By Anna-Marie Menhenott
FORT PIERCE -- The undeniable sound of pancakes being poured on a hot griddle and the incredible smell of hot, steamy coffee wait to greet customers who decide to make Dave's Diner their stop for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even midnight snack.
The diner, with bar seating across from the grill, booths along the giant window, or outside seating for those who want to bask in the gorgeous beach weather, has been a cornerstone of comfort food for nearly 20 years.
"My husband and I have been here for nearly 20 years," said Brenda Roth, owner. "Either I'm here or he's here. We've got a small staff and you can bet that we know most of our customers by name."
I don't doubt it.
The constant flow of customers was a sure sign that this place was special. Regulars, from snowbirds, to island natives, to fisherman taking a box-lunch special to go, to visitors making a midnight stop, make their way to the diner to enjoy some of the comforts of home.
Some of those comforts, like homemade biscuits and gravy, soups, mashed potatoes and sweet treats such as homemade banana bread, cookies and cupcakes each have mouth-watering appeal. All came highly recommended by our waitress, who kept my mug full of steaming, delicious coffee.
My dining companion and I decided to try some of the favorites. We started our meal with a bowl of turkey and rice soup, which was full of chunks of meat and potatoes. The bite-size pieces of turkey were tender and the potatoes added a filling component that would easily lend this to being a meal all by itself. Since we were going to try several dishes, we opted for a small cup of soup; however, it's available in a larger bowl that would satisfy the hungriest customer.
We decided to sample the homemade onion rings, which we were told was a hot item in the diner. The golden brown rings, served with a side of ranch dressing, were huge and looked incredible. I asked the secret to making such an amazing looking onion ring, and was surprised to find out that they were deep-fried in pancake batter. Curious, I took a bite and was delighted to taste the smallest hint of pancake coupled with the crunch of fried batter and onion.
"We always have plenty of batter for pancakes, so it made sense to use some of it on the rings," Mrs. Roth said. "They are a huge hit. It's a great combination and customers gobble them up. I have some customers that come in for breakfast and have the onion rings. It's hard to keep up with the demand."
For our entrées, we decided to try some of the comfort foods on the menu. I opted for the liver and onions, with mashed potatoes and gravy. I hadn't had that dish since my grandmother made it years ago and I'm always wary when eating liver, but it was prepared to perfection. It was fried on the griddle, leaving the outside crispy and the inside tender and delicious. The gravy would have had my grandmother's stamp of approval, as it was a dark brown, rich in taste and was perfect over the homemade mashed potatoes. The dish can also be served with a side vegetable or a tomato slice.
My dining companion decided to try one of the many breakfast dishes. After going back and forth between one of the various omelets, a breakfast combo with eggs and bacon or biscuits and gravy, she decided on the Big Bubba Sub. This incredible breakfast sandwich included three pieces of bacon, home fries, three cheeses all scrambled into three eggs and served on a toasted bun. This was more than just a breakfast sandwich; it was a breakfast meal for two.
Later that afternoon I asked my companion if she was able to try anything else on the menu what would she choose and she responded that it would be a really hard choice because The Big Bubba Sub was so tasty.
As our meal came to a close, a regular customer made his way into the diner. Rounds of, "Hi, Rocky," echoed from other customers and the wait staff. Mrs. Roth had mentioned Rocky as one of her regulars when I spoke to her, so I couldn't pass up the chance to ask him what keeps him coming back.
"I've been coming in here every day for years," Rocky Toscano said. "I moved here over 20 years ago from New York and I love diners. I used to work at the power plant and would come in here once a week, but now that I've retired I'm in every day. Nothing can beat the breakfast special. I have that most mornings. But whatever Brenda serves me is good. It's all delicious."
As we were leaving, we were handed some homemade banana bread, warmed on the griddle with a drizzle of butter and a cupcake. They were both amazing sweet treats that were the perfect complement to our incredible meal.
The next time we visit Dave's it might be for some ice cream or a homemade brownie or maybe a juicy burger and some more onion rings. Either way, Dave's Diner is definitely one of my new favorite places to visit.
Dave's Diner is located at 1011 Seaway Drive in South Beach Plaza in Fort Pierce. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can be reached at (772) 460-2810 or at their website at www.davesdinerfortpierce.com.