Port Charlotte Marketplace to boast two new eateries

Since before Christmas, the new Port Charlotte Marketplace, on the corner of Cochran Boulevard and U.S. 41, has been filling up with stores including HomeGoods, Burlington, Skechers and, soon, Ross Dress for Less and Lucky’s Market.

As of May 21, when Metro Diner opens its doors, shoppers can grab breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Soon afterward, watch for Bento House — a small sit-down and takeout sushi and hibachi restaurant with a big menu.

Metro Diner, better than you remember

Some experiences are better in retrospect. Case in point: your beloved old hometown diner.

You remember. That boxcar-long eatery with vinyl-topped swivel stools along a counter facing the grill. Rows of booths and tables laid out on black-and-white linoleum. A 32-page Kodacolor menu promising everything from liver and onions to moussaka.

And that glass case next to the register — full of hubcap-sized black-and-whites and chocolate-chip cookies, coconut cream pies and towering chocolate cakes.

These kinds of joints are why the Food Network invented “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in the first place.

But memory mercifully glosses over short-tempered waitresses popping their gum, and that all the food, cooked on the same grill, tasted of liver and onions.

Thank your lucky stars that Port Charlotte’s new Metro Diner isn’t a diner from your youth. Instead, it’s everything that you choose to remember fondly, spared of the greasy reality.

“When I walked in here the first time, I just fell in love with the place,” Jacksonville’s Metro Diner chef/co-owner told Guy Fieri, who featured the restaurant on his Food Network show.

“So,” barked Fieri in typical Triple-D style, “Chef Mark Davoli bought the joint. And talked his dad, John, a corporate restaurant vet, into joining him.”

Mark Davoli, his brother J.D. and their dad planned to attend the Port Charlotte opening on May 21.

Like their flagship eatery in Jacksonville’s leafy San Marco neighborhood, each new Metro Diner in the soon-to-be-76-store family tips the hat to diner tradition with a day-round menu (breakfast for dinner, dinner for breakfast) and other spot-on touches.

There are bits of Art Deco chrome, a neon “Where the Locals Eat” sign that changes colors, a swivel-stooled counter where you can befriend the guy scrambling your eggs, and standbys like Fried Chicken & Waffle and the Meatloaf Plate whose seared brown crunch Fieri immortalized as “the art of crustification.”

But when the Davoli family revived a 1938 Jacksonville building as Metro Diner in 1992, they brought 80 years’ restaurant experience to elevating things above the diner usual.

No liver and onions here. Instead, there are Charleston Shrimp & Grits and Pulled Pork Mac Stack, barbecue pulled pork over macaroni and cheese, alongside a cheddar cornbread waffle topped with maple butter.

You won’t miss that liver one bit.

Everything’s made from scratch, right before diners’ eyes, in an open kitchen that’s always immaculate because it’s always on display.

Now in 14 states and soon to have 31 outlets in their home state of Florida alone, Metro Diners are growing nearly as fast as they turn their tables, opening more than 35 new stores nationwide in 2018.

Managing partner Karen Yen of North Port, who’d run Venice restaurants including The Crow’s Nest, Bogey’s and Norma Jean’s over the last 26 years, immediately liked what she learned about Metro Diner as a workplace.

“The standards they have are the standards I’ve always wanted,” she said. “If a customer isn’t happy with their meal, they don’t make them pay for it. But I’m very proud to serve our food. It’s absolutely delicious, with large portions.”

With 91 seats inside and 24 on a covered outdoor patio, this is the biggest restaurant Yen has opened from day one. She was beside herself with excitement as every new piece of equipment was rolled into place.

She trained for three months in Jacksonville, learning to do every job, every station in the restaurant. She’d never worked in an eatery kitchen before, and given Metro Diner’s insistence on pan-flipping the perfect eggs, she warned the manager, “I’m training on egg station next week. I’d order a couple of extra cases if I were you!”

Metro Diner ($-$$), 941-220-6291, 1720 Tamiami Trail, is open Monday to Saturday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday to 8 p.m. Enjoy beer, wine, bloody Marys or mimosas with your meal.


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