Grand Opera House


23rd Annual Golden Fork Awards

Best Diner/Cafe

Little Diner salad

Little Diner salad

The sunflower oil Little Diner Xpress sizzles its fried foods in costs this American restaurant three times more than cheaper, traditional oils. Customers don’t notice the difference, says co-owner Rod Bergman, but the team feels better serving healthier foods.

“This is the focus that we’re directing our business toward: we want to have as much organic product as we can,” he says. “Our philosophy is to give people the best for the most reasonable cost.”

The Appleton restaurant’s grocery list reveals ingredients sourced close to home: organic coffee from Milwaukee, farm-fresh eggs from Humpty Dumpty Eggs in Reedsville, local dairy from Modern Dairy in Kaukauna. Yet decadent breakfast foods like cherry-stuffed French toast maintain the traditional diner fare and feel.

“I don’t know if you remember the old TV show ‘Cheers,’ years ago,” Bergman says. “When somebody would walk in [to] the bar, which was on this TV show, they would all call out their name. It’s kind of like that.”

Like the fictional bar, Little Diner Xpress focuses all its attention on one location alone, all the better to foster a cozy vibe. One 24-hour location creates work enough for now, from the breakfast crowd to the “bar rush” late at night.

“It’s difficult always being on call, and that’s essentially – when you have a 24-hour business and you don’t have a large management staff,” Bergman says. “Our phone can ring at any hour, and we have to be prepared for that… But it works out well because of our people.”

The staff moves in an endless, well-oiled dance among the booths; no mug is left unfilled. They’re the “front line” here, and epitomize the diner’s focus on each individual customer.

“We value every single person that works for us,” Bergman says. “Every single person, regardless of what they do; if it’s a bus person, a server, a cook, we have a maintenance guy [who] comes in and does cleaning. It’s all important.” — LZ

Best Fried/Broasted Chicken

“Mary’s Family Restaurant has always been a go to place for homestyle cooking and comfort food, good menu selection and friendly service. Their broasted chicken dinner and their chicken and dumpling soup is the best I have ever had. In fact, any time someone is sick in our family the first request is for Mary’s chicken and dumpling soup!” — Tracy Schwartz, Grand Chute

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