Bertha’s Diner is not only a classic North Buffalo institution, it’s everything you would want in a diner – fast, friendly service, gentle prices and an assortment of traditional breakfast and lunch items with some quirky twists.
In fact, the only drawback of Bertha’s is that it’s on the small side, with one short wall filled with booths, some two-person tables stacked between the booths and a counter, and one larger table in the back that can seat six, possibly eight if they were very friendly. So you might have to wait a bit for a table, especially on weekend mornings.
However, it will be worth it. Oh yes.
While you wait, which should not be too long – food is made quickly, servers are efficient and other patrons are considerate – you can scan the tables, spotting people enjoying the Sitting Pretty (two eggs grilled into bread, topped with cheese, with home fries, $5.75) or the Brenda (a bowl of oatmeal topped with strawberries, bananas and dried fruit and nuts, served with brown sugar and milk, $6.50).
The cute names of the menu items are one small part of Bertha’s considerable charm. The walls are decorated with ’50s-era images of Elvis and Marilyn, jukeboxes and carhops, and an enormous 45-rpm record (“Donna,” by Richie Valens) complete with the curvy plastic spindle that allowed 45s to be played on regular turntables.
But on to the food. Breakfast is served all day, and what breakfasts they are. You could go as light as the No. 1 breakfast – one egg, home fries and toast ($3.75) – right up to the big breakfast platter – two eggs, two pancakes or French toast and choice of ham, bacon or sausage ($8). There’s also the Puzzler, an omelet of two eggs, mushroom and cheese, served with strips of Canadian bacon atop a bed of mixed greens and diced tomatoes with a splash of olive oil ($9.25) and the Denis – bacon, eggs, cheese and a spicy chorizo-stuffed hot pepper on sourdough toast, with home fries ($8.50).
Lunch items range from the traditional patty melt, a 5-ounce Angus burger on grilled rye with fried onions and cheese ($6.35) to a list of $7.35 sandwiches named for stars, including the James Dean cajun spiced chicken breast, the Buddy Holly chicken finger sandwich, the Marlon Brando spicy Italian sausage with peppers, onions and Swiss, or the Marilyn Monroe grilled turkey, tomato, spinach and Swiss. There are also burgers ($4.75 for a single with fries), club sandwiches ($8.50 for a BLT) and fried bologna ($5.35).
Lunch isn’t served on Sundays, but John, Pat, John and I had plenty of choices. In addition to the regular menu, there’s a printed page of regular special dishes, including “Who’s Your Patty,” two eggs any style with corned beef, served with a boiled potato and rye toast ($9.99) and a beef on weck omelet, with thin-sliced beef seasoned with caraway seeds and kosher salt, wrapped in a three-egg omelet drizzled with creamy horseradish sauce, served with garlic Texas toast and home fries ($9.99).
We started with a thick slice of homemade banana bread, studded with blueberries and grilled ($2.75). It was both unusual and delicious, with the warm, soft blueberries punctuating the rich, slightly crisped banana bread.
Our breakfasts, which arrived quickly, simultaneously and extremely hot, were all excellent. The pancakes, ordered as a short stack of two ($5.50) with those blueberries ($1 extra) were as big as the plate, crepelike rather than thick, delicious and cooked to perfection.
The homemade corned beef hash was served as a flat, crispy patty rather than the usual loose clump spooned out of a can. This was heavenly hash, obviously made in the kitchen from real corned beef. It was less salty than the processed kind and of delicious taste and texture. It was offered with two eggs, home fries and toast ($7.95).
The Catcher’s Mitt ($9.99), a deep, plate-sized Belgian waffle topped with two eggs and a serving of ham, bacon or sausage, did resemble a catcher’s mitt full of eggs and bacon, except it was delicious. The buttermilk waffle was crisp on the outside and delicately sweet on the inside. The eggs and bacon were very good.
We had one quibble with the thick-sliced French toast (tall order of three slices $6, short of two slices $5.50). The Italian bread was fresh and the batter perfectly eggy and spiked with cinnamon and vanilla, but it was so thick that the batter did not soak into the middle, which was left dry. A pool of syrup (free on the table, real maple syrup $1.50) was needed to fix that issue.
email: firstname.lastname@example.org Bertha’s Diner
Where: 1430 Hertel Ave. (836-3100, www.berthasdiner.com)
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily except Sunday, when it is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Wheelchair access: yes.
Special note: Cash only