Escape Southern Highlands steps back in time at Moss Vale’s Bernie’s Diner, and chats with indefatigable owner Ioannis Benardos.
One of the first things Ioannis Benardos heard after opening his American-styled diner in Moss Vale in 2013 was “I give you a year, mate.”
He wisely chose to ignore the proclamation and last month Bernie’s Diner celebrated its fourth birthday. Now a loved fixture, the diner is quiet on this early evening. However, pretty soon the locals will arrive with kids in tow and regulars travelling through to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne will make the detour off the Hume Highway to eat.
My dinner mates and I order Bernie’s specialities: the Whole Kit & Kaboodle burger; the house-made beer smoked pastrami and corned beef sandwich; and a pulled pork burger with fries on the side. Mouths watering, we take our seats in a red leather booth to await our food, and look about.
Bernie’s Diner is named in honour of Ioannis’ grandfather Emmanuel Benardos, commonly known as Bernie. Originally from the Greek island of Kythira, he came to Australia on a voyage that took six weeks and, like many Greek immigrants before him, decided his future lay in opening a milk bar. He opened his first business, The Central Cafe, in 1925 and two years later moved to the site of his grandson’s reincarnated version. The Benardos family ran Bernie’s Cafe until 1958 when they sold the business. Black and white photographs on the walls depict Emmanuel’s life.
Emmanuel grandson’s diner channels decor from 1950s America. Ioannis spent six months on a US road trip and loved the formica-topped tables and swirling bar stools. There is something about Bernie’s that takes you back to a lost age: to a time when burgers and chips were served in baskets, and giant ice-cream sundaes came with a glace cherry on top.
Full of hungry expectation, our meals don’t disappoint. The Whole Kit & Kaboodle is as stupendous as it sounds on the blackboard: dill pickle, mayo, tomato sauce, onion, lettuce, tomato, beetroot, Angus beef burger, cheese, bacon, egg, pineapple and onion rings on a sesame seed bun. The pastrami sandwich, made from brisket cured in a salt and sugar brine and then smoked over American beechwood soaked in Budweiser is heaven, and my pulled pork made from free-range pork, slow cooked for nine hours and served with slaw on a sesame seed bun, is a triumph. A messy one but a triumph nonetheless. It is a nice touch when we learn all Bernie’s meat is provided by local butcher, Maugers. Ioannis joins us as we polish off the last vestiges of a delicious hands-on meal.
“I couldn’t be happier,” he says, grinning. “When I opened, my ethos was simple. Cook simple food and smash it out of the park. Some people won’t get it and I’m cool with that. But do what you love. Build it and they will come.”
402-404 Argyle Street,
Moss Vale 4869 1502
6am-10pm every day