Old Reliable: John's Diner

A step in the door, and the old-school register, booths and metal stools in John's Diner make you feel you should've left your cell and other modernities outside.

Then there's 79-year-old owner John Pasalis himself, whose thick accent, hearty laughter and general presence is as reliable as the over-medium eggs.

Daily he's at the end of the counter or reading the day's paper in his favorite booth, the first one on the right. He's sometimes in the kitchen, where he cooks specials, such as meatloaf or chicken paprikash.

But Pasalis didn't become part of this scene until the eatery had already operated under at least two other names.

In 1934, Eloise and Harold Stills bought The Mark House, a Detroit Avenue boxcar diner near the bridge between Lakewood and Rocky River. It had 11 windows under a striped awning and a sign on top that boasted of air conditioning.

At the time, Pasalis was just a toddler in Greece. He'd grow up and work a farming job before coming here in 1963, and it was 13 more years until he took over Stills' Diner, by that time at its current location farther east on Detroit.

Pasalis changed the name but not much else.

"Window, table, tile: See? Everything the same," Pasalis says, pointing around his booth.

Although you can still count the original 11 windows, Pasalis did elongate the place about 10 years ago by adding a back room for more seating. It was necessary for busy Sunday mornings, when patrons old and new fill those booths and 15 spots at the counter next to Pasalis.

"Everybody knows me," he says. "Everybody friends."

One server says these people make the diner special.

"We see people pull up, and we know their order before they walk in the door," says Elizabeth Dobrzyniecki, who's been serving there for a year and is, thus, comparatively new.

But it doesn't take long for customers to find that what's really special is the constancy of John's Diner and its ever-present owner.

What We Ordered: French toast, two sausage links, two strips of bacon, two eggs ($4.55).

18260 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-228-0871
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