Like bistros in France or trattorias in Italy, American diners are the embodiment of a country's culinary culture.
Diners are where friends and families meet, where deals are done, where politics are discussed, where leisure time is sacred.
Menus tend to be similar but a good diner will have a specialty or two that is their claim to fame. A truly good diner makes items from scratch be it baked goods, gravy, soups or chicken fried steak.
And while the life expectancy of restaurants is short, diners have a way of hanging in there even as the neighborhoods around them change and then change again. Owners may come and go, but the diner perseveres.
If you doubt any of this, stop in at The Hungry Fox Restaurant and Country Store on East Broadway Boulevard just west of Swan Road. Try and go on a Saturday morning and you'll find the place so crowded that there is a waiting list (not a long one mind you). All the better to do a little shopping at the country store that is attached.
The dining room was packed and noisy one such Saturday. The servers were flying by with plates piled high with all manner of breakfast fare. In the back, a glass-fronted refrigerator was stacked with eggs by the gross (egg dishes are double-yolked—The Hungry Fox's claim to fame). The music playing was muted by all the chatter and clatter in the room.
We were seated in the farthermost table in the back allowing us a view of the entire dining room and a bit of the kitchen.
In spite of what could be chaos, our server was at the table quickly. Coffee soon followed. She warned us that the food may take a little while since they were so busy. We didn't care; this was the ultimate people watching experience.
We ordered the French toast ($4.99) with a side of sausage links ($3.59) and the eggs Benedict ($9.79). To tide us over until our food arrived we also ordered a house-made cinnamon roll ($2.99).
The cinnamon roll, a large swirl of light, puffy dough and plenty of cinnamon and sugar, arrived at the table in a flash. We tried not to eat all of it as we were saving room for the rest of our breakfast, but that was impossible especially since our coffee was being replenished at a fast clip.
Our entrées really didn't take that long. The French toast, made from the fluffy white bread that is made in the restaurant, was golden brown and sweet; a perfect rendition of this classic dish. The slightly spicy sausage provided a perfect complement.
The eggs Benedict were also done well in spite of the eggs being slightly over cooked. The English muffin was crispy, the Canadian bacon had a little char and the sauce had a nice lemony tang. The dish came with hash browns that had been fried with a nice golden crust. Diners may not be the place to order this "fancy" dish and often the results are disappointing, but I would order this dish at this diner again.
A word on the service. There was a table of four adults and two kids next to us and the server and the kitchen went out of their way to get the kids their breakfast (huge plate covering pancakes with chocolate chips on top) well-before the grownups. That touch speaks volumes.
Lunch was such a contrast to breakfast it was almost hard to believe we were in the same place, but no, all those kitschy kitchen tchotchkes were proof enough. The walls are covered from the plate rail to the ceiling with stuff your Aunt Dodo collects. I have to admit, I too, have a decent collection of some of the same stuff, but the Fox puts me to shame.
We ordered the California croissant sandwich ($7.99) and the fried chicken ($10.49) and a couple of iced coffees ($2.89). We opted out of the specialty coffees on the principle that flavored coffees are bad for the soul.
The sandwich was a pretty ordinary sandwich with ingredients (turkey, avocado, crispy bacon and tomatoes) in perfect proportion. Fries came with the sandwich. So many places these days can't seem to get French fries right but at the Fox, they were good.
The chicken (which the menu described as four pieces and the waitress said was three big pieces, neither of which was exactly right) was served with mashed potatoes smothered in a white, peppery gravy, corn niblets and a slice of the house made white bread. As a side note, the white bread is the only bread that they make here. As a side note to the side note, they do make the biscuits here. We actually met the man who makes them. It was his birthday and the staff was celebrating ... that's the kind of place The Hungry Fox is.
Back to the chicken: Although the pieces were relatively small, the bird was cooked to a crunchy goodness while this meat inside was juicy. The gravy was top notch and the potatoes were the real thing. The corn? It was corn.
We finished our meal with a piece of cherry pie, which is made on site. The crust was buttery and filling packed with tart red cherries. Yes, I would order this pie (or the peach pie or any of them, really) any time.
The Hungry Fox has been around since time immemorial (it is said that young Sam Fox of Fox Restaurant Concepts earned his chops here at the then family restaurant.) Several owners later, this diner still rocks.
Bring your kids, bring your best friend, bring your Aunt Dodo. There's something for everybody and I doubt you'll walk away disappointed.
The Hungry Fox Restaurant and Country Store
4637 E. Broadway Blvd.
Open: Monday-Friday 6 a.m. - 2 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 6:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Pros: Double yolk breakfasts; great pies
Cons: Noisy when it's crowded