Normal Diner redefines old IHOP location with healthy flair

The interior of the Normal Diner is seen on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014 in Tempe. The restaurant, located on East Apache Boulevard, is part of the new Graduate Hotel. (Photo by Ben Moffat) The interior of the Normal Diner is seen on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014 in Tempe. The restaurant, located on East Apache Boulevard, is part of the new Graduate Hotel. (Photo by Ben Moffat)

The Normal Diner updates the idea of a greasy spoon by losing the grease and keeping the friendly atmosphere, all for a reasonable price. The diner, located on Apache Blvd, is now open.

When I first walk into a diner I expect certain things —a minimal staff, a streamlined menu full of greasy breakfast foods and deli items, pie, cheap prices and the offer for a coffee refill every five minutes. To me, the menu is really what defines a diner. Diners are built to get the job done, to fuel you up and send you on your way — hence the lack of complicated menus and expensive dishes. A customer should be able to order breakfast any time of day (no separate breakfast/lunch menus).

A restaurant is usually more of an experience. When I go to a restaurant, it's not just to eat, but to indulge in a wide menu selection and experience a lively atmosphere. Restaurants should have a wide selection for each meal they’re open. Diners and restaurants normally have two separate feels to them. At The Normal Diner, I was in for a surprise.

The Minimum Wage Meal is seen on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014 at the Normal Diner in Tempe. The restaurant, located on East Apache Boulevard, is part of the new Graduate Hotel. (Photo by Ben Moffat) The Minimum Wage Meal is seen on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014 at the Normal Diner in Tempe. The restaurant, located on East Apache Boulevard, is part of the new Graduate Hotel. (Photo by Ben Moffat)

I could hear the clammer of activity and buzz of lively conversation before I even walked through the door. Even then it was clear this ‘Normal’ Diner was anything but.

Upon arrival to the "soft-open" of the diner, my suspicions were confirmed: the place was packed, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Granted, this wasn’t an official day of business, but I could see the place drawing a sizable crowd regardless. In front of me, there were booths and tables in combination with a bar with swivel-stools — everything you would find at a regular diner, but with the addition of rowdy chatter of nearby patrons. Thus far, I was conflicted. The establishment felt like the atmosphere of a restaurant but looked like a run-of-the-mill diner. Then my menu arrived.

To my pleasant surprise, it did look like a diner menu at first glance — one streamlined page featuring all-day breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Upon further inspection, I was shocked to discover how health conscious some of the options were. Personally, I liked the option to go green and get quality salads like the "Red Quinoa & Kale" salad or the "Not The Normal Wedge" salad. Healthier breakfast items like the "Green Bowl," which included acaì and had the privilege of being the only vegan meal on the menu, are also available. If you're not on a health kick, the menu has all the typical diner foods you've grown accustomed to.

The House Cheddar Biscuits and Gravy is seen on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014 at the Normal Diner in Tempe. The restaurant, located on East Apache Boulevard, is part of the new Graduate Hotel. (Photo by Ben Moffat) The House Cheddar Biscuits and Gravy is seen on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014 at the Normal Diner in Tempe. The restaurant, located on East Apache Boulevard, is part of the new Graduate Hotel. (Photo by Ben Moffat)

Wondering if it would be any good, I took a chance and ordered the "Red Quinoa and Kale Salad." It was delicious. The crisp kale was perfectly complimented by the softer grapes and baby tomatoes. The whole dish was tied together with the mixture of quinoa and the vinaigrette, giving it texture and a bit of tang. The only thing more impressive than the meal itself was how quickly it got there. My waitress was prompt, professional and friendly.

That vibe remained consistent with the whole staff, which was quite a large number of people. They were extremely busy, but not too busy to shoot me a smile or nod when they passed by. Overall, it was a very agreeable experience from start to finish. There were a lot of little things that made the diner unique, right down to to the snickerdoodle cookie delivered with my check.

The interior of the Normal Diner is seen on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014 in Tempe. The restaurant, located on East Apache Boulevard, is part of the new Graduate Hotel. (Photo by Ben Moffat) The interior of the Normal Diner is seen on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014 in Tempe. The restaurant, located on East Apache Boulevard, is part of the new Graduate Hotel. (Photo by Ben Moffat)

I had a lovely conversation with one of the owners, Michael Madden of Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners, a dynamic organization of opportunistic hospitality and real estate investors based out of Chicago. He described the vision embodied in the Normal Diner.

“We are really excited to be here in a city like Tempe," he said. "There's just so much here. People on the west coast are so much more active and healthier than people on the east coast. This was really one of the driving thoughts behind what we’re doing here; we wanted to include that in our menu.”

Being from Chicago myself, I know what he’s talking about. People don’t realize the difference in lifestyle between the two sides of our country.

If there’s any fault with this diner, it’s certainly not with the food or the staff. The one thing I think the diner could improve on would be the décor. The inside is entirely white. There is a bit of color in the chairs and tables, but the predominantly white walls and counter-tops make the color seem just a tad overwhelming.

The white would be less of a problem if they had any sort of wall decorations, but they don’t. The place could have really used a bit more personalization. I know its called the Normal Diner, but predominately ‘normal’ decor is not a good thing when it leaves the impression of blandness.

I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt on the lack of interior design. because the restaurant hadn't officially opened yet.

The Normal Diner is a new twist on what it means to be a diner. The food is certainly enjoyable and the staff is very efficient. The one place this joint is lacking is its décor. I really wish the owners would give the place a little bit more flavor. Overall, I give the Normal Diner 4.5 Pitchforks, so don’t be afraid to stop by before class for breakfast, or between classes for lunch — I know I will.

 

Correction: due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the day the restaurant opened.

Reach the reporter at William.Schliesmann@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @wjschliesmann

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