Sit on the chrome and vinyl stool and close your eyes.
"Can I get a runner?"
"Need an over medium well!"
"No more biscuits!"
"Why your eggs look so pretty?"
It's the staccato patter of an American diner kitchen. Boisterous but unflappable, short-order cooks are a breed unto themselves.
At the end of June, St. Petersburg got a Metro Diner, the 13th in the chain born in Jacksonville in 1992. They aim to open 10 more by the end of the year, the Davoli family joining forces with ConSul Hospitality Partners (Outback Steakhouse co-founder Chris Sullivan; Hugh Connerty, the original franchise partner of Outback Steakhouse and former CEO of Outback Steakhouse International; and Carl Sahlsten, former president of Carrabba's Italian Grill).
Although each location is different — this particular one tucked into the spacious Hiro's Tokyo Steakhouse spot — they've got the idiom dialed. Black and white tile floors, jade Formica tabletops, a certain frenetic bustle and breakfast all day.
The open kitchen, at least so far, is a blessing and a curse. Workers, yelling at top volume, make you feel like you're in the thick of things, especially if you're sitting at the counter. It may speak to my own preoccupations, but it's fun to swing your legs and watch them scurrying. Some of what they're doing, though, isn't always what you want to see.
I watched a woman assemble a whole lot of pot pies: big scoop of brown glop in a casserole, handful of precooked meat cubes on top of that, patted out cap of prerolled dough on top of that. I watched a gentleman assemble my hot turkey plate by taking precooked turkey cutlets out of a bag and dropping them into hot water in a little mesh basket to heat up, shaking water off them before they were plated and gravied. Nothing reminiscent of Thanksgiving about that preparation.
In a couple of visits, I was more impressed with the breakfast offerings than lunch (although Guy Fieri was gaga for Metro Diner's meatloaf plate and the Pittsburgh sandwich — a serious kitchen-sinker with pastrami, fried egg, melted cheese and fries — on his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives). Fieri, never one to quake in the face of excess, was also enthusiastic about something called Yo Hala on the Square, a too-much-of-a-muchness mountain of thick-cut challah French toast stuffed with brown-sugared bananas and cream cheese and then topped with blueberry and strawberry compote and hazelnut syrup ($12.49). Split four ways, Yo Hala has appeal, super sweet, puffy and dessertlike. But think of your glycemic index, for cripes sake.
Not that the Bissell Breakfast ($9.49) was abstemious, but I found it a good way to test out the eggs (scrambled, very fluffy), biscuit (tender inside but a little tough exterior), bacon (pleasant but not anything special), hash browns (crisp and buttery) and a short stack (pancakes have good loft and tenderness).
A bevy of breakfast sandwiches does a good job of juxtaposing textures and flavors, from a spicy honey chicken biscuit (very fun and lively, $3.99) to a Frisco sandwich that brings scrambled eggs with ham and cheddar on grilled sourdough ($6.49). And for more texture play, there are twists on French toast, from pound cake ($8.99) to croissant ($9.99) and cinnamon raisin ($7.59).
St. Petersburg is already a diner-rich town. Munch's, Trips, Skyway Jack's, Kopper Kitchen — I could keep going. Metro Diner has a ways to go before it dominates in any diner category like burgers, meatloaf or grilled cheeses, and prices are somewhat higher than some of the local stalwarts. That said, the menu has nice breadth and several appealing veggie options (even the side of sauteed veggies was not perfunctory).
Brisk and effective service, combined with plenty of parking out back and a pretty chalkboard of daily specials, may push Metro toward the top offerings on that increasingly competitive stretch of Fourth Street N.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.