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Cheap Eats; Uncle Joe's Diner serves up nostalgia with helping of fun

If "Back to the Future's" time traveler Marty McFly materialized outside of Uncle Joe's Diner, he would feel right at home.

Originally opened in 1974 as a truck-stop style eatery, Uncle Joe's gained its super cool diner decor when it moved and expanded "a few doors down" around 1991. Today, the traffic on Southwestern Boulevard is always heavy and fast, yet motorists slow down to glance at the fun 1950s-inspired building.

It's a colorful place (walls are pink and turquoise) that's doused liberally with nostalgia. Whimsical flags -- fish, cows, a flamingo -- hang from the ceiling for purchase. It's a loud and family-friendly but again, that's part of its charm.

The efficient staff dresses in white shirts, ties and aprons. The menu proclaims it's "time to eat" and if you weren't hungry before looking at the overstuffed menu, you will be. Outside of a N.Y. Strip Steak dinner and seafood platter, the menu stays below $12 with most items under $10. Think comfort food -- breakfast, burgers, super melts, lunch wraps and home-cooked dinners. The selection is so large we sheepishly had to ask the waitress to return three times before we could order. Even though the place was packed, she was good natured about our indecision.

We were served steaming cups of hot, delicious coffee ($1.79) which arrived in substantial mugs bearing old-fashioned advertisements of real area businesses -- another fun touch.

Dad checked out the large breakfast menu on this early Sunday afternoon. The omelets sounded massive: made with four eggs, they range from $6.19 for a cheese omelet to $8.59 for a Super Duper with Italian sausage, sauteed peppers and onions, provolone cheese and home fries rolled right in. (For a buck less, you can get the "lighter fare" omelet with two eggs, but why would you?) Omelets come with toast, but it's $2.49 to add home fries, and we're too cheap to pay nearly $10 for an omelet with sides.

Instead, Dad picked an egg special, the Lucky 7 ($7.89) -- two eggs, two pancakes and three slices of ham, bacon or sausage. From the breakfast menu, our table also ordered a biscuit special ($6.99), a biscuit topped with sausage gravy, two eggs, home fries and two slices of bacon or sausage links.

I ordered the hot turkey sandwich ($7.59) on white bread with fresh-cut fries (you can also get hot roast beef or roast pork loin).

But we didn't stop there. Never has a menu talked us into getting so much food that we didn't need, but everything sounded so delicious how could we resist? Uncle Joe's Famous L.A. Bread promised thick-cut, cinnamon swirl bread served warm with a cinnamon glaze ($3.29 for one grilled bread slice or $5.99 for two; it's also available as French toast for $4.09/$6.99). Yummy sounding, but it was an ordinary slice of cinnamon bread toasted, sadly not worth the menu hype or the price.

Entree salads were too hard to pass up as well, so we picked the Kitchen Sink Club Salad ($9.89) with ham, turkey, bacon, tomatoes, pepperoncinis, olives, onions, hard boiled egg and cheese. Phew. Yes, this salad was large, certainly enough for two people. And we liked the addition of the crispy bacon. But we've had similar salads elsewhere for a couple of bucks less.

Everything else, however, was great. My hot turkey sandwich arrived steaming and smothered in so much thick, homemade light brown gravy that I had to scrape some off. The fries were hot and scrumptious, clearly fresh from the fryer.

The Lucky 7 lived up to its name. The scrambled eggs arrived light and fluffy with ham that was nicely grilled without being overcooked. The pancakes were delicious and so perfectly golden, that they were picture worthy -- and when can you say that about pancakes?

Though this visit had a couple of misses with the hits, we'll return because Uncle Joe's has too much going for it -- an endless menu, retro charm, family atmosphere and those photogenic pancakes.




2.5 pennies (out of four)    

"Retro charm, endless menu."    

WHERE: 4869 Southwestern Blvd. (Route 20), Hamburg (648-7154,    

HOURS: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.