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Refined Diner Food: Put a new spin on old favorites

“Denny’s arrives in NYC with lavish $300 breakfast”

That 2014 headline from the New York Post should quell any doubt that consumers continue to embrace diner food—albeit sometimes in a more refined format. Denny’s—the chain dubbed “America’s Diner”—is offering what the Post called “a swanky spin on low-end diner grub” at its Manhattan location. The most upscale option: the Grand Cru Slam brunch for two paired with Dom Perignon champagne. 


Denny’s everyday menu has gone through a metamorphosis too. While traditional diner favorites like country-fried steak still appear, the updated menu features items such as grilled, wild-caught Alaska salmon available in a Fit Fare® light version with whole-grain rice and steamed broccoli that comes in under 550 calories.


Healthier, more sophisticated offerings

Similar stories are playing out in other American diners.


In Woodbury, N.J., the Colonial Diner recently changed hands after almost 37 years. The name change also brought a new menu. “I wanted to make healthier diner food, done with the lighter side of cooking, but also keep the diner favorites that everyone loves,” chef/owner George Ragos told the online publication Customers can order typical diner food like gravy-laden open-faced sandwiches or go healthy with Lo-Cal Protein Platters featuring grilled portobello, sliced turkey, ground beef patty, a char-broiled chicken breast or salmon filet, all tossed with quinoa.


And at Tally’s Silver Spoon in Rapid City, S.D., chef Benjamin Klinkel serves old favorites like cheese soup plus new options like spicy basil vegetable soup and healthy lunch specials featuring locally grown produce. He has called his restaurant a “fine diner”—a spot that resembles a casual diner but with a modern, sophisticated look.


Comfort foods with a twist

With restaurants and supermarkets increasingly competing for consumers’ dining out dollars, taking a “refined diner” approach to prepared food offerings can help supermarket delis appeal to customers craving comfort food with a modern twist.


As Supermarket Guru® Phil Lempert notes in his list of top food trends for 2015, “A desire to be ‘all things food’ to their customers, especially singles, is positioning [supermarkets] as head to head competitors with chain and local restaurants…Experienced culinarians, usually CIA trained chefs with many years of experience, are offering unique dishes, local foods and beverages.”


One look at Whole Foods Market’s recipe page ( uncovers ideas for dishes that make great stand-ins for traditional diner fare. In place of chicken-fried steak, try Crispy Turkey Patties with Artichoke Chimichurri (with quinoa mixed inside the turkey and used as a coating). Instead of mayonnaise-laden tuna salad, opt for Mediterranean Tuna Salad with artichoke hearts, piquillo peppers and Greek olives. Or, replace an old-fashioned cobb salad with eggless Kale Caesar Salad with Parmigiano Reggiano; substitute Creamy Mashed Potatoes and Parsnips or low-carb Mashed Cauliflower for upscale mashed potatoes.


These kinds of upscale options can entice shoppers to grab dinner from the deli instead of at the diner down the street.














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