The Classic Diner
A justifiably popular Malvern nook shares its timeless recipe for simple, addictive fare
by Brian Freedman

It takes a certain amount of confidence to name your restaurant The Classic Diner. Doing so would seem to invite all sorts of comparisons, to implicitly ask your customers to compare it to experiences they’ve had at other destinations of this hyper-American ilk. It’s all about that first word, really: The Classic Diner carries with it the implication of being the quintessential example of its dining genre. This isn’t just any classic diner, it seems to say, it’s the classic diner.

Good thing, then, that this Malvern stalwart generally lives up to that promise.

The crowds are your first indication that this is a winner: The Main Line’s finicky foodies generally don’t pack the parking lots of humdrum locales—especially not 15 years into their tenure. The reason for their allegiance comes down to honesty, a perhaps overused word that here, at least, forms the backbone of the experience.          

Cinnamon brioche French toast, for example, was just that—nothing fancy, no unnecessary gilding of the lily. It was proof that a successful, classic (there’s that word again) recipe needs no sprucing up to sing. Slathered with a deep copper-toned knife full of cinnamon/brown-sugar compound butter, and drizzled with maple syrup, its straightforwardness was its success.

The blueberry muffin (it appears on the menu as “berry” blue muffin; the quote marks are theirs) was not only well prepared from a recipe that highlighted the heartiness of the muffin, but also demonstrated the kind of extra detail that makes the familiar suddenly extraordinary. Here, rather than just bringing out a warmed-up muffin, the crispy top had been removed, and both its underside and the cakey top part of the base had been browned, lending each bite a nutty perfume and a wonderful snappy texture. Brilliant.

I just wish the same attention to detail had been paid to my eggs Benedict. The idea behind offering an Ahi tuna version was very smart indeed, but the execution here faltered. The tuna, which I’d ordered rare, came out closer to medium-rare, which negated much of the textural pleasure I was hoping for. The eggs, too, had been poached for too long; when I poked the plump center with my knife, I was greeted by a solid, nearly hard-boiled center rather than a runny yolk that typically reinforces the hollandaise so appealingly. This was unfortunate, because the individual components were lovely—the muffin hinting at sweetness, the egg white slippery and light.

Sides were universally successful. In fact, most of the people I spoke to prior to visiting The Classic Diner lauded the sides as among the best of the Main Line. They weren’t mistaken. Slab bacon was salty and smoky and dizzyingly savory. It was also cut thick enough that the center retained a sense of fatty moistness once the teeth snapped through the crispy fried carapace. Fried potatoes were just that, and perfectly so: whole potatoes sliced crosswise and fried. Simple and addictive. Apple sausage was juicy and kissed with a subtle fruity sweetness inside its crisp casing. Vegetarians may want to step off the wagon here for a morning: The pig is shown some serious respect at The Classic Diner.

Lunches are just as comforting, with a wide assortment of salads, sandwiches and other goodies. The turkey club, a thick construction that requires the kind of flip-top head made famous in the old toothbrush commercial, is enough for two days’ lunches. The turkey is mild and carries with it a whiff of smoke, and all of it is made even more memorable by that slab bacon’s crunch. House-made potato chips are a nice touch, if a slightly too-oily one.

So now, 15 years on, The Classic Diner is chugging along and still justifiably popular. What’s more remarkable than that is the fact that it doesn’t feel tired in any way. The staff is friendly and strikes the perfect calming morning-time chord; the space, which is well lit and cozy, looks like it could have been used as the backdrop for a Pottery Barn catalog with its steely grays, tasteful wainscoting and sunlight streaming in; and the food is as timeless as it gets.

You might even say classic.

The Classic Diner
325 Lancaster Avenue, Malvern

Brian Freedman is a food and wine writer based in Philadelphia.