In 2000, chef Mark Davoli and his family took over the historic Metro Diner in Jacksonville, Fla., elevating the menu with new, made-from-scratch dishes and local ingredients.
Since then, Metro Diner has become a Jacksonville comfort food favorite, and the restaurant has been featured on the Food Network's “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” on the way to opening more locations in Indiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
One of the newest, and the first in Georgia, is on Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell, where managing partner Charity Chancellor oversees the daily operations and hands-on style of customer service.
“This is my baby, and it’s a lot of fun,” Chancellor said during a recent visit. “I came from a fine dining background, and this is a completely different world, but it’s really comfortable here.”
Davoli, who also has a fine dining background, said he was smitten with the original Metro Diner the first time he saw it.
“The open kitchen concept is something that I really fell in love with, because I knew I was going to be in the back of the house for a few years to really push the brand, and develop it, and get the food the way I wanted it,” Davoli said.
“We’ve always created two or three daily blackboard specials. Those specials are kind of where the menu comes from. You come up with an idea. You throw it out there. You tweak it and get it right. And if it sells so well that you need to run it all the time, it becomes a menu item.”
One of those items is J.C.’s Vortex Burger. It's a half-pound Angus beef patty, topped with a unique shredded lettuce, chopped pickle and mayo relish, tomatoes and house cherrywood-smoked bacon, that's perched between two grilled American cheese sandwiches.
“We like to have fun with hamburgers, and that’s one of our biggest sellers,” Davoli said. “And we have a Bold City Burger which has Proven cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, sausage, fried jalapenos and garlic aioli on a brioche bun. So we like to mix up a lot of combinations.”
Other best sellers include chicken pot pie and meatloaf, fried chicken and hot turkey plates, along with more complicated twists on shrimp and grits and huevos rancheros.
“That’s the beauty of a diner. You need to have the basics, but then you can do whatever you want,” Davoli said. “I went to culinary school, but for me, it was never all about fine dining. That was never really who I was.”
Talking about the overall concept and culture of Metro Diner, Davoli calls it “blue collar.”
“I was born in Pittsburgh and one thing that never left me is that feel — meaning the plate size, the cost and the value,” he said. “Serving good food at a great price is something that always resonated with me, and it’s something I brought to the Diner.
“And we really believe in taking care of our guests. That’s become a little bit of a lost art in the restaurant business. But that’s something the Davoli family has always believed in. It’s something we built in Jacksonville, so we want to continue that everywhere.”
880 Holcomb Bridge Road, Suite 100, Roswell. 678-539-0879.
More images from a First Look at Metro Diner in Roswell.