It’s the end of Spring Break for some vacationers, and an ongoing vacation for others. Either way, it means traveling, and that means a good breakfast to start the day. And in the northern Florida area, you’ve got five choices for plentiful plates of the usual, the novel and the outlandish. And all five are called the Beach Diner. This five-shop chain serves what you know and love, what you’d never consider fixing in your own kitchen on a busy morning, serves it fast and at prices that reflect both the quality of ingredients used and the sheer volume of food about to hit your table.
This breakfast-and-lunch chain sticks to what works extremely well when it comes to classics and favorites, but wanders off the path when it comes to something new and different. You can get your eggs with ham, sausage, hash, or pork chops; omelets, pancakes, French toast and waffles plain or filled and topped. There are breakfast sandwiches on bagels, toast, English muffins and burritos. It’s not the Beach Diner’s way to be ordinary about food, though. There’s the Sinful Belgian, topped with toasted pecans and chocolate syrup; the Left Coast Omelet, with bacon, Swiss cheese, diced tomato and onions, all topped with Hollandaise sauce and fresh avocado. How about a different protein in the morning, such as two eggs any style with grilled or blackened salmon? Or the Eggs on the Bayou, a calories-be-damned platter of hash browns plus poached eggs on English muffins, topped with bacon, crabmeat, Hollandaise, diced tomatoes and green onions? Perhaps a play on an old southern favorite, the Beach offers fish and grits topped with two eggs any style.
The Beach Diner’s lunch menu is equally divergent, offering soup, salads and hot and cold sandwiches. But among the chicken salad, Caesar and Cobb salads and burgers are stuffed avocados, chicken salad melt, garlic shrimp melt, The B.E.T. Rider (a BLT with egg salad), a tomato and sprout sandwich, a tuna and tabouli sandwich and an all-veggie garden pita. There is little chance of anyone walking into this establishment without finding something on the menu to enjoy.
Beach Diner offers whitewashed booths and tables in a clean, shoreline-themed setting, with simple decoration the mainstay of the interior. Speedy, friendly service is the rule, even when the place is busy, and servers check regularly to make sure drinks are replenished and if anything is needed. Prices are not fast-food cheap: breakfast items are $6 to $12 and lunch is $8 to $11. But portions are bountiful and can easily be shared.
If you’re on the road (still or again) and want a breakfast or lunch stop that satisfies everyone in the car, head in the direction of any of the five Beach Diner locations.
The Beach Diner, open seven day from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Locations in Atlantic Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fernandina Beach, Mandarin and San Marco.
Hollandaise sauce is not the scary and delicate recipe many seem to think it is. It does require a little care and patience, along with the use of a double boiler. James Beard’s recipe, from his 1978 book Beard on Food has always been one of the easier ones to use:
To make 1 ½ cups sauce, have eight tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces sitting on a warm plate – the butter should be softened but not melted to liquid. Put three egg yolks in a bowl and add ½ teaspoon salt, a pinch of pepper or a dash of Tabasco and one tablespoon of lemon juice or wine vinegar. Stir with a whisk over a pot of hot (not boiling) water until the mixture is well blended and the egg yolks have thickened slightly. Begin adding the butter, a piece at a time, to the egg yolk mixture and whisking. As soon as the butter is absorbed, add the next piece and keep doing this until all the butter is incorporated and the mixture is thickened. If the sauce is thickening too fast, add a tablespoon of cold water to slow down the process. If your Hollandaise curdles, you can often save it by adding a tablespoon of heavy cream or a tablespoon of very hot water.