A Tale Of Two Diners

John, and his place.
With apologies to Charles Dickens, this story could also carry the title of his story about two cities, because our story today does, in fact, involve the two cities of Lakewood and Cleveland.

The Cleveland area is unique in that we have 17 independent mini-cities sitting around, or right next to, a core metropolis, with many having their own fire, police, sanitation, and other services. From time to time the economic bean-counters like to remind us that this duplication of all of that administration and city services is probably unnecessarily expensive, and that we all would do better if we unified and "regionalized." On the other hand, each of our neighboring towns carry their own unique flavor, independence, and perspective, and this makes for quite an interesting "region" to live in.

Therefore, the phrase "expensive and worth it" comes to mind, at least to mine.

Anyway, this is a tale of two diners: one in Cleveland and one in Lakewood, owned by two dedicated and fantastic guys who happen to be brothers. They're not expensive places either, and oh yeah, this writer feels that their food is worth every dime of your money!

George and John Pasalis are brothers who own two diners. John owns John's Diner, at 18260 Detroit Avenue on Lakewood's West End. His brother George owns George's Kitchen, at the intersection of Triskett and Berea Roads in Cleveland.

Now, to me, a good diner represents the essence of the pulse of a city. You won't find fine linen tablecloths and napkins, or someone outside ready to park your car for you. What you will find is good, stick-to-your-ribs food, and plenty of it; and, in the case of these two diners, you'll find almost unbelievably good prices these days. A visit to either of these diners is like a visit to the heart of humanity in our two cities. People from all walks of life scarf down those incredibly delicious and legendary blueberry pancakes at John's. For those of you with a big appetite, I would invite you to just TRY and eat all of the mouth-watering moussaka that will come to your booth at George's! A moussaka is a type of Greek shepherd's pie, having eggplant, ground beef, potatoes, and bechamel (white cheese) sauce.

Technically, I suppose, the word "diner" probably comes from the old railway dining cars where food was served during train travel. In the mid-twentieth century, it became popular for entrepreneurs to find some of the old railroad cars and convert them into eating establishments. The now-defunct Tony's Diner, on Lorain Avenue and West 117th Street, became famous as a kind of "home base" at the start of now-Congressman Kucinich's political career. Diners were especially popular in big cities as a meet-and-greet location for a community.

As far as John's Diner goes, it indeed started out as a used boxcar from the Nickel Plate Railroad. The business began as Still's Diner. First located behind the old street car barns on Lakewood's far West End, it was moved to its present location in the 1950's. John Pasalis took over its operation in 1976 and continues to operate it today, along with his family.

This diner retains a classic dining car look, having a marble counter, metal stools, blue tile, and dark wood throughout. An extended booth seating area, beyond the diner proper, allows for intimate conversation and a fun, "period" atmosphere.

Patrons enjoy a wide variety of reasonable breakfast selections, having generous portions served efficiently by a friendly staff. Lunch and dinner items for John's include great chicken, tilapia, and Swedish meatball dishes, as well as deli and specialty sandwiches, along with delicious salads. Fried dishes are prepared with vegetable oil. Soup selections are included with the dinner entrees.

Over at George's Kitchen, similar great meal selections await you. George's is larger than John's, and combines booths with a counter and open seating. The atmosphere is welcoming, and the service is first-rate. Breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime servings are generous and served quickly by a great staff. Specialty dishes include their Greek Chicken with lemon sauce, and the Soutzoukakia (Greek meatballs). A different dinner menu comes out daily. On Thursdays, their legendary bean soup is worth every bite! Fortunately, their scrumptious chicken soup is offered daily.

Often, you'll have the chance to meet John or George in person at their respective establishments. Both men have the pleasure of having family members working with them in their restaurants, and that probably helps them to maintain a high standard of quality and service.

Today, the classic diner is becoming an endangered species. More and more diners are giving way to chain-operated fast-food restaurants. I truly feel fortunate that we have a couple of classic family-owned diners in and near Lakewood.

Contrary to what some people feel, we are indeed connected to our neighbors in the cities around us. They have much to offer to us, and we to them. Hats off to these two brothers and their families for helping to enhance the pulse of both our Cleveland and Lakewood cities.

Now let's see...where was I going for lunch? Decisions, decisions...

Read More on Pulse of the City
Volume 4, Issue 5, Posted 9:07 AM, 02.25.2008