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Breakfast with Ina: Greek diner 2.0

Special to the Tribune
A new generation of Greek diners: Horizon Cafe, Pancake Cafe, Marmalade

I've spoken to food writers, culinary historians and asked three food vendors in the Randolph Street Market how the Greek diner came into being. And no one knows for sure.

"Roadfood" author Michael Stern, who, with Jane Stern, perfected the genre of driving around the country and eating where the locals eat, said in an interview it's a question that has come up over the years with no clear-cut answer. But we all know the type of restaurant we think it describes: lots of booths, family members working as host/cashier and a huge trifold menu that takes a while to navigate.

Some have kept the old ways intact but others have kept pace with changing demographics, tastes and ingredients and have left the stereotype in the dust.

These three represent the new generation of Greek diners.

(Note: I had the traditional Greek omelet at each place, just for old time's sake.)

Horizon Cafe

The Cocalis family has a lot to be proud of. Dad John had a restaurant in Michigan and 10 years ago opened here. His sons, Nick and George, run the place with gracious hospitality under the watchful eye of their dad and mom, Stella, who sit near the kitchen.

The prosciutto and pesto omelet had high-quality mozzarella perfectly melted on top and, of course, I had to try the pumpkin waffle, which was crispy on the outside, moist in the center, spiced just right and topped with candied pecans.

The specials change to fit the season and holiday, so I'll be going back around Thanksgiving.

Share the Pride Platter, which has eggs scrambled with cheese, tomatoes and peppers, two pancakes, Cajun-spiced home fries and ham, bacon or sausage; $1 is donated to the restaurant's neighbor, the Center on Halsted, for each Pride Platter sold.

The Greek spinach and feta omelet was delicious.

I loved everything I ate, which made Dad very happy.

What's missing? Absolutely nothing.

Of note: Online ordering, delivery

Find it: 3805 N. Broadway, Chicago; 773-883-1565

Hours: 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Pancake Cafe

Proving that a Greek diner doesn't have to be owned by a Greek family, Frank Kuzniewicz is the young, energetic, committed owner of this terrific place. Mom Ann is the welcoming hostess and other family members can be found at the cashier's desk. Grandma Kay was there, too, and is part of the Testa family, longtime food purveyors in Chicagoland.

Yes, the menu is big and yes, there are traditional choices but everything was a big step up in care, quality and ingredients.

I was lucky to be joined by four others, so I was able to sample more than usual for me. And Ann wanted us to try their versions of the apple pancake and Dutch baby. It would have been unkind to refuse, wouldn't it?

Like the other places, someone is really paying attention to the freshness of the ingredients: The spinach in the crepes was just-picked fresh and unblemished. Their coffee is delicious and is served with cream. Yum.

What's missing? Absolutely nothing.

Of note: Located just north of 75th Street on Rickert Drive in a shopping center; plenty of free parking

Find it: 1292 Rickert Drive, Naperville; 630-637-1010

Hours: 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday

Marmalade

An espresso machine and gluten-free and vegan options tell you someone cares about elevating the breakfast experience here.

Let me start with the gluten-free crepe made with eggs, cinnamon and corn flakes that were crushed and sprinkled on the egg that was cooking on the griddle.

I have no idea how it all came together but I do know it rolled perfectly, was filled with delicious mascarpone and garnished with fresh berries and powdered sugar. It was so delicious that I questioned the knowledgeable server relentlessly about how they did it!

The Lady Marmalade is the chef's signature French toast and deserves the highest praise. Eggy house-made brioche, stop-you-in-your-tracks apricot marmalade, maple cream and mixed berry coulis is worth going back for again and again.

The Greek omelet was really good but came with too many potatoes that were cut too big and were over-salted.

On all plates the berries used in the dish or for garnish were perfectly fresh. Not a blemish in sight.

What's missing? Someone who knows how to use the espresso machine properly.

Of note: Outdoor seating

Find it: 1969 W. Montrose Ave., Chicago; 773-883-9000

Hours: 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday-Sunday; closed Tuesday

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