Dustin Garrett thought he would like to run his own restaurant someday.
It happened sooner than later.
Garrett jumped at the opportunity late last fall to take over the restaurant in north Lincoln run by his previous employer, Stauffer’s Cafe & Pie Shoppe.
Garrett had worked for Stauffer’s off and on for 4½ years, beginning when he was in high school.
Stauffer’s ownership decided to vacate its north Lincoln restaurant to concentrate on its south side operation. It asked Garrett if he would like to run the restaurant in University Place on North 48th Street.
“I enjoy cooking and being in the kitchen,” Garrett said. “I also like waiting on tables and interacting with customers. Here was my chance right in front of me.”
Garrett renamed the restaurant the Northside Cafe and tweaked a few things, such as opening on Sundays.
But he kept the homestyle menu -- “I want it to feel like a small-town diner” -- and access to Claridy Stauffer’s famous homemade fruit and cream pies.
“(Stauffer’s) has been very helpful, and not just with the pies,” Garrett said. “If I ever have a question or need support, they are there.”
Like Stauffer’s before it, the Northside Cafe specializes in breakfast, burgers and sandwiches and homestyle entrees, such as roast beef and chicken-fried steak.
Living on the north side of town, my wife and I like to stop in on the occasional Saturday or Sunday for breakfast, which includes a variety of platters and omelets to go along with the usual fare of eggs, pancakes and biscuits and gravy.
This time we stopped in for dinner. My wife enjoyed the night’s special -- meatloaf -- and I had the roast beef. We were impressed by our main entrees. My wife’s meatloaf was thick and meaty with good flavor. My plate was half full of tender, well-seasoned roast beef.
We liked the mashed potatoes and gravy, which were homemade, and we loved the homemade cinnamon buns that came with the meals.
A downside was our green beans. They weren’t fresh and reminded me of canned beans. My chili also was odd: It tasted like tomato soup with chili powder and beans.
We finished the meal sharing a slice of Claridy’s French silk pie. My advice always is to leave room for pie. She makes the best in town. My favorite is the chocolate cream. Grade: B
Service is hit and miss. I’ve ventured in for breakfasts on the weekends and had good experiences.
And then there was Monday, when it was inconsistent. Two servers were working the floor on the semi-busy night, but were not helping each other out.
We had to wait (for quite a while) for our server to free himself from another table before placing our order. Meanwhile, the other server was free.
My wife and I ordered off the dinner menu. Entrees include a choice of dinner salad or a cup of soup, which arrived with our entrees and not before them. We assumed soups and salads came first. We either assumed wrong or our server forgot. It’s these little things that annoy diners. Grade: C
The draw here is the soda fountain, which is more for show than anything else because it doesn’t work. Garrett said he doesn’t have the money to fix it, and finding somebody who can repair it is an issue, too.
Still, the soda fountain gives the neighborhood diner an antiquelike feel, which goes nicely with the small-town, homestyle theme of the restaurant.
Diners will find the restaurant comfortable, even cheery thanks to the bright yellow walls. The padded booths are diner favorites. Grade: B
Each part of the menu has at least one vegetarian option, with choices ranging from a veggie burger to the deluxe frito pie, labeled a “Northside Favorite.” (It’s chili, Fritos, lettuce, onions, cheddar cheese and ranch dressing.) Breakfast items also are available all day. Grade: C+