Short Order: Introducing 22nd Street Diner
Fall Creek residents who bemoaned the closing of one of their precious few neighborhood dining options, LongBranch, in May didn’t have to wait long until they had another. And former Plow & Anchor executive chef John Herndon didn’t have long to explore other avenues for his creative talents before he was back on the line. LongBranch, Shoefly Public House’s late-2016 standout second effort, ran out of cash in May, just six months after opening, ending executive chef Adam Ditter’s run of General Tso’s sweetbreads, short-rib rice bowls, and Sunday Chinese buffets. But only a few weeks passed before plans were announced for Herndon, who was just then piloting his new food truck, Tongue N Cheek, to take over the location. He renamed it 22nd Street Diner (2205 N. Delaware St., 317-602-6726). While Herndon’s food-truck crew has been making the rounds at the Garfield Park Farmers Market and nearby Koelschip offering “flyover food” options such as Philly dogs and mini duck pastrami “clubs” for the past couple of weeks, you would have been more likely to see Herndon and his signature bushy mustache getting things up and running on Delaware Street.
A parent and neighborhood advocate, Herndon was already running specials for the tenants at the Ambassador, which housed Plow & Anchor, in the last few weeks of its run. He’s been listening to what the hungry folks of Herron-Morton and Fall Creek Place have been saying about his new place, which had its official opening July 1. “We want to cater to everyone,” Herndon says, “but we’re definitely putting the neighborhood folk first. The response has been great.” Anyone passing by on a recent weeknight or at brunch time, which Herndon and his crew prefer to term “second breakfast” or “betweensies,” would definitely see the crowds lining up to try out Herndon’s blue plates. Unorthodox though his take on the typical chrome-and-vinyl grease pits of yore may be, Herdon definitely has the classics in mind in his riffs on corned beef hash, veggie burritos, and biscuits—none more deliciously presented than in a knockout meatloaf biscuit with a sweet, tangy tomato jam and luscious smoked cheddar sauce.
Some dishes may fall a bit far from the archetype, as in his “Not Yet Classic Eggs Benedict” with house-smoked beef, cubes of cornbread, pimento cheese Hollandaise, and scrambled, not poached, eggs. And though the dish might benefit from a slightly tighter presentation, the flavors are a far cry from your typical corner cafe. Also not short on flavor is his take on chicken and waffles. Here, eggy French toast with nicely crispy edges stands in for the waffle, and roast chicken, not battered and fried, gets shredded on top with a curious savory-sweet combo of spiced syrup and sautéed broccoli rabe. Could he offer more a la carte sides and made-to-order eggs? Sure. But Herndon is still tweaking his menu—and his hours, which now include daily dinners and brunch (ahem, “betweensies”) on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
The decor is also in progress, too, with former banquettes to go out and staff baby pictures to go up soon, all touches that will bring out Herndon’s personality more and make this more of a neighborhood classic with staying power. But dinner seems to be the meal where true ambition shines, in $20 family-style meals with salt-roasted beef roast and pork cheeks paired up with a nice list of classic (baked beans, pasta salad) and not-so-expected (“what’s left” bread pudding) sides. But making a restaurant a fixture has a lot to do with adapting and listening, and that’s exactly what Herndon hopes will win the neighborhood over.