On the first morning during our vacation at Lake Okoboji, we decided to scout around for a place for breakfast. Cindy thought she had seen a family restaurant in downtown Spirit Lake when were trying to get our bearings the night before after we checked in to Pioneer Beach Resort. I took a turn down Hill Ave. and sitting on our left just at the corner of Lake Street and Hill Ave. was a place called The Family Diner (see map). I said, "Well, I suppose that place IS a family restaurant!"
We went around the block and parked the car in front of the place - luckily, the only spot that was open along the block. We went inside and, also luckily, we found one table that had just opened up. The place was packed. And it was just after 9 a.m.
Matt and Darlene (Dar) Hall are the owners of the highly popular Family Diner. We found out later on that being packed at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning was not an aberration. Actually, we heard that the place is usually packed from the time they open at 6 a.m. until they close at 4 p.m. Known for their breakfasts and their noontime comfort food and sandwiches, the Halls have been in business for about 3 years.
The restaurant is long and narrow with tables in the middle and booths on the side. The kitchen area was in the back of the dining area with a huge serving window seperating the two areas. The restaurant was well-lit with a lot of natural light coming in through the windows on the north and east side of the restaurant.
A waitress came over to give us menus and asked if we needed coffee. Not being much of a coffee drinker, I always decline, but Cindy said she'd like a cup. After the waitress came back with her coffee, Cindy took a sip and said, "Oh, gosh, this is good coffee! This must be a pretty good place for breakfast!" Cindy's corrolary between good coffee and good food in a breakfast place has proven to be accurate more often than not.
Two young ladies and a little girl were seated at a table next to us and they had a couple of humongous cinnamon rolls. Now, the Quad Cities is sort of famous for their large cinnamon rolls - you can't be a breakfast place worth your salt anywhere in the Quad Cities if you don't have huge cinnamon rolls. The cinnamon rolls at The Family Diner rivaled any thing we've seen in the Quad's. And they looked damn good.
The breakfast items on the menu were plentiful and difficult to choose from. They had pancakes, omelets, French toast made with homemade bread, skillet dishes - just about anything that you could think of for breakfast they seemed to have it. I was contemplating getting the blueberry pancakes or the blueberry French toast. The omelets we saw the waitresses bring out looked pretty damn good, too. I was in sort of a quandary as to what I wanted to get.
Cindy had her eyes on a couple things - the French Toast with apricot syrup was very appealing to her, as was the breakfast special with a couple eggs, bacon, hash browns and homemade toasted bread.
When our waitress showed up to take our order, Cindy got the French toast - one slice - with the apricot syrup. For good measure, she got an egg on the side with bacon. I wanted an omelet, but I was torn between the corned beef hash omelet, or a sausage and cheese omelet. I looked on the menu and saw that they had corned beef hash available as a side, so I ordered the sausage and cheese omelet - I had my choice of three cheeses, so I took cheddar. And I asked the waitress if they could throw some mushrooms into the omelet. "Sure," was her exuburant reply.
Because they continued to be busy at The Family Diner, about 20 minutes after we ordered our food showed up. The wait was worth it. First of all, the portions were huge. Cindy's one piece of French toast was almost 3/4's of an inch think. It had a slab of butter and was sprinkled with powered sugar. The only problem is that the waitress forgot to bring the apricot syrup. (We were able to chase down another waitress and she brought out the syrup for Cindy.)
My omelet was also very big. The cheese was oozing out the side of the omelet and large chunks of sauteed mushrooms were visible on top. I also had two very thick pieces of homemade wheat bread on my plate with the omelet.
But the corned beef hash (right) is what really opened my eyes. They certainly didn't skimp on the sides at The Family diner. It covered over half the plate and it was a load of corned beef hash for $3.25. I knew I would have trouble finishing everything on both my plates.
Chunks of sausage were found throughout the omelet. It was cheesy and the mushrooms - although they were canned, but sauteed - were also a nice taste sensation. The omelet was thin - as I like my omelets - and it was simply excellent. The corned beef hash, too, was very good. It had a nice crust on the outside of the has and the corned beef was very good in flavor. Cindy had some bites of the corned beef hash and she, too, said it was very good.
Cindy really enjoyed her French toast. She said, "The apricot syrup is the best part. I wasn't certain that I wanted French toast, but when I saw they had apricot syrup, that pretty much helped me make up my mind." Her bacon was crisp, just as she likes it (I like my bacon a little more medium rare to medium), and the egg was, well, it was a fried egg. Not much you could do with a fried egg. She used some of my toast that I definitely wasn't going to eat to dip into the yoke of her egg.
Before we left, we had to order one of the huge cinnamon rolls to go. We had a refrigerator and a microwave back in our cabin at Pioneer Beach and we figured we could have it as a snack either at night or in the morning. Quite actually, we pieced on the cinnamon roll for the next three mornings as a snack to tide us over until we had our real breakfast. It was that huge. The cream cheese vanilla frosting on top was the pièce de résistance. It was stupidly great in taste.
As we were leaving, I told Cindy, "I don't think there's a lot of breakfast places around here. If we can't find any more, we may be back here for breakfast a couple more times while we're here."
She said, "That would be fine with me!"
We did find more breakfast places around Lake Okoboji during our stay, but I'm going to tell you right now - none of them were as good as The Family Diner. The taste of the food, the value of what we paid versus what we got on our plates, and the fine service were the best we found at any of the breakfast places in the area.