— From the pages of FLL Issue #35
Silk City Diners are known for their sleek metal siding, busy checkerboard tile, funky bar stools and an atmosphere that teleports you directly to the “Fabulous 50s.” Paterson Wagon Company constructed about 1,500 diners from the mid-1920s to the mid-1960s out of Paterson, New Jersey. Among these existing historic productions, one Silk City Diner still stands… right here in Lancaster. Route 30 Diner (previously Jennie’s Diner) was built in 1959. Fun 101.3 radio hosts, Dennis Mitchell and Michelle Cruz, got the chance to dine upon the good home cookin’ that Route 30 Diner has to offer.
New owners, Pete and Patti Skiadas, have been married for 44 years and have been involved with restaurants for 35 of those years. I know I’m not alone in having familiarity with the building which stands proudly in Ronks, PA. It was quite the hot spot for youngsters to visit throughout their high school and college years, and is also known for being a popular stop for those hungry, weary truckers along the highway.
Patti greeted us with a warm and friendly hello. Immediately after showing us to our corner booth, she offered some very helpful advice after learning I would be handwriting everything in my notebook. “Do you know shorthand? Oh, you need to buy the ‘Gregg Shorthand Book‘ on Amazon. It will save you so much time, and it’s so easy!” (I ordered it as soon as I got home.) Patti is a vibrant soul and very knowledgeable about Lancaster city and its historical secrets. She let us in on some diner trivia regarding the Silk City Diners and gave us the full background of Route 30 Diner.
After purchasing the establishment, the Skiadas got right to work. Among many other tasks, they power-washed the ceiling, installed new floors, reupholstered the chairs and booths, and even replaced the 100 flashing yellow bulbs around the infamous “DINER” sign that stands right along the busy highway. They fixed the old neon “air conditioned” sign above the entrance, too. After removing the jukeboxes from the tables, they installed a digital music player which is not only capable of playing 175,000 different songs, but is also programmed to play a nostalgic oldie every 15 minutes.
As we settled in, Dennis asked Patti about the veteran photographs which line the ledge below the ceiling. After 9/11, the previous owners displayed photos of their loyal customers who had served in the military in an effort to honor their service to our country. Some of the men photographed are now in their 80’s.
Our stomachs were grumbling as it was time to order a delicious meal. The menu, designed by Terry Sheetz, features modern yet quirky arrangements and fonts. There is even a little cracked egg overtop of the breakfast features. I believe a menu says a lot about an establishment, and after flipping through the Route 30 Diner menu, we knew a fun evening was ahead of us.
Following much deliberation, we ordered an abundant mixture of food. Michelle decided on her entrée, stating, “I’m definitely ordering the Greek salad because it says ‘FAMOUS Greek dressing’ in all capital letters.” We also ordered a chocolate chip pancake, Pennsylvania Dutch-style chicken pot pie, stuffed flounder, chicken corn rivel soup, stewed zucchini, baked beans, pickled eggs, and homemade onion rings with ranch dressing.
The freshly fried onion rings were battered, crispy, and hot. We dipped them in ranch dressing and left nothing behind. The chicken corn rivel soup tasted like what home feels like. Michelle asked Patti about rivels since she had never heard of them. Patti explained that noodles break down in soup, making it starchy. So rivels, which are just rolled dough balls of flour and egg, combat the starchiness because they bind together and don’t break down. The side salad that came with Dennis’s stuffed flounder was bountiful and fresh, filled with all of summer’s best vegetables.
Michelle’s Greek salad was decorated with wedges of pita bread circling the bowl. Filled with pickled pepperoncinis, olives, a heap of feta, and fresh vegetables, Michelle was ready to dig in. “I know why they call this dressing famous. I just found out,” she said with a smile after taking her first bite. The lemony stuffed flounder was filled with enough crabmeat to satisfy all of our bellies. The chicken pot pie was brought out in a large bowl with a whole chicken leg on top. The noodles were homemade and the dish was a comforting addition to our meal. Dennis even remarked, “This is how my mom made this dish and how my wife makes it now, too.”
The Japanese believe in the “betsu bara,” a second stomach reserved solely for dessert. Ahem. Well, the betsu bara would have been quite handy because Patti brought us not one, but four desserts to share. We got to sample the creamiest cheesecake imaginable with homemade strawberry sauce, homemade rice pudding with plump raisins, warm chocolate shoofly pie, and homemade baklava.
At the end of our meal, our server, who had been trying to pin down how she recognized Dennis and Michelle, told us that she used to listen to their radio show when she delivered the morning paper. We were happy and we were full. And we were full of happiness. I already have a mental list of people I need to bring to Route 30 Diner, to not only look back on old memories, but to create new ones, too.
Route 30 Diner
2575 Lincoln Highway East, Ronks PA