Historically, the concept of the diner was fairly straightforward. No-frills food, quick service, huge menu, lots of coffee.
In recent years, however, that definition has been expanded and tweaked, as chefs have embraced "upscale" diner food and Guy Fieri roamed the country, shining his "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" spotlight on restaurants that don't traditionally fill any of those shoes.
The Weekender, a self-billed "country diner," appears to be one of this new breed of restaurant. Opened in late July in the Monkton building that formerly housed Woody's Hitching Post, The Weekender serves dressed-up diner food for breakfast, lunch and "supper."
Though during our mid-August visit, the staff seemed to still be finding their way, the food is good and the faces are friendly. And fans of simpler diner food shouldn't be scared — the menu also includes plenty of well-prepared basics.
Scene & Decor Given the name, and its prime location in horse and cycling country, it's no surprise that weekends are a hot ticket at The Weekender. We arrived for Sunday brunch around 10 and the restaurant was already more than half full with families, couples and groups of teenagers.
Before opening The Weekender, owners Dennis Funk and Mike O'Connor oversaw a significant renovation that included enclosing the formerly open kitchen and redecorating the entire space.
A first glance, the restaurant's front room, with its soothing colors and neat tablecloths, appeared fancier than the restaurant actually was. A wood-paneled back room, decorated with vintage sleds and field hockey sticks, better conveyed the "country diner" ambience.
Entrees Many of The Weekender's breakfast choices are twists on familiar dishes. The Bubba Benedict ($7.99), a countrified take on eggs benedict, paired poached eggs with biscuits, sausage and thick sausage gravy instead of the traditional English muffin, Canadian bacon and hollandaise trio.
The concept was a good one; we especially enjoyed the texture of the sausage gravy and crumbly biscuits. The eggs were overcooked, however, and the dish, as a whole, needed more salt.
French toast stuffed with cinnamon, raisin and walnut cream cheese ($7.99) was a bigger hit. Made with challah bread cooked until it was just crisp and sprinkled with powdered sugar, the French toast was a nice example of how dessert-style breakfasts don't have to be overly sweet. (The toast was sweet enough, though, that we didn't even need the syrup provided.)
Simpler dishes — sides of sausage and scrapple ($2.49 each), a short stack of pancakes ($3.99) and a dish of cheese grits ($2.99) — showcased the kitchen's skill with straightforward breakfast grub.
Though the scrapple could have used an extra minute or two crisping in a hot pan, the local delicacy was salty and comforting. Everything else was cooked exactly right. Thick sausage links had snap and spice, grits were creamy and savory and the pancakes were fluffy, with just a hint of sweetness.
Drinks With our meals, we drank strong coffee ($2.49). A liquor license or BYOB may be in the cards for the future, says owner Dennis Funk, but for now, The Weekender will remain alcohol-free.
Service Over the phone, Funk acknowledged that the restaurant was still finding its way in terms of service. Though everyone we saw was cheery and friendly, that struggle was apparent during our meal.
Our waitress appeared overwhelmed handling four or five tables; she had some difficulty juggling requests from multiple customers at once, resulting in delays, especially for drinks and the check.
She also seemed to be learning the menu on the job. When we ordered, she peered at the menu and asked us to clarify the dish and its item number. The attention seemed strange at first but it was a successful strategy. Everything arrived just as requested.
It wasn't the quick and no-nonsense service associated with diners or even the sweet familiarity of a country cafe. But with some practice, it could be.
During breakfast, we eavesdropped on the table next to ours. A local who was already a regular customer had brought her mom to The Weekender for the first time. They were both singing the restaurant's praises. The Monkton community has obviously found The Weekender, and they have embraced it.
Back story: White Hall residents Dennis Funk and Mike O'Connor opened The Weekender diner last July in the Monkton space that formerly housed Woody's Hitching Post. The restaurant bills itself as a "country diner," serving familiar comfort foods for breakfast, lunch and supper.
Parking: Lot in front
Signature dish: The stuffed French toast was a satisfying way to bridge the gap between breakfast and dessert. Thick slices of challah bread, cooked until just crispy, were sprinkled with powdered sugar and stuffed with cinnamon-raisin-walnut cream cheese, making each bite tangy, bready and sweet.
Where: 17052 Troyer Road, Monkton
Contact: 410-472-1500; theweekenderdiner.com
Open: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted
Bottom line: Despite spotty service, The Weekender's creative and traditional diner food are sure to be a hit in Monkton