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A New Classic

Jennifer Pfaff

   When Hamburger Heaven moved to Clematis Street one year ago after residing for 53 years at 314 South County Road, Dan Ponton (right) couldn’t let the historic venue face an uncertain fate. He rescued the quintessential American diner space—a rarity in South Florida—polished the interior, leaving the iconic U-shaped counter intact, and respectfully transformed it into SurfSide Diner, a casual breakfast and lunch eatery that serves American comfort food.

   SurfSide couldn’t be more different from Club Colette, Ponton’s elite supper club on Peruvian Avenue, but it plays into the simple side of the owner, who loves diner fare and named the locale after his favorite beach in his hometown of Nantucket. Most importantly, the Hamburger Heaven regular can still enjoy a meal in classic surroundings as he and other faithfuls have for years.

   “I appreciate that people feel the same way about it. People would miss it if it was gone,” he says.

   Ponton dished to PBI about his love for classic American diners—his in particular.

 

Why a diner?
DP: I love diner food. I go to diners all the time, wherever I travel. There’s something about a diner that’s very American and comfortable. More specifically, I didn’t want this one to disappear. I’ve been going [there] for the better part of my adult life. It wasn’t a true diner but certainly dineresque. [Opening a diner] was completely out of my comfort zone—which was kind of the fun of it.


SurfSide is named after your favorite beach in Nantucket. Was the diner influenced by New England in other ways?
I would say the Palm Beach beachside lifestyle is the biggest influence. What’s appealing is it’s casual dining with a beachside location.


SurfSide is obviously very different from Club Colette. Do they have anything in common?
A lot, actually. Both have the same philosophy: We strive to give great food, a welcoming atmosphere and for everyone to feel special amongst friends. How you’re eating or what you’re eating is important, but quality and companionship is the most important thing. It’s about a relationship with the diner who comes in and the people serving you.

 


What’s special to you about SurfSide?
The location. I used to be there every day, sometimes twice a day. I’d get up, go get a newspaper, eat breakfast there, come to the office and if I had to have a lunch with someone, I’d say, “Let’s go to Hamburger Heaven.” I appreciate that people feel the same way about it. People would miss it if it was gone. What’s special about [the interior] is the counter. It’s totally about the counter. You can come in by yourself and never feel isolated or alone.


What’s your favorite item on the menu?
Two of my favorite things to eat in the whole wide world are blueberry pancakes and turkey burger sliders. I could eat these every day of my life. I’m pretty spontaneous [laughs]. Not really. I’m such a creature of habit.

 

 

Is there anything unexpected?
We have a really good cappuccino, which is really not diner food. And we have a frozen yogurt machine. The yogurt is a no-fat delicious frozen yogurt. There’s a yogurt place I go to in Cape Cod, and I chased down the person there and said, “I’m opening a diner 3,000 miles away. I want to know how you do it.” And she told me.

 

What should we order for our sweet tooth?
Amazing chocolate pecan cookies and lemon meringue pie—really, really good pie.

 

What dish is iconic SurfSide?
Grilled cheese with bacon and tomato with a side of tomato soup. That is the ultimate comfort food. The bread’s like an inch thick, it’s grilled, there’s oodles of American cheese, crisp bacon—amazing.


Can you sum up the SurfSide experience in one sentence?
Classic comfort is always in style.

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