G eorgette Anthis grew up in a diner. “I spent more time there than at home,” she says of what is now Georgie’s Diner in West Haven, named after her father, George Anthis, who first got involved with the business in 1971 and stewarded its most recent renovation a few years ago.
The diner itself has an even longer history. Built in New Rochelle in 1956, it was brought to Stratford and christened Duchess Diner, which is how it stayed until 1967, when it was relocated to its current spot in West Haven and renamed Elm Diner. George and family ran Elm, which was open 24/7, from ’71 to ’88.
It was during this time that young Georgette and her brother Nick gradually learned the ropes of the business. Her parents used to let her “help” by pretending she was waiting on customers and taking their orders before the waitstaff would take over. Later she learned to use the cash register, but she was rarely allowed to help with cooking. “I was probably stirring up trouble, that was about it!” she says of her activities in the kitchen.
In 1988, the Anthis family leased the building to another operator, but the restaurant business itch eventually returned, and in 1995 they opened up the Shoreline Diner in Guilford. In 2009, they resumed operations out of the West Haven location as well, but not before restoring the diner to the feel of its founding decade and giving it the new name, Georgie’s.
Now it gleams like a sleek silver bullet. Aqua blue trim, zig zag cut-outs in the main doors, and a trapezoidal awning create a space like something out of the Jetsons. Neon pink tubes glow from the ceiling, casting a warm, surreal hue over the place.
The family feel and design may be retro, but the menu is largely modern. Though it still caters to traditionalists with comfort food options like Meatloaf with gravy and Greek standards like Chicken Souvlaki, Georgette’s mission was to ensure there was something for everyone, and in that spirit the diner offers nearly a dozen vegan options along with vegetarian burgers. “You can go anywhere and order a side salad and baked potato, but no one craves a side salad and baked potato,” Georgette says.
The Buckwheat Pancakes, one of their bestsellers, are vegan and gluten-free. Breakfast is served all day, with plenty of options. The short stack of French Toast is not so short, and the basic version boasts the house Challah bread sprinkled with just enough confectionary sugar to sate your sweet tooth. From there, it gets delightfully more complex, with toppings like caramelized apples or bananas, or stuffed with low fat cream cheese and served with fresh kiwi and strawberries (also known as Maya’s Breakfast, another bestseller).
Their Crabcake Eggs Benedict could feed two, the eggs perfectly poached and runny once broken, the crabcakes spilling over the edges of the oversized English muffins. Other Benedict choices include smoked salmon with Challah, lobster meat and baguette, and the “California” version with tomato and avocado.
Burgers are from the famous Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors in Manhattan, a blend of prime chuck, shoulder and brisket. We tried the gourmet burger, with Portabello mushroom and gorgonzola, and it didn’t disappoint, juicy and filling, accompanied by sweet potato fries (a small additional charge over normal fries) and a fresh and crisp coleslaw that was light on the mayo. They make their Chicken Burger with basil mayo in house, along with the Mediterranean Burger, a blend of lamb and feta.
One item with room for improvement was the vegetarian option we tried. The Tofu Piccata, a twist on the classic version (normally made with white wine, lemons, and chicken), featured instead a sauce heavy on turmeric and capers over slightly tough tofu. Asparagus was limp and the garlic mashed potatoes were bland.
That said, other customers do rave about the Tempeh Ruben. Georgette says vegan bestsellers include the Vegan Lasagna (with eggplant Bolognaise and a tofu filling resembling a ricotta consistency), the Organic Malibu Burger, and the “Mock” Chicken Salad, made with tempeh, turmeric, and other seasonings. Notably, they use separate pans and oven areas and a dedicated fryer for all vegan and gluten-free entrees.
Desserts feature gluten-free options (like the Caramel Flan) and a vegan option too: the Chocolate Drift, a chocolate banana cake layered with creamy chocolate filling. Pies, pudding, muffins and all baked goods are made in-house. Cheesecakes are made at the Shoreline Diner, with more than 10 different kinds, two or three available at a time. Three of us couldn’t finish the one slice of Turtle Cheesecake we ordered, drizzled with chocolate sauce and caramel and a few nuts dotted along the top, a generous swirl of homemade whipped cream on the side.
In grand diner tradition, there’s a grill out front, and Georgette welcomes kids to sit at the counter and watch the food being made. She offers a kids menu with a word search, maze, box game, and coloring activities to get the whole family engaged, like she was as a child.
“I was constantly surrounded by people,” Georgette says of her childhood days at the diner. “The wait staff and kitchen were like an extended family. The customers became friends. Having grown up in the business, you develop an appreciation for it. We love people. We love food. We love sharing food, and the restaurant is just a vehicle to do that through.”
427 Elm Street, West Haven (map)
Written and photographed by Jane Rushmore.