A bright, new diner in a quiet corner of the Medford Center serves up classic, American fare with 1950s flair.
Jim and Connie Ronda opened Punky's Diner and Pies in early October. The diner carries a nickname Jim bestowed on Connie early in their 48-year marriage and features recipes the two perfected while raising a family and working for more than two decades in the food industry. (She ran restaurants in the 1970s and '80s, and he sold restaurant equipment. They also had a construction business for a time but decided to return to the kitchen.)
Dining out with
the Mail Tribune
Punky's Diner and Pies, 953 Medford Center, Medford.
Open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
My husband and I stopped in for lunch. We had spotted the new restaurant on our way to a movie but had to plan a return visit because the diner is open from 6:30 a.m. to "3ish" p.m. Monday through Saturday. If you want to grab a burger and a malt before or after a movie, better make it a matinee.
The burgers at Punky's are made with one-third of a pound of fresh-ground chuck or ground turkey and come on a choice of thin or regular buns in either whole-wheat or white. Plus they have fun, '50s-inspired names like Fonzie for a simple burger or Fats Domino for a double-double cheeseburger with two patties and cheddar and Swiss cheeses. Prices range from $7 to $10.50.
With our eyes on the pie and maybe a shake, we skipped the burgers this time.
My husband ordered a Philly hot dog slathered with sauteed peppers, onions, provolone and a dash of hot sauce for $6. He praised its good "snap," a sign of quality that hot-dog fans look for.
Opting for something less meaty, I ordered a Mustang Sally Melt: grilled onions, peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes smothered in melted provolone and piled on a chewy ciabatta roll, also $6. I was happy to see a good vegetarian option, but our friendly waitress offered to add turkey to the sandwich. I skipped that and still found the sandwich flavorful and filling, although next time I'll ask for no shredded lettuce on top.
All burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches come with a choice of sides: fries, tater tots, house-made potato chips, onion rings, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad, cottage cheese, a cup of soup or chili, a green salad or fruit cup.
My husband had the potato salad and gave it a thumbs-up for perfectly cooked potatoes, generous pieces of hard-boiled egg and good balance of well-seasoned dressing. I tried the crisp, deeply browned, house-made potato chips and found them an excellent sandwich accompaniment.
We also tried the chili-cheese fries — a golden mound of thinly cut and nicely seasoned fries covered with a mild, meaty chili, shredded onions and grated cheddar for $5.50 — and a pineapple shake for $4.50. I'm a dedicated chocolate-malt fan, but the giant shake's sweet, fruity chunks and two straws for sharing won me over at the first sip.
Maybe it was the last word in the diner's name and a giant "Eat Pie" sign mounted over the counter, but I decided I needed a slice for later. Punky's serves deep-dish pies, with apple on the menu daily and classics such as cherry, strawberry-rhubarb, lemon meringue and coconut cream rotating through regularly.
There was only one piece of cherry pie left and, for $4.50, it came home with us. The gooey, pink filling could have used a few more cherries but had a pleasant, sweet-tart taste, and the thick crust was tender.
For breakfast at Punky's, get there before 11:30 a.m. for a choice of three-egg omelets or scrambles priced between $7.50 and $9.50, French toast ($6.75 for three slices of battered brioche), waffles for $5 and a great variety of pancakes: buttermilk, oatmeal-cinnamon, cornmeal, buckwheat or nutty wheat. Other options you won't find everywhere include Memphis grits and eggs for $8, a bowl of sweetened grits for $6 or Kentucky fried mush for $7.50.
Breakfast combos priced at $8.50 let you mix and match two eggs and breakfast meat of your choice (bacon, ham, sausage, corned-beef hash or even chicken-fried steak for an extra $1.50) with home fries, potato cakes or grits, plus toast. If you want to skip the fried potatoes and toast, substitute pancakes or French toast instead for the same price. I'm not sure I could even make that many choices first thing in the morning, but it sounds delicious.
Punky's menu promises real food made from scratch, and the flavors bear that out. The owners and employees are welcoming, and the cheery space offers seating at booths, tables, a counter and in a large banquet room available for meetings and parties. Vintage signs and streaming rock 'n' roll classics complete the atmosphere.
Here's hoping this blast from the past has a long future.
Punky's Diner, 953 Medford Center, is open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 541-494-1957.
— Anita Burke