I wonder if there is a time during the day, any day of the week, when Metro Diner isn’t overflowing. When I visited after 1 p.m. on a weekday recently, there were multiple groups of people, both inside and out, waiting for tables to open.
Such, apparently, is the power of a popular television show like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network. I’m not sure the Jacksonville restaurant’s reputation would have preceded it to its new location in Altamonte Springs without host Guy Fieri’s raves.
Not that the raves are not deserved. The food is impressive and sincere, and the atmosphere leaves no question about the diner designation.
Especially if you sit at the lunch counter, as I did, snagging the only single stool available and thus avoiding joining the huddled masses at the door. There, you’re treated to a master class in short order cooking and the choreography that is necessary for 11 men — no women were working in the galley — to flip, ladle, slice, plate and pass without drawing blood or leaving other permanent marks. They are unapologetically cacophonous as they shout orders and confirm the status of waiting tickets. If you have a kid who’s thinking about trying to become the next Great American Chef, bring him — or her — here and sit at the counter for a couple of hours and watch the myth of a chef’s glamorous life disappear. They’ll either reconsider the career path or be further in love.
I had not seen the D,D and D episode that featured the Jacksonville Metro Diner (full confession: I do not watch that show or any of the others featured on Food Network) so I did not know in advance that the meatloaf is one of the specialties. I just assumed that it should be. Because diner.
The fellow sitting next to me had just finished his plate of meatloaf as I was getting mine, and he exclaimed to the cook on the other side of the counter that it was “the best damned meatloaf he had ever had.” I can’t go quite that far. But he was young and has many more years of meatloafing to catch up to my sampling. But I will say it was pretty damned good. It featured two thick slices of loaf, a blend of beef, pork and turkey with carrots, celery and mushrooms plus fine bread crumbs. The meat slices are finished in a pan to give the surfaces a bit of a crust. They’re placed on a plate along with lumpy, skin-on mashed potatoes, both ladled with gravy, and served with sauteed zucchini and squash for a reason that completely escapes me. But then the hunk of baguette was also unnecessary, as good a baguette as it was.
I had also had a cup of the chili (see “diner” reason above). It was thick with ground beef and red and black beans, and someone had obviously been taught — properly, in my book — that to make a good batch of chili requires a heavy hand with the chili powder.
Before I had gotten my cup of chili, which also had some cheesy cheese on top, I heard someone behind the counter bark the order to heat some up. Sadly, mine wasn’t the one being referred to. It wasn’t cold, but it definitely wasn’t hot.
It took a while to be greeted after I sat down — not surprising given the busyness of the place — and I appreciated the pat on the back and the promise to “be right with you” from the woman who would be my server.
Metro Diner took over the space that was a Carmel Cafe ever so briefly. It’s rather drab, but that’s preferred to the faux retro ‘50s diner that too many places try to emulate in lieu of doing better food.
Metro Diner is putting all the effort on the plate. Even without a boost from national tv, Metro Diner — at least this one — would eventually be as crowded as it was. Because you people appreciate good food.
Metro Diner is at 985 N. State Road 434, Altamonte Springs. (Same vicinity as Fresh Market). It is open for breakfast, lunch and early dinner (closes most nights at 8 or 8:30). The phone number is 407-917-8997.