The Dos and Don’ts of Navigating Large Menus

Recently I posted a review of Michael’s Restaurant in Douglassville. Michael’s is your typical diner or family restaurant, offering 12 pages worth of menu items in an effort to please all of the people, all of the time.

While Michael’s menu is expansive, it is hardly the largest I have seen. The Golden Eagle Diner in Bristol, Bucks County, has a hefty 14-page menu, not including daily specials. The menu is approximately 2500 words, or the length of five Berks County Eats blog posts.

With so many choices and only one chance to get it right, a menu this size can be overwhelming. But don’t let it get to you, but do follow these dos and don’ts and you can navigate even the largest diner menus.

Don’t order a steak. There are certain parts of a diner’s menu you should avoid, starting with steak. If you have a craving for a nice New York strip or Delmonico, there are plenty of steakhouses serving up bigger, better, juicier options.

Do check out the specials. Diners with such large menus have to keep a lot of food on hand at all times. That means a lot of frozen foods and few fresh items. With specials, you know it’s not.

Don’t order ethnic food. More specifically, don’t order Italian. Pasta is fast and easy to make, which is why it is a staple on just about every diner’s menu, but you’re usually getting canned sauce and frozen meatballs. If you’re hungry for Italian, there is at least one Italian restaurant for every town in Berks County. Otherwise, you may as well make it at home.

Do order homestyle. The best diners are the ones that serve things “the way mama made it.” And the best dishes are usually the homestyle meals. Stick to the basics like roast beef, turkey, ham or meatloaf and pair it with some mashed potatoes and vegetables.

Don’t order appetizers. This isn’t an indictment on the quality of the appetizers. On the contrary, the fried dishes are usually some of the best on the menu. But at most diners, soup and salad bar are usually included. Add an appetizer on top of that, and that leaves little room for the main course.

Do order dessert. Pie, cake and coffee: three staples of any good diner. The dessert menu alone at a family restaurant can be a full page long. And let’s face it, if you’re going to take the time to read an entire page on the menu, shouldn’t it be the dessert page?

Don’t get a burger. Hamburgers are a tempting option on any menu, but especially at a diner. Many offer you a chance to build your own burger with your choice of cheese and toppings. But, there are so many great places to get a killer burger (bar and grills, steakhouses, and even Five Guys), enjoy something different on your trip to the diner.

Do order breakfast. Many diners offer breakfast all day, every day, and you should take advantage. Many times breakfast is a specialty of the restaurants. Items like pancakes and French toast are quick and easy, leading to faster service. And breakfast is cheaper. You can get a short stack of pancakes and a side of homefries for roughly the same price as a soup and salad buffet.

Don’t go in expecting gourmet. Restaurants like this not only have large menus, but they have large dining rooms, which means short-order cooks are pushing meals out of the kitchen in a hurry. So avoid anything that sounds like something you would get in a higher-end restaurant-that includes things like shrimp, lobster and filet mignon.

Do your homework. The best way to ensure you have a great meal is to do your homework. Go onto review sites like Urbanspoon and TripAdvisor and look at the positive reviews. See what those reviewers ordered and get an idea for what this restaurant does particularly well.

Always remember that every restaurant is different. Each one does something better or worse than the next. These are general rules of thumb, one of many things to take in consideration on your next trip to the diner.

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