Rita and Adrian Wutzke, of Niles, are regulars at the Diesel Diner.

Archived Story

Diesel Diner does comfort food

Published 2:34pm Thursday, March 15, 2012

When I was younger, I remember hearing advice that if you want to find the best food look for where the truckers stop. Usually, that meant home cooking to order.

I like to introduce readers to local growers and, once in a while, to an eatery that supports the concept of eating healthy and buying. To some, featuring a truck stop may seem akin to taking a side trip.

Well, this side trip is to acknowledge there are times we just want comfort food. Or perhaps we long for a home-cooked meal and are tired of cookie-cutter chains.

“I believe you have to treat people as you would if they were a guest in your home,” says

Shawna Clevenger, owner of Diesel Diner at JD’s Truck Stop.

What sets apart the Diesel is you can make the most of the choices as if you were cooking it for yourself  — without the fuss or the dishes.

Want chicken bacon or egg whites in your omelet? No problem. Want grilled chicken rather than fried or make those country ribs a bit healthier by having them plain rather than covered in barbeque sauce? You got it. All vegetables instead of mashed potatoes with your meatloaf? Did you miss last night’s special and wonder if there are leftovers? Just ask.

“One of my customers when I owned the Backdoor Cafe in Buchanan (owned by Clevenger from 1996-2005) would come in and order one egg scrambled, one over easy, half a waffle, two strips of bacon, two links and one small pancake. I don’t care how you order it. If I have it, I’ll cook it the way you want it. This is what sets us,” says Clevenger, who says she understands some of the whys behind cookie-cutter service.

“We don’t have the more standard POS, computerized cash register system, where if it isn’t on a key, you don’t know how to charge for it. My girls all carry the old standard order tickets. They always check on special orders and instructions and know, if we can do it, we will.

“Our menu has not been changed for several years. The cost of coffee, for instance, has gone up but we have yet to change ours. We want meals here to be reasonable as well.”

Clevenger says she is proud of her staff, who make the consistent homemade quality possible. Biscuits are homemade, and they make their own American fries. No frozen hamburgers here, all the patties are formed by hand. The daily specials are just good down-home cooking, and there is good reason behind that visit-to-Grandma’s taste.

As she approaches her 85th birthday, chief prep cook, Midge DePyl of Buchanan, is the genius behind Thursday night’s Miss Midge’s homemade pot roast.

Chances are that another 84-year-old, Vivian Behartof Galien, will be the one saving you from washing the dishes.

Youthful energy

“These two ladies work circles around much younger employees I’ve seen,” Clevenger says. “I am so lucky to have them.”

The homemade pies are courtesy of Marian Lintz, who retired from the Buchanan Post Office, and 90 percent of the daily specials, whether goulash, cabbage rolls or Tuesday’s special, Denita’s homemade meatloaf, are created by the woman Clevenger calls her “Homemade Queen,” Denita Longfellow, also of Buchanan.

Specials of the week

Monday is all you-can-eat spaghetti with meat sauce, meatballs or both. Wednesday’s special is country-style ribs with or without barbeque sauce. Friday’s standby is, what else? Fish night served with a choice of potato, hush puppies or Marian’s homemade garlic butter biscuits, cottage cheese, cole slaw or applesauce. Saturday, Denita again takes center stage with her homemade bean soup served with homemade corn bread.

On Sunday, Marian prepares homemade lasagna.

Clevenger regularly cooks four days a week and rounding out the cook staff is Robbie Norman.

Rita and Adrian Wutzke of Niles regularly eat here most weekdays.

“It’s a combination of the people and the food. Sometimes, you have good food and the people aren’t right, sometimes the people are right but the food isn’t good. Here they have it all,” Wutzke said.

“And the environment,” adds his wife.

The decor and openness of Diesel Diner is reminiscent of the soda shop in “Happy Days.” There are valances on the windows fashioned by oil rags — clean not used. The walls are covered with signs boasting of diesel and gasoline sales and others that announce the best coffee around. There is even the front grill of a truck. It is bright and clean and, just as she did when she owned the Backdoor Cafe breakfast spot in Buchanan.

“I always tell the girls if a customer wants to see the kitchen, let them,” she says.

“When you would come into the Backdoor Cafe through the back door, you could see everything going on in the kitchen. I’ve held many conversations in that kitchen.”

The friendly service is also by design. Wait staff is told to scan the tables to see if water is getting low or if it looks as if someone needs coffee filled. You will never hear, “Sorry but that’s not my table.” And don’t you just love it when they bring you fresh water in the first place, without having to ask, and then refill the glass?

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