MD surprise: Breakfast Pizza, Pumpkin Waffle
By Melissa Kahan, GLOB Correspondent
Diner restaurants have certain stereotypical characteristics that I have found to be true: large, hearty portions, bustling servers, and busy booths, but the atmosphere has to be the defining feature, and I have been in diners from Orlando, FL, to New York City. Gainesville's Metro Diner is no exception--many booths and standalone tables with a casual, comfy décor.
With 17 Florida locations, Metro Diner, a Jacksonville-based regional chain that started in a 1938 building transformed in 1990, has made quite the name for itself. In addition to being a family-owned restaurant started by Chef Mark Davoli and family with 80 years in the food industry, Metro Diner is famous for its appearance on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on Food Network. Fieri dubbed the meatloaf one from which "diners need to take a lesson." I was mainly excited about the all day breakfast menu, which adds another spot to my brunch rotation that is close to home.
At 7 am on a Thursday morning, Metro Diner was almost vacant. I have scooped up a breakfast sandwich or two at that time at other places, and I can say that going to breakfast early is the way to ensure immediate service. The John Sr. breakfast sammie was large and in charge, two runny eggs coating Swiss cheese, bacon, and tomato. It may be sizeable, but don't wait too long to devour it, as the 8-grain toast quickly got soggy.
Conversely at 9:30 am on a Saturday morning, empty tables were harder to come by; thus, for the brunch crowd, a.k.a. my usual compadres at the usual time--after 11 am, there will likely be wait. At 9:30 am on Saturday, however, a 20-minute wait was not too painful, and it gave my dining companion, Greg, and I a chance to peruse the menu for efficient ordering. The daily rotating-specials chalkboard proudly displayed on the back wall and on the web added three very tempting options to the already abundant menu of delicious breakfast goodies. This would be a complicated decision.
After two very sad cups of coffee were ordered--why most breakfast places don't serve local coffee is beyond me, Greg, who is health-conscious, decided to try Metro Diner's Huevos Rancheros, $11.49: Scrambled eggs cooked well and topped with salsa and green onion slivers laid over a huge colorful plateful of black beans and chorizo under melted cheese and jalapenos. The "fried tortilla shells" were like a cross between crunchy pita chip and tortilla chip, essentially the best of both addicting worlds. Greg ordered sour cream on the side, which the server had to be reminded about. Despite his cleaned plate, Greg felt it was average for this dish he typically orders at breakfast. The couple of bites I had were very flavorful, the thick chunks of chorizo and jalapeno slices packing an enjoyable punch for a dish I am not usually inclined to order myself.
I was sold on the Breakfast Pizza, $10.99 image at the top of this review, the moment I laid eyes on the two words placed together. It's as if the brunch heavens opened and placed two of the best food items together in succession for one harmonious, epic brunch option. It had a little of everything I would want to order... in pizza form, down to the "crust" being made from biscuit dough. That aspect almost made me do a happy dance it was so good. Piled on this delicious biscuit bed, was a thick layer of mozzarella cheese blanketing flavorful chunks of bacon, ham, AND, if that weren't enough meat, some Italian sausage. I opted out of the onions, but the peppers and jalapenos provided a texture that tossed my taste buds around. I also love eggs Benedict, so the layer of Hollandaise sauce was a welcome addition, which, alongside two runny eggs, made for a sop-off-the-plate eating experience. The biscuit, under all those ingredients, did not get soggy. That is impressive.
I almost chose the Southern Benedict daily special, since it is a favorite of biscuits and gravy in addition to eggs and hollandaise, but I could not pass up the Biscuit Pizza. I also wanted to order a sweeter entrée for contrast: The Pumpkin-Stuffed Waffle. I think I speak for Greg when I say it was worth the food coma that followed: Each fourth of the waffle was used to make a sweet breakfast sandwich of sorts, complete with a marshmallow drizzle and cinnamon butter.
True to name, the sandwich filling was none other than copious amounts of pumpkin-flavored fluff. It was almost a combination of fluffy icing, cream cheese, and some kind of aerating agent. Whatever that pumpkin-flavored confection was, it played into the crisp, light waffle perfectly. I almost thought the cinnamon butter would be overkill, but then I tasted it, and it was too good not to use despite all the other flavors going on.
The breakfast menu includes everything from omelets and steak and eggs to Benedicts and breakfast sandwiches to a variety of French toast and pancake options. The Yo Hala on the Square French Toast is highlighted on the menu for a reason: It is stuffed with bananas, brown sugar, cream cheese, and Hazelnut sauce (!) and smothered with fruit compote. I am very intrigued by the Monte Cristo, a sandwich I have yet to experience, and by the Spicy Honey Chicken Biscuit, mainly because I heard Metro's fried chicken is very tasty and because it includes a biscuit. Oh, I can't forget about the grits.
The Diner has an extensive lunch/dinner menu as well, considering it is open from 6:30 am until 8 pm Sunday through Thursday and 6:30 am to 8:30 pm Friday and Saturday. Judging by Guy Fieri's review of the meatloaf, I'd say that is a priority item, but the wide array of sandwiches and burgers provides something for everyone. The Charleston Shrimp and Grits looks like a solid rendition of the classic Southern dish. There is a complete Metro Diner menu at the web link below this review.
The restaurant was busy, and servers forgot things in the hustle and bustle, but overall the Metro Diner did exactly what it should: Provide a hearty, yummy meal to satiate the taste buds and fill the belly. Health-conscious Greg was less a fan because of the lack of healthier options, but you go to diners for the hearty, comfort-food, and Metro delivered.
The Pluses and Minuses of the Metro Diner:
The Metro Diner + indicators: Good value to portion size, large servings, varied menu, cozy diner atmosphere, friendly service, plaza parking leaves options.
The Metro Diner - indicators: Long wait time on weekends
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