The yellow and red sign beckons you, but it's the staff at Denny's that makes you feel right at home. On a sunny Thursday afternoon, the location in midtown Miami (Biscayne Boulevard at NE 36th Street) was packed with parents and their broods, hungover teenagers, and elderly couples, but that didn't stop one of the servers from telling me about his family and career aspirations. I was even offered a job at his future company. To say the service at Denny's is friendly would be an understatement.
It's also efficient. You can be in and out in 30 minutes. If you prefer, however, you can just as easily sit back and unwind in one of the spacious, slightly distressed brown vinyl banquettes. Catch a glimpse of a customer in a bikini top and cut-off denim shorts while you're at it. Denny's is what you make it.
Nowadays, there aren't too many places where you can order breakfast for dinner, but for more than 60 years, Denny's has prided itself on being "America's diner," according to its website. Convenience is the chain's modus operandi, which is why eateries are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are purposely built along highways and near major intersections.
It all began when Harold Butler and Richard Jezak opened Danny's Donuts in Lakewood, California, in 1953. It wasn't long before they expanded the menu to include sandwiches and entrées, and by 1959, there were 20 locations. The owners changed the name to Denny's, and in 1966 the company began trading on the American and Pacific Coast Stock Exchange.
In 1977, the Grand Slam breakfast appeared on the menu at Denny's in Atlanta in honor of Hank Aaron. Today, the combo of two eggs, pancakes, bacon, and sausage is still a fan favorite and is available at the franchise's 1,600 locations.
Yes, 1,600 is a lot of restaurants, but rest assured quality hasn't been comprised. Denny's isn't one to rest on its laurels. Innovation is integral to its growth, and one of the more recent additions has been the introduction of Fit Fare options for health-conscious customers.
Denny's indicates on its menu when dishes are high in protein and low in calories (less than 550) and fat, which is a welcome change. How refreshing to dine at a restaurant that's so unpretentious and transparent. Fit Fare items include a grilled chicken salad plated with dried cranberries, apple slices, and glazed pecans, as well as a grilled fillet of wild Alaska salmon accompanied by whole-grain rice and steamed broccoli ($8.99 each). Both are simple and elegant dishes built around premier ingredients.
Another excellent Fit Fare choice is the tilapia ranchero ($8.99). A thin fillet of grilled white fish is crowned with pico de gallo and fresh avocado slices and proffered in a skillet alongside cheddar-infused mashed potatoes. The fish's crunchy taste is balanced nicely by the light pico de gallo. As for the mashed potatoes, the shards of orange cheese stick out prominently and ensure this side dish is both mouthwatering and complex.
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Of course, you shouldn't feel guilty if you prefer to indulge in something less waistline-friendly, such as the prime rib Philly melt ($8.99). It's accompanied by sautéed mushrooms and onions and gooey Swiss cheese, and comes presented on grilled garlic and herb ciabatta bread.
Denny's is a place where the menu is large, the food hearty, and the prices affordable. It's a place where people from all walks of life can feel comfortable being themselves. It's truly "America's diner."
Follow Valeria Nekhim on Twitter @ValeriaNekhim