A vegetarian's take on the Broadway Diner

I'm a regular at Broadway Diner (6501 Eastern Ave., [410] 631-5666, broadwaydiner1.com), the silver, shimmering restaurant at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Kane Street. It's a large, classic American diner with all the traditional food and a variety of options. This is a place made up of the diverse population of southeast Baltimore and travelers fresh off I-95.

When I walk into Broadway, nearly all senses are instantly engaged: the eyes to the chrome trimmed interior, the ears to the low chatter of customers and clicks of cutlery on dishware, and the nose to the deliciously unhealthy smell of burgers, pancakes, and french fries.

There are folks of all kinds in here. At 2:30 a.m. you will find the post-club crowd with sweat-soaked clothes, red eyes, and runny eyeliner. Sometime directly after the sun rises, the go-getter writers appear in the booths with their laptops. At noon on Sunday, two or three long tables will probably be shoved together to accommodate church folk dressed in suits and dresses.

Comfort and hearty food go hand-in-hand here. The dining area is spacious, so even if it's crowded, there are always enough tables or booths for a friendly greeter to guide me to my seat in no time. I prefer booths whether I'm alone or with friends—they seat four comfortably with room to spare.

If you are fortunate enough to get one of my favorite servers, Dimitris, who came to the States as a Greek immigrant, you are good to go. His service is prompt and he is friendly when taking customers' orders. He once told me that he tries to give the kind of service he would want. My homegirl says, "He's a gem." I would second that.

Of course, the most important draw at Broadway is the food.

I'm a vegetarian. However, even as I limit my options, the fare I can hit up at Broadway seems endless. A Swiss omelette ($9.55) maybe? How about a large Greek salad ($11.95)? I could mess with the eggplant parmigiana ($13.75), a myriad of Italian pasta selections, and stir-frys.

I always opt for the pizza fries appetizer ($5.95). Fries. Bright red marinara sauce. Gooey mozzarella. In starchy bitesized portions. The fried pickles ($5.85) pack a sour punch with homemade bread crumbs and dill and a crunch that stands up to the horseradish dip. The dip has only a slight bite. I'll sometimes save some for my upcoming french fries.

I usually order the veggie burger deluxe ($8.95) with cheese and a mound of fries hanging over the perimeter of the platter. Broadway presents the burger open-faced with layers of melted cheddar on the top and bottom buns. Two tomato slices rest atop a few leaves of iceberg lettuce at the edge of the already crowded plate, plus a small bowl of tangy shredded cabbage and carrot coleslaw topped with a medium-sized kosher dill.

The veggie patty, comprised of an array of vegetables, rice, and mushrooms, is moist and has a balanced, savory flavor with no one ingredient overtaking another. The cooks really hook it up. Those golden french fries are straight up the crispiest fries I've ever eaten.

We've arrived at the flesh-eating section of this review. I generally eat with non-vegetarians and, considering there are 12 separate sections of food the menu, there are plenty of options for all. Of the typical all-day breakfast options, the chili n' cheese omelette with grits and toast is a favorite ($8.75), along with the tall stack of pancakes ($7.75), which are reminiscent of funnel cake. This is a Baltimore establishment, so there has to be seafood, and lots of it. My fam and friends love the broiled jumbo lump crab cakes ($29.95), potato crusted salmon ($21.95), and shrimp Creole ($23.95). The angus beef burger ($6.45-$10.95) is the biggest seller in the diner. Other favorites include the rice noodles with stir-fry shrimp ($8.35), the chicken taco ($16.45), the potato pierogies ($12.95), the country-fried steak, and the Hungarian beef goulash over noodles ($11.75), which is only served on the weekends.

The dessert menu is overwhelming with its long lists of cheese cakes, tarts, cookies, pies, and traditional Greek pastries. If you can't bear another bite, peep the large glass case at the entrance near the cashier when you pay and take something home.

I don't have many gripes about my experiences at Broadway, but no place is perfect. I'm not a fan of the Greek dressing, which the diner makes in-house. The owners could also stand to update the personal jukeboxes, found stationed at each table. I'd rather listen to my Spotify Hip-Hop Forever playlist than Ashlee Simpson, Coldplay, or "The Best of Jewel."

In an interview on the old Baltimore talk show "Top of the Morning," the Broadway Diner's owner, George Kavourakis, says he opened his 24-hour restaurant in 2004 near I-95, undoubtedly designed to attract people from around the way and some of the thousands that travel through Baltimore and get off at that particular exit for fuel, rest, or food. Celebrity chef Guy Fieri says Kavourakis started out washing dishes and busing tables on his Food Network show "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" before working his way up to building his own diner and hooking up his own menu, which is still evolving. Several years ago, there were no Asian options; now Broadway had a weekday stir-fry special available Monday through Thursday. Kavourakis and the chefs keep the menu and staff as diverse as the surrounding communities.

For many, the Broadway diner is a familiar Baltimore eatery with its own idea of what American cuisine can be. For me, this is a spot with a dizzying array of flavorful vegetarian options to fit my food mood. With exceptional service and a full belly, I always swell with a sense of contentment when I see my reflection in the ubiquitous chrome on my way out.

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