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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale

Making cheese fries at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale

There's a lovely story behind Bernie's Diner, one that isn't immediately obvious as you scarf down burgers and fries in this 1950s themed American diner. Bernie's Diner pops up out of nowhere, in the small town of Moss Vale in the Southern Highlands, population 7,792. It's cute and gloriously kitsch with black-and-white chequerboard tiles on the floor, gleaming chrome stools at the counter and cosy red vinyl booths down the back.

Counter stools at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Counter stools at Bernie's Diner

The joint is heaving on a weekend. Row of dockets are jammed on the rail above the grill, there's a queue of people waiting for seating and the call-out for burger pick-ups is constant.

Vintage cash register at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Vintage cash register and soda bottles

There's one lone guy in the thick of female staff serving customers. He's the only staff member on the grill, flipping burgers while managing the flow of orders in the kitchen. Ioannis (pronounced Yar-ni) Benardos is the grandson of Emmanuel Benardos, after whom the diner is named.

Low back swivel stools at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Low back swivel stools

Emmanuel was born in Greece and became an orphan at age ten. At age 18 he left Athens for Australia, a journey that would take six weeks at sea. In 1925 he ended up in Moss Vale, opening the Central Cafe and, when that closed, started a new business on a different site called Bernie's Cafe.

Emmanuel's grandson, Ioannis, had hospitality in his veins but he had bigger fish to fry. From a career start at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Double Bay, Ioannis' CV included stints in the front of house at Claridge's in London, concierge for the Quay Grand in Sydney and assistant manager at The Grand National Restaurant in Paddington.

Ioannis Benados in the kitchen at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Ioannis Benardos directing staff in the kitchen

In 2013, life came full circle and Ioannis opened up Bernie's Diner on the same site where Bernie's Cafe once stood.

Chocolate thickshake at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Chocolate thickshake $8

The menu is huge here, scrawled in chalk across ten blackboards that hang above the open kitchen. They do malted milkshakes, eggflips and soda floats but we're more than happy with our chocolate thickshake, so dense with ice cream that we struggle to suck it up through the straw.

Booth seating at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Booth seating

We're warned about the thirty minute backlog on food, but staff remain smiling and cheerful throughout. Our thickshakes keep us entertained anyway, and it's easy to people watch the happy mix of locals and blow-ins from our booth.

Burgers and onion rings at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Burgers and onion rings ready to be picked up

Bernie's Burger at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Bernie's Burger $13
The whole kit & kaboodle

The Bernie's Burger is a behemoth, a towering stack of beef, bacon, fried egg, pineapple, salad and onion rings. We can't even imagine the size of the Double Bernie ($24)!

Double Bernie burger from Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale

Ok I couldn't resist. Here's the Double Bernie from their facebook page. Apparently Alisdair didn't make it but "made a valiant effort". Alisdair, mate, I still reckon you're a legend.

Cheeseburger at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Cheeseburger $7

The cheeseburger is a little off kilter with the meat to bun ratio and we find the patty a little heavy on the binder, but the range of burgers is impressive, including pulled pork ($11), Waikiki bacon and pineapple ($10), Vegas Baby chicken and jalapeno ($11) and The Bro, a vegetarian option for $8.50.

Chili fries at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Chili fries $10

Chili fries are practicallly a meal in itself, a huge basket of fries tumbled through with chilli con carne and served with a scoop of sour cream on top.

Chili dog at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Chili dog $9
Texas chili, onions and cheese

We also get the chili dog. The pleasing snap of the frankfurt makes a contrast to the soft bun, beef mince and beans, scattering of onions and drizzle of tomato sauce and mustard across the top.

Onion rings at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Onion rings $7

I'll admit it. I pushed for the large serve of onion rings even though the small one ($3.50) would probably have sufficed. The actual onion slices are wafer thin but the crunch on the batter is incredible, still crisp even after ten minutes.

House made hot smoked pastrami on caraway rye at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
House made hot smoked pastrami on caraway rye $15 for 150g
with Russian dressing, slaw and housemade dill pickle

The house made hot smoked pastrami is impressive but it's not really a surprise given the back story. The beef brisket is brined for two months then rubbed with spices and smoked for four hours over beech chips splashed with beer. After smoking, it's slow cooked at 80 degrees for 11 hours.

House made hot smoked pastrami at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
House made hot smoked pastrami

That would explain why there's such a terrific smokiness to the pastrami. It's shaved super thin (losing some of that satisfying chew) but the meat is tender and doesn't suffer from dryness. It's jammed between two slices of caraway rye with a generous amount of slaw. On its own the pastrami tastes a little salty, but in the sandwich the seasoning balances out perfectly.

I love the house made pickle too - sweet, salty and sour with plenty of crunch.

Cheese fries at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Cheese fries $8

And because we're gluttons for punishment, we round everything out with a basket of cheese fries. It's nothing fancy. They just toss those fries through a puddle of melted cheese until everything sticks together in one giant golden love-in.

Eating a Bernie's Burger at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Burger time

There's a kids party while we're there. Everyone joins in to sing Happy Birthday and then says good bye (at Ioannis' prompting) when he leaves. It's not fine food but it's not supposed to be. It's Happy Days here - the only thing missing is The Fonz.

Wrapping takeaway burgers at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Wrapping takeaway burgers

Burgers, fries, hot dogs and pastrami at Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Weekend at Bernie's

Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale

Bernie's Diner on Urbanspoon

Bernie's Diner
402-404 Argyle Street, Moss Vale
Tel: +61 (02) 4869 1502

Opening hours
Open 7 days 6am-10pm
Public holidays 10am-8pm

No reservations. Walk ins only

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19 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 1/31/2015 07:33:00 pm


  • At 1/31/2015 8:17 pm, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    Errmahgerd I wantz the cheese fries and the burger and the chili hotdog!

  • At 1/31/2015 9:23 pm, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    Strewth, that double Bernie! Was kind of hoping to see you chomping into one of those behemoths, Helen!

  • At 2/01/2015 9:16 am, Anonymous Hotly Spiced said…

    I had a few holidays in the Southern Highlands last year but what a shame I never came across this diner. It looks so retro and gorgeous and the food looks like a lot of fun. How tragic to have become an orphan at just 10 years of age xx

  • At 2/01/2015 9:22 am, Blogger Choc Chip Uru @ Go Bake Yourself said…

    Kitschy and full of cheese fries, what more could I want from an old style diner? Love it :D

    Choc Chip Uru

  • At 2/01/2015 10:22 am, Anonymous Berny @ I Only Eat Desserts said…

    Omg those cheese fries and oh can't forget how crispy those onion rings look YUM

  • At 2/01/2015 11:03 am, Anonymous Bianca@forfoodssake said…

    What a cute little place, I agree the cheeseburger does look a little off which is a shame. I'm always a sucker for Onion Rings!!!

  • At 2/01/2015 12:38 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Next time we drive interstate, I'm totally going to ask for a detour and those Chilli fries! It's always a pleasure to discover a new gem through your eyes Helen!

  • At 2/01/2015 3:35 pm, Blogger gaby @ lateraleating said…

    Is this Australia? You sure it's not the USA?

  • At 2/02/2015 7:51 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I like to visit there once.You have expressed many of our feelings and impressions so well!

  • At 2/03/2015 10:43 am, Anonymous ChopinandMysauceopan said…

    Dear Helen,

    I've always thought of Moss Vale being home to one of Australia's greatest living treasures, John Olsen. I wonder if he would come here for that delicious chilli dog when taking a break from painting frogs.

  • At 2/03/2015 10:50 am, Anonymous Nagi@RecipeTin Eats said…

    You have the best taste Helen. I honestly want to go back to the US just to get my fill of everything I see here, but now I know where to get my fix. You rock Helen!

  • At 2/03/2015 11:44 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Oh my gosh my mouth is watering - thankfully it's almost lunch time!! Gimme all the friesssssssssss

  • At 2/03/2015 6:28 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Holly FRIES! Love burgers and fries. Man I am keen to order the Bernie's Burger

  • At 2/04/2015 2:07 pm, Anonymous Fran @ G'day Souffle' said…

    Wow, there's some real Americana goin' on here! This would definitely make me homesick if I ate there (I'm from the US originally)- seriously considering flying to Sydney from Adelaide just to get my burger fix. I love the retro cash register- didn't seem that long ago when everyone was using them ("Kaching")!

  • At 2/04/2015 2:11 pm, Anonymous Fran @ G'day Souffle' said…

    Wow, there's some real Americana goin' on here! This would definitely make me homesick if I ate there (I'm from the US originally)- seriously considering flying to Sydney from Adelaide just to get my burger fix. I love the retro cash register- didn't seem that long ago when everyone was using them ("Kaching")!

  • At 2/04/2015 8:20 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    zomg that pastrami!!!

  • At 2/08/2015 5:59 pm, Anonymous Dee @ The Casual Food Blogger said…

    OMG Bernie's burger is ridiculous!

  • At 2/11/2015 10:53 pm, Anonymous Amanda @ Gourmanda said…

    That double burger looks INCREDIBLE! Could I take on the challenge, that's the big question...

  • At 2/15/2015 8:47 pm, Blogger irene said…

    It'll be quite a travel from where I live but all dem cheese will make it worth it I'm sure!


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