There's a lovely story behind Bernie's Diner, one that isn't immediately obvious as you scarf down burgers and fries in this 1950s themed American diner. Bernie's Diner pops up out of nowhere, in the small town of Moss Vale in the Southern Highlands, population 7,792. It's cute and gloriously kitsch with black-and-white chequerboard tiles on the floor, gleaming chrome stools at the counter and cosy red vinyl booths down the back.
Counter stools at Bernie's Diner
The joint is heaving on a weekend. Row of dockets are jammed on the rail above the grill, there's a queue of people waiting for seating and the call-out for burger pick-ups is constant.
Vintage cash register and soda bottles
There's one lone guy in the thick of female staff serving customers. He's the only staff member on the grill, flipping burgers while managing the flow of orders in the kitchen. Ioannis (pronounced Yar-ni) Benardos is the grandson of Emmanuel Benardos, after whom the diner is named.
Low back swivel stools
Emmanuel was born in Greece and became an orphan at age ten. At age 18 he left Athens for Australia, a journey that would take six weeks at sea. In 1925 he ended up in Moss Vale, opening the Central Cafe and, when that closed, started a new business on a different site called Bernie's Cafe.
Emmanuel's grandson, Ioannis, had hospitality in his veins but he had bigger fish to fry. From a career start at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Double Bay, Ioannis' CV included stints in the front of house at Claridge's in London, concierge for the Quay Grand in Sydney and assistant manager at The Grand National Restaurant in Paddington.
Ioannis Benardos directing staff in the kitchen
In 2013, life came full circle and Ioannis opened up Bernie's Diner on the same site where Bernie's Cafe once stood.
Chocolate thickshake $8
The menu is huge here, scrawled in chalk across ten blackboards that hang above the open kitchen. They do malted milkshakes, eggflips and soda floats but we're more than happy with our chocolate thickshake, so dense with ice cream that we struggle to suck it up through the straw.
We're warned about the thirty minute backlog on food, but staff remain smiling and cheerful throughout. Our thickshakes keep us entertained anyway, and it's easy to people watch the happy mix of locals and blow-ins from our booth.
Burgers and onion rings ready to be picked up
Bernie's Burger $13
The whole kit & kaboodle
The Bernie's Burger is a behemoth, a towering stack of beef, bacon, fried egg, pineapple, salad and onion rings. We can't even imagine the size of the Double Bernie ($24)!
Ok I couldn't resist. Here's the Double Bernie from their facebook page. Apparently Alisdair didn't make it but "made a valiant effort". Alisdair, mate, I still reckon you're a legend.
The cheeseburger is a little off kilter with the meat to bun ratio, and the we find the patty a little heavy on the binder, but the range of burgers is impressive, including pulled pork ($11), Waikiki bacon and pineapple ($10), Vegas Baby chicken and jalapeno ($11) and The Bro, a vegetarian option for $8.50.
Chili fries $10
Chili fries are practicallly a meal in itself, a huge basket of fries tumbled through with chilli con carne and served with a scoop of sour cream on top.
Chili dog $9
Texas chili, onions and cheese
We also get the chili dog. The pleasing snap of the frankfurt makes a contrast to the soft bun, beef mince and beans, scattering of onions and drizzle of tomato sauce and mustard across the top.
Onion rings $7
I'll admit it. I pushed for the large serve of onion rings even though the small one ($3.50) would probably have sufficed. The actual onion slices are wafer thin but the crunch on the batter is incredible, still crisp even after ten minutes.
House made hot smoked pastrami on caraway rye $15 for 150g
with Russian dressing, slaw and housemade dill pickle
The house made hot smoked pastrami is impressive but it's not really a surprise given the back story. The beef brisket is brined for two months then rubbed with spices and smoked for four hours over beech chips splashed with beer. After smoking, it's slow cooked at 80 degrees for 11 hours.
House made hot smoked pastrami
That would explain why there's such a terrific smokiness to the pastrami. It's shaved super thin (losing some of that satisfying chew) but the meat is tender and doesn't suffer from dryness. It's jammed between two slices of caraway rye with a generous amount of slaw. On its own the pastrami eats a little salty, but in the sandwich the seasoning balances out perfectly.
I love the house made pickle too - sweet, salty and sour with plenty of crunch.
Cheese fries $8
And because we're gluttons for punishment, we round everything out with a basket of cheese fries. It's nothing fancy. They just toss those fries through a puddle of melted cheese until everything sticks together in one giant golden love-in.
There's a kids party while we're there. Everyone joins in to sing Happy Birthday and then says good bye (at Ioannis' prompting) when he leaves. It's not fine food but it's not supposed to be. It's Happy Days here - the only thing missing is The Fonz.
Wrapping takeaway burgers
Weekend at Bernie's
402-404 Argyle Street, Moss Vale
Tel: +61 (02) 4869 1502
Open 7 days 6am-10pm
Public holidays 10am-8pm
No reservations. Walk ins only
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1/31/2015 07:33:00 pm