Growing up in South Jersey, the classic diner was a way of life for Scott, and while attending college in Philly, they quickly became my primary source of food throughout the week.
Pulling up a stool at the counter for some quick breakfast or grabbing a corner table for midnight dinner with friends — there are few restaurant experiences that instill comfort in me the way a diner does.
Since moving to Cleveland, I’ve missed the Llanerch, Melrose and Harvest diners of the old days. Fortunately, the Katz Club Diner in Cleveland Heights has come to my rescue.
Located in the old Dottie’s space, Katz Club Diner embraces the roots of the two classic Pullman diner cars it calls home. The cars, which originally came here from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, house a 48-seat diner, a quick service carry-out coffee and bake shop, and a late-night bar car offering craft cocktails, beer, wine, spirits, and appetizers.
Every detail inside the diner cars is perfect: The sleek silver of the outside. The retro-lettering of the Katz Club sign. The vintage train and cityscape photos of Cleveland embedded above the luncheonette counter. Updated (and infinitely more comfortable) versions of classic diner chairs. And a small semi-private seating area in the car’s front alcove.
Stepping inside the Katz Club Diner is like being instantly transported from Cleveland Heights to South Philly.
The classic diner design is complemented by its menu items. Matzah Ball Soup perfect for a rainy winter day; an incredibly succulent mushroom, bacon, swiss burger on a buttery housemade bun; and cold meatloaf sandwiches like my mom makes are tasty fare.
Memories of those dishes are making my mouth water as I type; however, I think my favorite dish I’ve tried so far is the pan-fried chicken with tomato-mushroom spaghetti casserole. Normally I don’t gravitate to chicken dishes, but the spaghetti casserole sounded too good to pass up. I’m glad I was right.
The thin chicken fillet is lightly seasoned and crispy around the edges. It’s paired with homestyle spaghetti tightly wound with fresh and juicy mushrooms and topped with cheese. On their own, each was fine, but I recommend mixing bites of spaghetti and chicken together.
As I sat there eating it, Scott commented on the huge grin that had spread across my face. The combination of everything on my plate and the way you had to disassemble the spaghetti casserole struck me as something that would have been my favorite dish as a kid.
And that’s what I love about Katz Club Diner. It’s unpretentious comfort food and childhood favorites made from scratch with local ingredients and great skill — whether that means baking all of the buns and pastry counter items or curing the bacon and corned beef in house. You can read about some of the local farms they source their ingredients from on the Katz Club blog.
This attention to their craft includes their coffee. You won’t find burnt, instant-heartburn-inducing coffee at Katz. The coffee and espresso come from local small-batch provider Rising Star Coffee Roasters. And it’s made by the diner’s well-trained barista staff. French press, latte, cappuccino, iced – you can find your caffeine fix at Katz.
A few weeks ago I was invited to the Katz Club for a demonstration of the pourover technique they offer. It’s a manual brewing process from Japan. Katz’s coffee counter manager Theresa and Rising Star’s Andre walked us through the process.
It involved a thick, hand-folded filter, precise temperatures and timing, followed by a carefully observed pour of water over the coffee. In addition to being a lot of fun to do (watching the coffee “bloom” was very cool), the end result was worth the work.
As a tea-drinker, I preferred the cup of pourover coffee over standard brewing. The thick filter went a long way to producing a cleaner, smoother texture similar to a cup of tea. This in turn brought out more intense flavors from the coffee. We tried Panama and Nicaraguan beans; the flowery Panama was my favorite.
You can learn more about pourovers and other techniques by attending Katz Club’s new brewing workshops – the first is on Saturday, November 16th at 2:00pm. Contact information to learn more can be found here.
Regardless of the brewing method you prefer, make it better by pairing it with a fresh pastry, cake or pie from the coffee counter. I’m partial to their much-improved take on the frosted pop tart, while Scott – an Oreo-addict – loved their oversized, Halloween-themed cookie sandwiches.
If salty is more your style, try Katz’s $5 On-the-Go Breakfast Special. Enjoy a 12 oz. cup of Rising Star with house-cured bacon, farm eggs and cheddar on a housemade english muffin. While it makes an excellent breakfast, you can pick the special up all day, just like the diner’s other breakfast items.
Although some people may raise an eyebrow at making the hour drive from Avon Lake to Cleveland Heights for a cup of coffee and food; the distance to the Katz Club Diner is much shorter than driving to Philly, and I get an even better diner experience.