It’s 11 a.m. on a Sunday, and the metal-trimmed tables are packed at Lucky’s Coffee Shop & Restaurant in Wilmington. Servers in black T-shirts pour coffee and carry trays laden with dishes. There’s creamed chipped beef on toast, pancakes with pats of melting butter, fluffy omelets, and eggs with bacon and home fries.
The dishes are available every day until closing at 10 p.m. Lucky’s salutes the type of coffee shop that was prevalent before espresso immigrated to America. Back then, the coffee shop joined the diner, the family-style restaurant and the “truck stop” as timeless breakfast spots—the kind of place where being called “hon’,” “sweetie” and “darlin’” was expected.
The image has held strong over the years. “When people say they’re going out for breakfast, they tend to picture a diner,” agrees Phil Hanos, owner of Hollywood Grill in Fairfax.
In Delaware, there are still many classic spots, from the intimate Angel’s Restaurant, located in the old Silverside Dairy in Brandywine Hundred, to the 225-seat Jimmy’s Grille in Bridgeville. No matter the decor, they share a few key characteristics—they’re affordable, they serve comfort food and they’re part of the community.
That’s certainly true of Hank’s Place, a fixture in Chadds Ford for more than 16 years. The Route 1 restaurant, enhanced by owner Peter Skiadas’ landscaping, is known for drawing the well-heeled crowd, despite its tight seating, paneled walls and elbow-to-elbow counter. (Rumor has it Hank’s was one of Andrew Wyeth’s favorite spots.)
Given its gentrified locale, it’s not surprising that you can order traditional French toast or “gourmet” French toast with fruit bread. But you’ll also find traditional dishes, including Voula Skiadas’ corned beef hash and eggs, made with Brazilian beef and her own spice blend.
A recent visit to the Smyrna Diner, a stop on the Delaware Culinary Trail, revealed the same sensibility. There are jelly packets on the tables, and placemats have advertising on them. Customers love the sausage and biscuits with home fries, says Jamie Compton, whose parents purchased the diner in 1972. (There’s a breakfast buffet on weekends and holidays.)
Sausage and biscuits is a signature diner dish in southern Delaware. The entire state, however, seemingly has a fondness for creamed chipped beef on toast. “It’s a really popular item, especially when it’s nippy out,” says Kosta Tsoukalas, general manager of the Robin Hood Restaurant in Rehoboth Beach. At Hank’s Place, you can get the beef over toast points, home fries, a Belgian waffle, pancakes or biscuits.
Unlike some chain restaurants, Delaware diners and family restaurants—like Jimmy’s Grille in Bridgeville and Dewey Beach—often pride themselves on making such dishes in-house. Jimmy’s most popular breakfast is the “Local’s Special”: two famous Jimmy’s “secret recipe” pancakes, two eggs and a choice of two slices of bacon or two sausage links. It’s a feast for $5.22.