Venerable franchise still a good value.
Price Paid: $26
Meal: Dinner / Weekend / 5pm
Compare to: Gateway Diner, Americana Diner
The bright yellow Denny’s sign is a welcome one for weary travelers. Serving up just about anything you can imagine, the franchise is one of the most nationally well known restaurant chains. To see how it stacks up against their logical rivals, the immense NJ diner scene, we took an early diner and headed over.
On the night of our particular visit, it was a ghost town. Sans another couple, we were the only ones in the whole joint and I was beginning to think that Denny’s, at least this one in particular, was on the last leg of its existence. Thankfully, it turned out we were just a tad early for the dinner rush, and by the time we were ready to leave the place had a healthy patronage. The interior was as I remembered it – comfortable tried-and-tested booths and tables abound. We were pleased with the cleanliness, and noted the carpets had no sign of the likely abuse they take week after week of weekend family breakfasts.
Our server was exceptionally polite, and for some reason I was surprised by the attentiveness. When I ordered coffee, she let me know they were brewing a fresh pot for me. When we ordered dinners, she told us when she put the rolls in the oven, and even asked in what order we’d like to have our soups and salads. We felt neither neglected or smothered by her service, which is exactly the kind of service we like. We ended up ordering two $9.99 ‘dinner deals’, which consist of soup or salad, a meal selection with two vegetables, and a dessert. Autumn was in the mood for an OJ, but I definitely needed some coffee.
First things first, I was very pleasantly surprised by the coffee. It is superior to the coffee I’ve had in other diners so far, and not something I usually associate with Denny’s. They do advertise on their placemats that their special-blend coffee is ‘bold and flavorful’ and I agree with them. I drank two cups, black, and enjoyed every drop. Autumn said he OJ didn’t taste fresh squeezed, but it was ‘better than the minute maid stuff’. I ordered the swiss chopped steak dinner and Autumn tried the grilled chicken offering. In a few seconds we had our first course.
Being especially hungry, I tried the soup and the salad (only one is included in the meal price). Friday’s choice was clam chowder or the less interesting chicken noodle. Naturally, I went for the chowder. In my extensive clam-chowder experience, I would say it rates above anything commercially canned and below anything authentic from Maine. It had enough clam to satisfy me, wasn’t that god-awful bright white color that some chowders are, and for the $1.20 or whatever I paid for it, it was quite a big portion. The salads were also pretty good. Unlike most house-salad versions, there were several cucumbers and the addition of a shredded cheese to join grape tomatoes and onions. We both felt it tasted pretty fresh. A nice touch was that the french dressing I ordered was the darker and better-tasting tangy (‘catalina’) french and not the bright-orange variety. After we cleaned our plates, the dinner rolls came and were very hot from the oven.
The rolls were akin to mini grands biscuits. Good for Denny’s for not shoving some cold, straight-out-of-the-bag dinner rolls on the table and actually putting some effort into the bread. We thought they were a shade on the undercooked side (the interior was just a touch doughy) but the fact that they were piping hot and obviously were being cooked for us as we ordered them more than made up for it. After plenty of food later, we were finally ready to get to the main course.
Autumn loved her chicken – it was super-tender and wasn’t the rubbery product I thought it might be. It was very well seasoned and served hot. Her sides, corn and a baked potato, were a mixed bag. The corn, while certainly edible, was just canned corn heated up with no seasoning or additional presentation. The baked potato was a little better, although Autumn was too full to dive into finishing it all. The chopped steak was good, if not an error in planning. I realized when I received it that I hadn’t specified – nor had the waitress asked – how I wanted the steak to be cooked. Whereas I was expecting something in the medium variety, it was clearly well done throughout. It was smothered in a dark and heavyish gravy with swiss cheese and diced onions. The cheese and onions actually helped the cause, as I thought it had good flavor and kept the meat moist. My first side of mashed potatoes were good but not amazing, and the steamed mixed vegetables were slightly on the mushy side. That being said, however, we did generally like the entrees enough to try others in the future.
For desert, we each tried the apple pie ala mode. It was served on the lukewarm side (Autumn says hers was room temperature) and I’m not convinced it was even hot enough to fully melt the ice cream. Major miss there – you gotta heat apple pie when there’s ice cream to be had with it! We thought the innards of the filling were decent, big chunks of apple and a likable compote, but the crust was pretty thick and generally we avoided finishing it. The ice cream was better than average; it tasted like a french vanilla Edy’s offering and not a cheaper ‘store brand’. We got a single, albeit large, scoop.
Considering the price tag for the meal, which topped out at just $26 for the two of us, Denny’s is still a terrific value for a good meal at a very reasonable price. It’s not without its shortcomings, clearly, but we both left very full and without the sticker stock we might had endured for equivalent meals at more expensive locales.
– Plenty of food for the $9.99 meal packages
– Good service
– Fairly clean
– Great coffee
– Apple pie seemed boxed
– Some of the sides were so-so
– Partially at fault for not asking how to cook my steak
Combined Score: 3.75 Chews
Subjective rating: We’ll come back.
Have you been to Denny’s? If so, please add your rating!
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