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Cindy’s Diner
*** 1/2
Out of a possible five

Perfection on a plate warms soul

It’s a downtown staple, a retro classic and a piece of history.

Cindy’s Diner, the charming little white building at South Harrison and West Wayne streets, has attained legendary status, joining names like Hall’s, Coney Island and Zesto as places people first mention when it comes to Fort Wayne food.

Located at Clinton Street and Jefferson Boulevard when it opened in 1952, the building was moved to Clay and Berry streets in 1966. In 1990, it was restored, moved to its current locale and given the Cindy’s name. And all of that history can be found on the menu.

The most famous dish Cindy’s is known for is the Garbage, which originated during its time at Clay and Berry when it was called Marge’s Diner. And it is a breakfast dish of perfection.

Eggs, potatoes, cheese, onions and pieces of ham were scrambled together on the flat-top griddle by Cindy’s owner John Scheele to create this beautiful mess. All of the ingredients were in the perfect amount; the eggs were fluffy, the potatoes and onions were cooked just enough and the cheese brought it all together. Extra meat is only $1, but I don’t know whether I would mess with what is already perfection.

Since 1997, another piece of history has been available at Cindy’s and it, too, is a thing of beauty. Cindy’s has the doughnut machine and recipe from the G.C. Murphy downtown and churns out fresh cake doughnuts daily. Topped with a variety of icings, these doughnuts were dense and moist with a rich, almost malty flavor. They were perfect for dipping in a piping hot cup of coffee – one of the finest regular ’ol cups of Joe I have found in the town – and would be great any time of day, not just breakfast.

The menu at Cindy’s is pretty simple, which is what one would expect from a greasy spoon.

The bacon cheeseburger was a solid choice. The ground beef – and all of Cindy’s fresh meats, including the ham for that Garbage – is bought locally from Tim Didier Meats. The patty was seared nicely, was plenty juicy and just made for a fine lunch when ordered “deluxe” with tomato, lettuce and pickles.

The breaded tenderloin was the one item my waitress said most people don’t order, but should. The pork – also from Tim Didier Meats – was really juicy inside its thin layer of breading, which was perfectly seasoned and gave it a little crunch.

And for a real throwback, try the fried bologna and cheese. The meat was thick-cut, nicely charred on the griddle and sandwiched with the gooey cheese between buttered and toasted bread.

The french fries and onion rings were fine choices, but the best sides at Cindy’s were the homemade soups. The chili was a little sweet with big chunks of ground beef and was topped with diced onions and shredded cheese. The potato was fantastic. It had bits of bacon, diced onions, celery and carrot and had a silky, creamy texture that was pretty much perfect.

The only dish I could find any fault with was the Country Sausage Gravy and Biscuits breakfast. The biscuits were fine, but the brown-colored gravy was a bit too bland. It had flecks of pepper visible and bits of sausage, but needed more sausage or bigger chunks of sausage to add that salty, spicy flavor breakfast sausage provides.

There is nothing I would change about the place, itself.

With only counter seating, be sure to grab a spot on the row closest to the door if you are – how should I say – a more full-figured person. It has all of the old-fashioned quirks like an antique milkshake mixer, which made a couple of great shakes during my visits, vintage Coke glasses that soft drinks were served in and jukebox units along the counter that didn’t work but were still fun to flip through.

And the waitresses were jewels, too. They were plenty sassy, but in a natural way that made you feel as if they were old friends. It wasn’t forced upon you like it is at some cheesy theme eateries.

The laid-back feel of this place just puts you at ease. You just naturally find yourself striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to you, regardless of race, age or sex. You’ll talk about the news of the day, a game last night or you might even find out what the latest gossip floating around downtown is as Scheele and the gals working the counter join the conversation.

And that, along with the Garbage and doughnuts, is what truly makes Cindy’s Diner such a jewel.

Restaurant: Cindy’s Diner

Address: 830 S. Harrison St.

Phone: 422-1957

Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: No

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Garbage ($6.35), biscuits and gravy ($4.50), bacon cheeseburger ($4.75), tenderloin ($5.25), milkshake ($2.60), doughnuts (45 cents each; $4.25 dozen)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.