Diners are a staple of classic Americana. With foundations laid by Greek immigrants and a dozen variations on that theme, the diner remains a versatile culinary concept, common in the most rural parts of the country, and even the most urban, like here in the northwest Bronx.
In fact, this community is home to several diners — some of them pretty well-known outside the neighborhood’s boundaries — and nearly all of them serving up quick bites to eat for decades.
Like the Riverdale Diner, which George and Anna Kaperonis have operated on Kingsbridge Avenue near West 238th Street since Lyndon B. Johnson was president.
“We have a great community,” Anna Kaperonis said of the neighborhood just off Manhattan College’s campus.
And the diner has gone beyond just the appeal of late night food. Baking is done on-site, parking is free, according to manager Joe Daka. And if you can’t take advantage of that amenity, deliveries are free, too. It’s all in response to a community of new weekday faces and Sunday regulars. Their menu includes a wide variety of options ranging from new American to new Mediterranean and everything in between.
“This is the ‘everything diner’ for everyone,” Kaperonis added.
That “everything” for Benito Ceriaco has been a career. In a field where many come and go while looking for different jobs, Ceriaco has been a waiter at Riverdale Diner for more than 30 years.
“One of the best,” he said, leaning against a table, glancing at patrons sitting in booths lining the window. “You get a lot of different people every day. You see the same faces on Sundays, but there is always someone new.”
The Riverdale Diner space is quite large, welcoming hungry patrons into two separate areas. But the traditional diner is much smaller, like the Gold Mine Café, a 24-hour eatery in the shadow of the 1 train at Broadway and West 231st Street. While weekdays might take care of weary commuters and lunch-seeking employees from neighboring businesses, the Sunday brunch crowd fills the seats with young and old, family and friends.
Manager Elias Kostas stands behind the register calling orders to the kitchen staff, and hands paper bags filled with hot food to the line of customers who can’t stay. A mural on the wall reflects Greek tradition and history, from Athenian ruins to a village scene.
The paintings reflect some of the menu, but the café has a lot to offer. From classic diner fare like pancakes and bagels, to Mexican and Latin American dishes, the variety is a welcome and anticipated selection for many customers who happen by the corner restaurant.
“Sundays in the morning, you can’t even get in,” said Gold Mine waitress Pamela Liritsis, “But it’s nice to see familiar faces.”
Among those familiar faces is Graham Johnson.
“I never ask for the same thing,” said Johnson, wiping away raindrops from his glasses with a wide smile. He gestured to his plate of sausages and eggs atop golden hash browns. “The food’s good here.”
Sunday regulars are common for diners of any size, even ones in close proximity to each other, like Louie’s Dale Diner, just a few doors up on West 231st Street from the Gold Mine Café.
When Dale Diner opened in 1975, it was next to another establishment borrowing part of nearby Riverdale’s name — the Dale Theater, which closed in the 1990s. Today, that theater is a discount store, and the diner itself is owned by George Tsikis, who bought the eatery in 2015, closing it for a few months the next year for some much-needed updates.
When Tsikis reopened the newly renovated, he brought back many of his previous employees, adding that expected sense of familiarity one has when it comes to a local landmark like a diner.
“Here, weekdays, we have steady people,” said Kostas Tsikis, George’s father and fellow proprietor of the Dale. “The rest on Sunday.”
Historically, Louie’s Dale Diner is situated near the confluence of the Kingsbridge, Riverdale and Marble Hill communities, which has allowed the father-and-son ownership duo to enjoy a little something from all of them.
“We have nice people,” Kostas Tsikis said. “This is a nice area.”
Restaurants have come and gone over the years, from hip brunch spots to subtle though pricey restaurants. But there’s more to the appeal of a diner than just fair prices and friendly faces. As Anna Kaperonis says, “American food includes everybody.”