Review | Written and photographed by Nathan Mattise
Ever wonder why diners are the only place with countertop seating? I’m not sure on the exact reason (though it’s one of DinerCity.com’s 10 Diner Commandments) but I think it’s to encourage a personal relationship with the diner itself. The countertop seat encourages you to interact with the regular waitstaff. It allows you to know you’ll always have a seat even if you’re alone. It pushes patrons to potentially build friendships with other customers in similar situations. Countertops seem to be a regulars-type of thing. If that’s the case, the countertop at Thee Diner must be the busiest section in the place.
Thee Diner is advertised off I-81 at Exit 30 to Cicero, but you have to navigate down the road past all of the chain establishments (McD’s/Arby’s/Dunkin’ Donuts/Geno’s Cheesesteaks) before stumbling upon it. There is an absolute regulars-centric atmosphere to it. Waitresses are overheard discussing the newest children in town and whose cousins are getting married with the two other parties eating. The wall right below the ceiling over the kitchen is lined with photos of the friends and relatives to the diner. Even the menu cover is a collage of “The Many Faces of Thee Diner.”
The interior of the place is accordingly cozy. Wood paneling is reminiscent of a mid-90s grandparents’ house and the dining area is relatively small. The hours of operation are not terribly college kid friendly (5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. M-F / Only open until 2 p.m. on Weekends) but again there is a very regulars-oriented vibe to Thee Diner. Waitstaff is quick to accommodate you and provide a hot drink in the home team mug, but they leave you to your meal and reengage the regulars after you’re served.
The food is reasonable in both price and taste however and you’ll quickly stop wondering about the crowds after a few bites. During Monday through Friday breakfast hours, there are breakfast specials called the Hootenanny (basically their 2-2-2 deal) and the Bonanza (Eggs, Homefries, Toast) both for under $5. On weekends your best bet is the 2-2-2: Eggs, Bacon, and a choice of either French Toast or Pancakes for $5.60. The bacon is crisp, the eggs are a little dry and need ketchup but if you opt for the pancakes you’ll be filled and certainly satisfied (the batter is almost sweet and the cakes have the perfect ratio of thick-to-fluffy).
Thee Diner is located almost hidden from the rest of the Cicero commercial district and if not for the highway advertising only regulars would know about it. It seems like that’s almost the way they’d prefer it, but for those regulars they certainly found a commendable place to hang their hats with solid foods and a comfortable atmosphere to enjoy it in.
The Final Tab
Pros: Solid food, reasonable prices, a very home-like atmosphere
Cons: Limited hours, the perception of a heavy-regular focus
Three Out Of Five (Basic combo | It’s OK – try it.)