In my younger days, I often found myself rolling out of bed in the late morning, grabbing a coffee and hitting the world without the slightest desire for something to eat.
Well, my friends, the days of the breakfast-free morning are long gone and thus, when I get a tip on a new early-morning eating hotspot, I tend to waste little time getting there. That was exactly the case this week when a good friend of mine pointed me in the direction of the Bel-Loc Diner, just a short drive from Lutherville on East Joppa Road in Parkville.
As I pulled up to the Bel-Loc, I found pretty much what I expected from a diner that originally opened in 1964: the checkered tile walls, the worn chrome roofing, and of course, the faded neon sign welcoming patrons. Much like many of the other diners around town, the restaurant had that authentic retro look that unfortunately tends not to carry over into the other aspects of the dining experience.
Once inside, I was immediately encouraged by the absolute lack of flare. In fact, minus the tableside jukeboxes that are sprinkled throughout the restaurant (each containing a collection of songs so incongruous it was almost brilliant—think TLC’s “No Scrubs” and Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” just two buttons apart), the Bel-Loc is little more than a couple scattered tables, a kitchen and a pastry case.
Now don’t confuse my sparse description as a slight. In fact, for me, this is the absolute definition of what a diner should be. The stripped-down scenery and lack of pretension leaves the Bel-Loc dripping with character that made me want to leave all this writing stuff behind, get myself a trucking license and drive my rig straight back to 1964.
As expected, the menu fell right in line with the decor. A lot of diners will spoil customers by offering literally hundreds of choices, but at the Bel-Loc it’s all about keeping it simple. With just a page and a half of breakfast options, and a handful of lunch and dinner options, the choices are as peeled back as the restaurant itself. And it’s not just the quantity of choices that reflects the restaurant, it’s the choices themselves. The Bel-Loc offers options as simple as cereal or a bagel with butter, and the omelette choices are basically limited to cheese, onion or ham. While all the basics are covered, there are no real bells and whistles, just honest, simple food.
I ordered the hot cakes with sausage (and a vanilla milkshake because I just couldn’t resist) while my friend opted for the French toast with a side of scrapple. We both ordered sides of eggs as well, which I was shocked to find were actually real eggs and not Egg Beaters. I can say with absolutely no hesitation that the hot cakes were among the best I’ve ever tasted. Honestly, I tasted them with no butter or syrup and heavily considered eating them plain, as the buttermilk cakes were ridiculously rich and fluffy. The sausage was crazy flavorful as well, and the scrapple actually came out crispy. I’ve rarely had a poor milkshake, but for the record, the folks at the Bel-Loc nailed that one too.
So I know many of you may read this and think to yourselves, “That sounds nice, but why go out if the food is so simple?” Well yes, if you’re looking for eggs Benedict or some boysenberry and cardamom crepes, then I suggest you head elsewhere, but for me there is just something so soul-tickling and sweet about a simple little spot to go get an old-fashioned breakfast. These places are disappearing. The time will come, I fear too soon, when a stack of homemade perfect pancakes will not be easy to find.
So this weekend or next or whenever, if you find yourself in the mood for some good coffee and a nice home-cooked breakfast, don’t just grab a granola bar and wait for lunch. Go ahead and make the trip to the Bel-Loc Diner. I bet you’ll be glad you did.