The pandemic has changed the world’s restaurant habits with health experts encouraging folks to keep their visits brief and to social distance. That’s affected one American institution, the greasy spoon diner, in different ways.
The classic diner, where customers could lounge around and sip copious amounts of coffee while reading or catching up, was already an endangered species in a world where social media and delivery apps play big roles. Petros Papatheofanis remembers those days, as he grew up working at his parents’ diner, Alps East, in the ‘80s in North Center. But habits change and even the term “greasy spoon” has lost favor with customers demanding a diverse menu with healthy options. Not everyone wants bacon.
Irene’s Diner, named for Papatheofanis’ mother, will still serve bacon at the same address where Alps East stood. But chef Noah Zamler is amping the menu up for current tastes, sourcing his ingredients from top vendors like Slagel Family Farm and Nichols Farm. Zamler is the chef at the Press Room in West Loop, the wine bar co-owned by Papatheofanis and Cristian Mendoza. The menu contains the same eggs, pancakes, and nostalgic fun that customers anticipate from diners, but there’s more variety, and the ingredients are fresher. There’s something romantic about those halcyon diner days, but the food wasn’t always memorable. Irene’s Diner’s management is aiming to upgrade those expectations.
Papatheofanis took over his parents’ former space — a few new ownership teams had been in place operating their own restaurants since Alps East closed. The restaurant’s tagline is “the finer diner,” where customers can find “a better breakfast.” Check out a few menu items below.
Irene’s Diner, 2012 W. Irving Park Road, planned for a Friday, October 21 opening.