What’s old is new again—in this case, the luncheonette. Luncheonettes, or lunch counters, were commonly found in department stores and “five and dime” stores starting in the early 1900s and are now experiencing a serious comeback. While still quick, convenient, and budget-friendly, a closer look at recent menus shows they are now more focused on quality and creativity. Here are the coolest new luncheonettes that have opened this year.
1. Rooster Soup Co.
One of the most impressive concepts is Rooster Soup Co. in Philadelphia, helmed by the powerhouse restaurant partners Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook. Already named a top restaurant by both GQ and Food & Wine, 100 percent of the luncheonette’s profits go to providing food and social services to Philadelphians in need. The building once housed a Jewish-Romanian sandwich shop. Today, the globally inspired comfort food menu continues to feature sandwiches along with soups, salads, and a few blue-plate dinner specials. The spot’s signature dish is Smoked Matzo Ball Soup made from smoked chicken fat, and diners shouldn’t miss the nostalgic banana cream pie. While some of the specials are priced at $16, most dishes are priced right around $10.
2. Pittsburgh Lunch & Superette
Chef Una Kim opened the Pittsburgh Lunch & Superette in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle. The location was at one point a fine-dining brasserie and, later, a soup kitchen. Inspired by both accessible family restaurants and seafood spots she saw in San Francisco while attending culinary school, Kim switched the restaurant’s concept from a seafood restaurant to a luncheonette with solidly American comfort food. Some favorite dishes include her turkey version of porchetta, the “Turchetta,” Shrimp Louie, and the Pittsburgh Club Sandwich with turkey, red onion jam, bacon, pesto mayo, and arugula. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch and experiences a daily lunch rush of local business people and tech workers.
3. Dad’s Luncheonette
Chef and owner Scott Clark, who worked at Michelin-starred Saison, quickly gained local and national press for Dad’s Luncheonette, which is housed in an old caboose next to a strip mall in Half Moon Bay. The menu is extremely pared down, with just a burger, mushroom sandwich, mac and cheese, herb salad, homemade potato chips, and a daily soup and dessert. The burger and the mushroom sandwich are both served on grilled white bread and are topped with a fried egg, cheese, and pickled red onions. As the menu proudly states, everything is local and organic—except the cheese. Just note that the seating is as limited as the menu. Open Thursday through Sunday, starting at 11 a.m., it sometimes sells out and closes early.
Brad Bazloloski, chef at The Luncheonette in Richmond, Virginia, describes the restaurant’s menu as “millennial style” with ingredients that customers ate as kids. One such ingredient? Boxed cereal, used in new dishes like Cinnamon Crunch French toast and a Chicken & Waffles egg roll battered in Cap’n Crunch. Breakfast and lunch are most popular, although the casual spot is open for dinner as well. It also has an “off the menu” menu with staff favorite dishes, which have an over-the-top feel such as a cheeseburger on a bun made from mac and cheese and Reuben hot dogs topped with 1000 island dressing, swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and corned beef. Most dishes are right around $10.
5. City Counter
The most recent luncheonette opening is Harper Matheson’s City Counter in San Francisco, which opened in May 2017. It’s located in the storefront of a historic office building that dates back to 1912 and was inspired by the lunch counters Matheson visited with her parents when she was young. The menu features sandwiches and salads, including the outstanding tuna melt, which is made from olive-oil cured tuna and topped with a three-cheese fondue. Another popular dish is the Reubenesque, a sandwich made from brined and smoked beets, prepared and seasoned in a similar fashion to pastrami. A true luncheonette, it is open for lunch; however, it reopens for a “happy hour” with beer, wine, and a snack menu from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m.
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