June 2007


Diner Dining

Ladyman's CafeOne of the best things about the States are the local restaurants where the waitresses call you “honey” or “sugar” and know what you want to eat before you even open your mouth—plus, if you’re a coffee drinker, keep your cup filled up to the brim (no such thing as a free refill in Europe) until you practically have to beg them to stop lest you bladder have a more heroic job than the Hoover Dam.

Bloomington has several of these restaurants—my personal favorite is Wee Willies on Walnut—a joint where I have, in a short time, seemingly become a regular again. I’m there once or twice a week eating my favorite breakfast: French Toast with powdered sugar, cinnamon, and one syrup. It’s a dish that they know how to make. The toast is fried to crispy soft perfection, the powdered sugar and cinnamon when submerged with syrup make the whole concoction absolutely gooey and superb.

However, I didn’t discover Wee Willies for the longest time—back when I lived downtown I was a fan of Ladyman’s Cafe. Ladyman’s Cafe was the diner in Bloomington where locals mixed with bohemianesque college students making for a pleasant atmosphere unmatched in the city center. You could count on seeing the regulars there each morning, helping themselves to coffee, and ordering up the biscuits and gravy or a slice of fabulous pie, depending what time of day it was.

Unfortunately, thanks to former Mayor Fernandez and Finelight, Ladyman’s was evicted and closed down last year to make way for Finelight’s new home on Kirkwood. Of course Finelight went west and Ladyman’s suffered the ultimate penalty anyway.

Today Dana’s Diner opened—run by the same staff as the old Ladyman’s, the diner opened up in the Eagle Lodge on South Walnut—and I was there along with a close friend of mine.

A few minutes after seven, we were the first “live ones” to sit down in the diner’s corner.

Biscuits and Gravy @ Dana's DinerWe both ordered biscuits and gravy—the item I remember most fondly from Ladyman’s and an order that prompted the waitress to remark, “I remember you!” It seems that she remembers customers by what they order and not by name—a few minutes later the biscuits and gravy was served and we dug in.

It is an odd thing being the first customer of a brand new restaurant. The salt and pepper shakers still had their seals on them. The ketchup bottles had to be unscrewed and have all their inner seals removed. The waitress undercharged us because she was out of practice.

Dana’s Diner has a smaller menu than the old Ladyman’s Cafe and one huge disadvantage. Since it is located inside the Eagle Lodge, they allow smoking—something I wasn’t aware of until the woman at a neighboring table lit up half way through her breakfast and an ashtray was produced for her.

Although I enjoyed my time at Dana’s Diner, that’s actually enough to prevent me from returning. I hope that they succeed and can replicate the success that Ladyman’s had for nearly 50 years downtown-certainly parking will not be an issue at their new location.

11 comments to Diner Dining

  • When she moved to the US, I had to convince my French-Canadian wife every waitress wasn’t an ex-girlfriend.

    Considering that every waitress knew me and what I wanted without asking…it was a valid assumption.

    I didn’t use my kitchen when I was single.

  • koko

    I never liked ladymans but I see why others do. booo for crap closing.

  • J

    I completely agree about not returning due to the fact that they allow smoking. In Europe I have no choice in the matter – in the US I do.

  • Reko

    My friend Ricky is always trying to get me to go to diners with him. He loves the “home cookin'” and the sassies waitresses a la Flo. Personally, I’m much more in my element in a Chinese, Korean, or Japanese restaurant.

  • Ed

    If you ever find yourself on Bloomington’s West side, stop in at Mayfield’s MCL Cafeteria on South Liberty. The food is good and I like the cafeteria style. I can pick and choose only the things I like.

  • Reko

    I would encourage you NOT to ever find yourself on Bloomington’s West Side, unless it’s an absolute emergency.

  • @domoni: I go in streaks. right now in germany i am definately in a dining at home mood. the us is more mixed

    @koko: I liked ladyman’s atmosphere a ton. Dana’s Diner will have trouble replicating it.

    @j: I count the days in Deutschland!

    @Reko: You must expand your horizons. Being called “sugar” by a girl isn’t the worst thing in the world. And the westside has that cheap chinese buffet.

    @ed: I’ve been there once… a long time ago. I prefer having people serve me… it’s the diner thing!

  • I miss diner food terribly. I could go for a nice country-fried steak right now.

  • Jo

    I don’t know why people have to be so picky about smoking in restaurants. No restaurant allows smoking in Bloomington. When one does, it is a very rare novelty. I don’t even support smoking in restaurants, but it is a relief to see it can still exist; just a reminder we are not completely ruled by a “nanny state”.

  • bjw

    uh, just what do you mean about staying away from the west side of town. You must be 100. west is now east.

  • @jo: For the most part, I want government out of my life, but smoking is one place where one person’s actions dramatically affect me. A single cigarette lit in a restaurant can ruin my meal.

    @bjw: I’m opposed to big box stores–I have no need for Wal-Mart or Kohl’s.