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DINING: Jacksonville diner chain ventures into Clearwater Crossing

June 11, 2016
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Any self-respecting diner offers meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Metro is no exception. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Epic menus, all-day breakfast options, kitchen and service staff that see no need for inside voices, a rotating dessert case, a location on a traffic circle, independent ownership, paper placemats, average-Joe pricing—the stereotypical characteristics of a diner are many.

But only the most hardcore purist would insist that all those elements be present in an eatery for it to earn diner designation.

For instance, the new Metro Diner (3954 E. 82nd St., 296-8262) isn’t parked on a circle and doesn’t offer a wide range of desserts. It doesn’t have the lived-in feel of my favorite local diner, Paragon (all-day pancakes, $3.99!) nor do I expect to prioritize it over my neighborhood Flap-Jacks. It’s up to you whether quotes of praise from Guy Fieri mean anything to you.

Nonetheless, the first Indiana location for the Florida-based chain is a respectable addition to Clearwater Crossing. On our visit, we were served satisfying fare in diner style.

And if big portions are a priority, all the more reason to stop in.

We stuck primarily with diner staples. Chicken Pot Pie ($8.29, $9.29) featured plenty of baked chicken and a garden of lima beans, corn, carrots, peas and green beans in a housemade biscuit crust that encouraged dipping and scooping. The Meatloaf ($9.99), while not terribly assertive, demonstrated care in its seared slices and was bathed but not drenched in a hearty brown gravy. Corners weren’t cut on the mashed potatoes, and the sided veggies were served hot, which is often not the case at diners that try to simultaneously serve both breakfast and lunch options. No complaint either about Onion Rings ($2.59, $3.99).

I plan to return for a subtler breakfast than the Yo Hala on the Square ($12.49) we tried on this outing. Seeming to be an effort to out-IHOP IHOP, it featured two pieces of thick challah stuffed with bananas, brown sugar, cream cheese and hazelnut syrup, then cooked up a la French toast and topped with blueberry/strawberry compote.

Well, topped isn’t exactly the word. Our order was topped, sided and bottomed to a point where it was impossible to fully appreciate the core creation.

Our dessert disappointment had to do with the number of choices, not quality. Only two items—plus seasonal specials—are offered.

The Salted Caramel Brownie ($4.59) had substance and enough character to differentiate it from store-bought. And with Metro’s Florida roots, it would border on heresy if the Key Lime Pie ($4.29) weren’t up to snuff. I’m thankful it was, with a thin but flavorful crust housing a triangle of goodness.

But I still missed a revolving display of dessert options.•

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