Scratch-made diner classics makes Tommy’s a destination for more than 30 years

Gary Seman Jr.
Special to The Columbus Dispatch
Lamb shank from Tommy's Diner

While Tommy’s Diner might seem like a throwback from the past, its portions, prices and quality are hard to beat, said Michael Pappas, son of founders Tommy and Kathy Pappas.

The Franklinton restaurant, founded in 1989 by the Pappas couple, remains a strong fixture on the Near West Side dining scene.

It’s one of the few remaining places in town where customers can get liver and onions ($8 with mashed potatoes and vegetable of the day) — a slab of thin beef liver cooked on the flattop with onions, which still maintain some of their texture, and a ladle or two of house-made beef gravy over the top.

“It’s a traditional diner meal, something you’d expect to see in a diner,” said Michael Pappas, now the general manager.

Same deal with the meatloaf ($8.25), prepared with onions, peppers and other seasonings, egg and breadcrumbs. Warmed up on the flattop, the meatloaf is served with mashed potatoes and smothered with the house gravy.

“It gets a nice crust on top,” he said. “We warm it up on the flattop. We get a little char on the outside but it’s still moist in the center. Put a little gravy on top and it all pops together.”

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Michael Pappas worked in the diner growing up and went to Ohio University, where he received a degree in finance.

“I went to OU specifically to not be in the restaurant business,” he said. “It was my senior year. I was interviewing at all the major banks but as I got older, I really appreciated the diner for what it was. It was some of the best education I’ve ever had.”

Tommy Pappas, the colorful host and cook, still works at the diner but is slowing down, his son said. Kathy Pappas still makes all of the desserts for the restaurant, including the carrot cake ($4.25) — three layers of sumptuous cake interspersed with sour-cream icing.

Carrot cake

“Our carrot cake, I would say, is the best in the city,” Michael Pappas said.

Naturally, burgers are a big deal in the diner setting. The straight-up cheeseburger ($7.50) — all burgers are made from hand-patted Black Angus beef — offers a half-pound of meat and traditional toppings on a sesame-seed bun.

“You just taste the freshness in our burgers,” Pappas said.

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Fries are served a la carte for $2.50. Pappas said they’re boiled, peeled, cooled and cut on the premises.

“We go through 700 to 800 pounds a week,” he said.

For lighter appetites, the Greek salad ($6.50) has a foundation of greens plus crunchy vegetables — cucumbers, green peppers and red onion — pepperoncini, feta cheese, Kalamata olives all tossed in a homemade Greek vinaigrette that gets a dash of oregano.

Tommy’s features a number of lunch specials Monday through Friday.

On Mondays, one of the popular dishes is Johnny Marzetti ($8.95 with garlic bread and garden salad) is a baked pasta dish with Cavatappi, seasoned tomato sauce, ground beef, chunks of peppers and onions, and a layer of Parmesan.

“It’s not an ‘if you’re on a diet’ kind of dish,” he said.

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Friday is reserved for several Greek specialties, such as pastitsio ($9.25 and served with a small Greek salad), a baked dish that combines cinnamon-accented ground beef, long tubes of pasta and a thick layer of bechamel on top.

The lamb shank ($10.95) is braised in tomato sauce for five hours and set on a pile of mashed potatoes.

“it’s literally falling off the bone,” Pappas said. “It’s personally one of my favorite dishes we have.”

At a glance

Where: Tommy’s Diner

Address: 914 W. Broad St.

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily

Contact: 614-224-2422,