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A pie is just a pie 

It's just coconut cream pie, and besides, I'm awfully full, having just eaten. I'm interviewing Flour City Diner owner Jerry Manley, and he's insisting that I try his pie, a type of which I am not especially fond and at a time when, as I said, I'm stuffed to the gills. A bite to be polite, and a passing compliment, then move on. Oh, god, the piece is enormous.

One bite... hmm... pretty good. Second bite, it's better than good. Test the crust, dude... nice, flaky... real nice. What a beautiful pile of real whipped cream, fresh, and not overly sweetened. Is Jerry saying something? "I use real coconut milk; most people don't do that." Yeah, the coconut flavor is solid. And the toasted coconut... I don't even like this kind of pie, but damn! He's talking again. "I keep telling myself to have other people do some of this, but it doesn't come out right." I like this guy.

Jerry and his wife Kim took over the old Plaza Coffee Shop from Rainer Dralle in 2002. Dralle had served simple food and German specialties to a rabid following for 20 years. It was a well-kept secret; I'd never heard of the place, and I dig for German fare. The Manleys have kept making Rainer's homemade bratwurst --- they signed a $70,000 secrecy clause for the recipe --- but have added considerably to the menu they inherited.

Still, it's a diner, and it all starts with eggs, homefries, coffee, burgers, and fries. Jerry makes most of his food from scratch, but still maintains true diner prices (as opposed to Park Avenue diner prices). So, two eggs, toast, homefries, and coffee are just $2.70. For some, not much more is required.

For others, it takes a bit more. My party tried the potato pancake ($2.25), Western omelet ($4.30 with homefries and toast), and homemade sausage with eggs, gravy, and fresh biscuits ($2.95). The potato pancake was tender, barely crisp outside, and tasted of potato rather than salt. It comes with applesauce or sour cream, though it's a shame the applesauce isn't homemade (Jerry says that didn't go over when he tried).

The omelet was standard diner issue, good though not special. But the fresh sausage and biscuits rocked. The gravy was thick and tasty (it will cut down on your heating bill). All in all, the weekday breakfast is a great value, a cut above standard quality on the cheap.

I didn't try the weekend breakfast, but reading an old menu, I'm making plans to do so soon. Why? How about French toast topped with bourbon-raisin sauce and whipped cream ($4.55); "Irish Benedict," poached eggs on corned beef and Irish soda biscuits with a horseradish hollandaise ($5.50 with homefries); Flour City porridge (steel-cut oats with dried fruit and granola, $4.25); and Rainer's bratwurst with eggs, homefries, and toast ($4.95)? These are specialty items you'd expect to be two bucks more a pop. It's nice for discerning brunchers to have an option other than driving out to Fishers Station.

Moving on to lunch, the burgers are hand-pressed, fine instances of the diner variety (better than Wahl's, not Charley Brown's, though). And again, the price is so right: $2.95 for a solo cheeseburger, or $4.75 for a platter with mac salad and excellent fries (says burgerologist Stan Merrell, who likes his uncoated and not too crisp). The Flour City Diner has a mild hot sauce with a great, finely ground texture, not too greasy, sweet with interesting spicing.

The signature lunch, though, is the bratwurst platter, with homemade kraut and potatoes for just $4.50. The brats are excellent, thinner and meatier than at Swan's (I ain't sayin' one is better, they're just different). It's another meal that takes care of you all day.

Get yourself a monthly calendar and try some daily specials. Fridays bring standbys like macaroni and cheese and fried fish, but on other days you'll find pierogies from scratch, chicken and biscuits, or Hungarian goulash. Jerry also makes a different soup every day (I had a credible cream of broccoli, not too thick). For his chicken soup, he even makes his own noodles.

Then, there is pie. Save some room, and as long as it's one of Jerry's, give it a try. Again, the value is outstanding ($2.50). The coffee is drinkable, though not the kind an aficionado will make a trip for.

The place has real feel, nestled in its Chestnut Street building, cozy and specific. And the service was friendly and fast. (It's especially friendly when you're with City Newspaper music writer Frank De Blase, who seems to know every attractive waitress in the city. The secret, he says, is to "pour heavy.")

I don't go out to diners very often these days. Partly that's a change of lifestyle, and partly it's about the kind of food they serve (sadly carbohydrate-rich). It's also because most diners don't offer much I can't easily reproduce. The Flour City Diner does, though, with fresh sausages, fine desserts, and special brunches. And the prices are super. It's great to have it right in the heart of the city.

The Flour City Diner, 50 Chestnut Street, 546-6607. Hours: Monday through Friday 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. (breakfast only). Closed until January 3.

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