The name Grumpy’s Diner conjures up a sour-faced old man waving off complaints as he barks at waitresses through an order window. I expected sassy service, brittle bacon and overcooked eggs.
I got none of the above. Instead, I ate a hearty Sunday breakfast in homey surroundings, all of it unabashedly blue-collar, at the recently relocated restaurant on South Pennsylvania Avenue, between Jolly and Miller roads.
The space, which formerly housed That Little Mexican Place and before that a series of breakfast joints, has remained largely the same as when my parents were regulars at the Regent Caf years ago. A wall of mirrors make the interior feel larger than it is, and the extensive wood trim walls along with plastic-covered, blue plaid tablecloths punctuate the downhome feel.
Greeting customers is a kitschy, life-size Santa that sings and wiggles at the push of a button. One senses it’s Christmas that’s celebrated at Grumpy’s, not necessarily “the holidays.”
Grumpy’s calls itself the home of the “mean cuisine” and promises service with attitude. Don’t expect anything like a late-night trip to Chicago’s The Wieners Circle, though; the most attitude we got was a hushed rehash of Grumpy’s move from a few miles north (let’s just say there doesn’t seem to be much well-wishing from the old landlord).
We considered going with the Big O Mess, a skillet with veggies, feta and hash, but decided on Grumpy’s Breakfast ($8.99), which comes with three eggs, a couple of sausage links and strips of bacon, fries cooked to order, toast and a short-stack of pancakes. It’s so much food they forgot to bring out the pancakes.
Our friendly waitress was so eager to take our order she approached us three times with checkbook — plastered with photos of her family — in hand. She was quite helpful once she realized we weren’t in a rush.
She recommended we ask for the usually grilled home fries to be dropped into the deep fryer instead. It was a spot-on suggestion; the slices of potato got a nice crispy, hash-like exterior while staying soft and starchy on the inside.
The over-easy eggs were cooked well, still soupy on the inside, which was perfect because the wheat toast came out a bit too brown. Unlike other diners, though, Grumpy’s didn’t feel the need to turn my toast into little spongy pools of butter. Same story with the home fries; other places shower everything that exits the fryer with a storm of salt, but not Grumpy’s.
The pancakes were a bit dense, cooked a little fast it seemed. They had a nice, almost-but-not-quite-burned exterior that gave them a strangely appealing homemade flavor. The sausage and bacon, like the coffee, were standard commercial food vendor fare.
On the side, we had a half-order of biscuits and gravy, both homemade according to the menu. The sausage gravy was the real deal: peppery with the consistency of pudding. I could taste the fat just looking at it, and while it wasn’t pretty on the plate, it was pleasant to eat.
The biscuits, like Grumpy’s itself, had no pretentions. You know those commercials with flakey, airy biscuits as light as the tendrils of steam rising from their pillow-soft interiors? That kind of refinement has no home at Grumpy’s; their homemade biscuits are dense, cakey and hearty enough for a horse. Glad we went with a half order.
Our side order of grits struck a more delicate note. The little grains could be sprinkled with brown sugar or cooked with milk, as our waitress suggested, but we took them plain and asked for butter on the side. (Note: if you want real butter, bring your own: The mini cups of “Tasty Gold Spread” just aren’t the same.)
Margarine-like product aside, the grits came out like Baby Bear’s porridge — just right. They weren’t too thick or watered down. A spoonful dissipated quickly into dozens of little individual grains, a pleasant texture to a simple dish.
You won’t find a Popeye-faced crew at Grumpy’s Diner, even if the name suggests as much.
If your experience is anything like mine, though, what you will find is cordial service and simple food. It won’t win many “best of” contests, but I’d wager it’s a favorite of many a baby-boomer.
5600 S. Pennsylvania Ave., Lansing
6 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday: 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday