salt and cook for 4 minutes without disturbing. Lower the heat, flip the potatoes, and cook for 5 more minutes.
3. Buttermilk Biscuits and Sausage Cream Gravy Recipe
Hash browns and pancakes aren’t the only easy diner foods to make for breakfast. With Chow‘s recipe, you’ll have eight servings of biscuits and gravy in just about an hour. When making your gravy topped biscuits, you’ll want to use a a 2-1/2-inch round cutter.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 cup cold buttermilk
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 12 ounces uncooked breakfast sausage, casings removed
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon fine salt, plus more as needed
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3½ cups whole milk
Directions: Heat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and arrange a rack in the middle. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Whisk together the measured flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl to aerate and combine. Add the butter pieces and toss to just coat them in the flour mixture. Place the bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, and working quickly so as not to soften the butter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it’s in pea-size pieces. Drizzle in the buttermilk and stir just until a moist, shaggy dough comes together. Generously dust a work surface with flour. Scrape the dough out onto the surface and dust the top with more flour. Using floured hands, gently pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick circle.
Using a 2½-inch round cutter dipped in flour, cut out as many biscuits as possible. Transfer the biscuits to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them at least 1 inch apart. Gather the scraps into a ball, pat it into a 1-inch-thick circle, and cut out more biscuits. Repeat as needed until you have eight total. Discard any remaining dough. Bake until the biscuits have risen and are golden brown on top, about 15 to 16 minutes. Transfer them to a wire rack. Meanwhile, make the gravy.
Heat the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon, until the meat’s no longer pink and is starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium. Sprinkle the sausage with the flour, measured salt, measured pepper, and cayenne. Cook, stirring frequently, until the raw taste of the flour has cooked off, about 1 minute.
Gradually stir in the milk, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Continue simmering, stirring often, until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 1 minute more (the gravy will continue to thicken as it sits). Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Keep warm. To serve, split the biscuits in half horizontally and top with the sausage gravy.
4. Sid’s Onion Burgers
Saveur featured the onion burger from Sid’s Diner, in Oklahoma, and with the recipe, you can make your own diner-style burgers. The Food Channel explains the thin burgers are the result of economics. Meat was expensive in the 1920s, and onions were a cheap way to add flavor. The result was the onion burger, which you’ll have six.
- 4 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 pound ground beef,
- gently formed into 6 balls
- 2 medium yellow onions, very thinly sliced with a mandoline or a sharp knife and divided into 6 equal portions
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 6 slices american cheese
- 6 hamburger buns, toasted
Directions: Working in 2 batches, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 beef balls and, using the back of a spatula, press down on them until they’re thin; cook for 1 minute. Top each patty with a portion of the onions; season with salt. Press onions into the meat and cook for 1 minute more. Flip burgers; flatten with the spatula. Place a cheese slice on each patty and let melt while onions and meat brown. Serve on buns.
5. French Fries
What goes better with a classic burger than a side of french fries? Staying with the throwback vibe are these classic french fries from Food.com. You’ll have four servings of french fries when you’re done working in small batches to fry the potatoes. If you do not have a dutch oven, use a heavy bottom pot.
- 4-5 large russet potatoes
- peanut oil
Directions: Preheat oven to 200 degrees. In a large dutch oven heat oil to 320 degrees. Peel potatoes and evenly cut fries into 1/4 x 1/4 inch strips of equal length. Place in a large bowl of cold water as you’re slicing. Drain potatoes thoroughly, removing any excess water. When oil reaches 320 degrees, submerge the potatoes in the oil.
Working in small batches, fry for 2 to 3 minutes until they are pale and floppy. Remove from oil, drain, and cool to room temperature. Increase the temperature of the oil to 375 degrees. Re-immerse fries and cook until crisp and golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and drain on roasting rack. Season with kosher salt. Keep fries warm in the oven until all potatoes are fried.
6. Tuna Melt
Your fresh french fries will be equally delectable with a New Jersey diner-style tuna melt if you decide an onion-laden burger is not the sandwich for you. AllRecipes.com can help you achieve your Jersey sandwich no matter what state you call home with this recipe. Substitute rye bread, if you prefer another type.
- 2 (6 ounce) cans solid white tuna in water, drained
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup finely chopped celery
- 1½ tablespoons finely chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- ¾ teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
- 4 slices seedless rye bread
- 8 slices ripe tomato
- 8 slices Swiss cheese
- paprika, for garnish
Directions: Preheat the oven broiler. In a bowl, mix the tuna, mayonnaise, celery, onion, parsley, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Place the rye bread slices on a baking sheet, and broil 1 minute in the preheated oven, until lightly toasted. Remove from heat, and spread with the tuna salad. Place 1 cheese slice over the tuna salad on each piece of bread, layer with a tomato slice, and top with remaining cheese slices. Return layered bread to the preheated oven, and broil 3 to 5 minutes, until cheese is melted.
7. Diner-Style Meatloaf
All that is missing from Mr. Food‘s diner-style meatloaf is a side of mashed potatoes, so whip up a batch to accompany this ’50s diner fare when you want an authentically-themed dinner. The meatloaf will serve six, and it takes about an hour to prepare.
- 1½ pound ground beef
- 3 slices white bread, torn into small pieces
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup milk
- ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 3 tablespoons ketchup
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except ketchup; mix well. Press mixture evenly into a 9- x 5-inch loaf pan. Spread ketchup over top. Bake 60 to 65 minutes, or until no pink remains and juices run clear. Remove from oven; drain and allow to sit 5 minutes. Slice and serve.
8. Banana Cream Pie
Bon Appétit calls banana cream pie the most American diner dessert, and The Baltimore Sun has delivered an old-fashioned recipe worthy of this status. There are no packaged puddings in the recipe, but the pie is still semi-homemade since you cut a corner with the pie crust.
- 1 (9-inch) pie crust, baked
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 cups whole milk
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch or ⅓ cup flour
- 3 egg yolks (save the whites if you want to make a meringue topping)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla
- 3 to 4 ripe bananas
Directions: Prepare pie shell. In a large saucepan, scald the milk. In another saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch or flour and salt; gradually stir in the scalded milk. Over medium heat, stirring constantly, cook until thickened. Cover and cook for 2 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.
In a small bowl have the egg yolks, slightly beaten, ready. Stir a small amount of the hot mixture into the beaten yolks; when thoroughly combined, stir the yolks into the hot mixture. Cook 1 minute longer, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and blend in the butter and the vanilla. Let sit until lukewarm.
When custard is cool and ready to pour, slice the bananas and scatter them in the bottom of the cooked pie shell; pour the lukewarm mixture over the banana slices. If desired, make a meringue with the reserved egg whites to top the pie or cool until ready to serve and top with fresh whipped cream instead
9. Chocolate Malted Milkshake
Wash everything down–well, maybe not breakfast–with Paula Deen’s chocolate malted milkshake from the Food Network. It makes enough to serve 2 to 3 people, and is an indulgently chocolaty way to drink in your diner-themed dining.
- 2½ cups chocolate ice cream
- ½ cup original flavor malted milk powder
- ½ to 1 cup whole milk
- Sweetened whipped cream, for garnish
- Halved malted milk balls, for garnish
Directions: In the container of a blender, combine the ice cream and malted milk powder. Add the milk, a quarter cup at a time, blending between each addition, until the desired consistency is reached. Garnish with whipped cream and malted milk balls.