Right from the outset, I realize this list is going to be mostly esoteric and, at times, completely foreign to the reader. While I’m hoping you choose to bear with me as I stroll down memory lane of these great, little eateries—some of which no longer exist—I’m also hoping it conjures memories of favorite places your parents took you when you were kids.
Good Morning Mama’s. Indianapolis, Indiana
Thanks to my friend, Roweena, I came to know this place. Though I only went there a couple times, it became one of my favorite breakfast joints anywhere. Ro and I would go there for Sunday morning breakfast. The place was packed. Why? Because the atmosphere is warm and inviting and the food is awesome. I opted for the Eggs Benedict both times I was there, which I highly recommend. Good Morning Mama’s is an excellent neighborhood eatery.
The White Spot. Denver, Colorado
Whenever I visited my brother when he lived in Denver, I always planned at least one visit to the White Spot. It was a favorite local breakfast place after the bars closed. It was a very popular joint, that I recall. It had the look and feel of every 70s restaurant you’ve ever been to; much like the diner in the opening scene of Pulp Fiction. The food was always great. The service was always top notch and the clientele was always eclectic. I understand that most, if not all, of the White Spot restaurants in Denver are now closed. That’s too bad, really. People today have no idea what they’re missing.
The Fly Trap. Ferndale, Michigan
My brother Shawn introduced me to the Fly Trap. It’s a popular, little restaurant a few miles from downtown Detroit. I believe it was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, actually, and I can see why. The food was great, the decor was warm and trendy and the atmosphere was loose, casual and non-pretentious. In the few times Shawn and I met up in Detroit for baseball games or concerts, we always made a point to go to the Fly Trap. It’s worth the trip.
Club Madison. Bay City, Michigan
My grandmother worked at this place when I was a kid. Sometimes I’d go there with her in the summer during a shift while she worked (they fed me, too, of course). Other times the family would go there for a simple dinner. It was a tiny, neighborhood restaurant that served hamburgers and hot dogs to the Sout’ End locals who were their regulars. I suppose it could classify as a greasy spoon. My favorite aspect of Club Madison? The jukebox! They had those tableside jukebox thingies like you see at 1950s soda fountains. I must’ve played Elvira by the Oak Ridge Boys a hundred times before that one summer was over. Giddy up, oom poppa, oom poppa, mow mow!
Walli’s Restaurant. Somewhere in mid-Michigan
As a little kid, our parents would throw my brother and I in the backseat of whatever monstrous vehicle they drove throughout the 70s and early 80s to make the drive to Detroit from Bay City for a Tigers game. Those day trips rank among some of my fondest memories growing up. Even though it was less than a two-hour drive from Bay City to Tiger Stadium, the entire day was always an adventure. Part of that adventure meant stopping at Walli’s on the way home for a late dinner. I don’t remember a great deal about the place itself, but for its unique sign by the road. It looked like some sort of red, rotating, multi-pointed star. I always called it “Sputnik” in my head. In the dead of night, its glow was unmistakable. I have no recollection of the food, decor or anything, Walli’s still rates high because it was a part of some of the greatest days of my childhood.
Denny’s. South Bend, Indiana
I know, I know. Denny’s doesn’t really count because it’s a national brand. I get it. But for about a three or four-year period when I was in college, this particular location was a staple of my pre-21-year old life (and quite a few 3 a.m. breakfasts after the bars closed). I hung out there most often with my Olive Garden co-workers. It seemed we all ended up at Denny’s every Friday or Saturday night. There were a couple servers with whom we were friendly, so that made it all that much more fun.
Azar’s. Mishawaka, Indiana
For those unfamiliar with Mishawaka, this was actually a Big Boy, but nobody called it that. They called it by the owner’s name: Azar. I spent many a night at Azar’s with my college friends. This was our usual post-bowling hangout, post-student government meeting hangout, post-everything hangout. I even went there to study for finals there one night and encountered several friends in the small hours. Even though Azar’s is long gone, I remember pretty much every step of that place. Good times.