You’ll find a tasty mix of the old and the new at A-Town Diner in Atascadero if you know where to look.
Steve Dagnall parlayed more than 20 years of experience in the wholesale food business to open A-Town Deli in 2002 in the Food 4 Less Plaza.
Located in what was already an ice cream and frozen yogurt shop, “we inherited that menu of smoothies and such,” but Dagnall also established a lineup of solid deli items such as salads, wraps and sandwiches like the A-Town Club with turkey and cheddar, Philly Cheese Steak made with Certified Angus Beef and pepper Jack cheese, and Steve’s Hot Pastrami with black olives and house-made chipotle mayonnaise.
The next menu Dagnall got the chance to inherit enjoys almost cult-like status in Atascadero.
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“Virgil Burgers” date to an iconic 1950s burger joint in the heart of downtown. Though the original stand closed years ago, the recipes for the legendary burgers and their signature sauce had continued on at LSJ’s Little Café, an aptly named eatery that was hidden in a row of buildings down a nondescript driveway off El Camino Real.
In 2008, the owner of LSJ’s wanted to sell, so Dagnall bought it — burger secrets and all. He moved A-Town up the street, and recently changed the name to Diner instead of Deli.
He spruced up the tucked-away restaurant, which still has the appeal of an old-fashioned soda fountain, and after about a year, also expanded into space next door. At first an arcade room, it’s now a dining area with a retro feel, thanks in part to a (free) pool table and walls covered with vintage black-and-white photos of the original Virgil’s drive-in.
Ever since the move, A-Town’s hearty morning, noon and night menus have continued to grow. Breakfast — which is served until two in the afternoon — was added a couple years ago, and includes house-made corned beef hash, three-egg veggie omelettes, and biscuits and gravy.
Lunch offers all the burgers, deli sandwiches and salads, plus a few recently added items like the Buffalo Wing Turkey Burger with hot sauce, Swiss cheese and ranch dressing (warning: you will need more than one napkin). For dinner, the choices expand to chicken fried steak or fried chicken, mahi-mahi or flat-iron pork steak, “Baseball Cut” top sirloin or shrimp cocktail. You can also create your own pasta dish from a variety of noodles, sauces and “toppers,” or go for chicken Milano, spaghetti carbonara and even shrimp scampi.
Appetizers offer a touch of the upscale with bruschetta or Mozzarella Caprese, as well as good ol’ fried fare, especially the popular Black and Tan onion rings inspired by the drink of the same name and battered with both Guinness and Bass beer batters.
Many of the dinners come with your choice of sides — baked potato, steamed veggies, green salad — and desserts encompass tiramisu, carrot cake or a tempting chocolate caramel pecan sundae.
In addition to the sprawling regular menu, there are also nightly dinner specials like All-You-Can-Eat Spaghetti Thursdays, and daily specials such as the whopping Brad’s Melt with tri-tip, pastrami, corned beef, Swiss cheese and the house-made chipotle mayonnaise.
Despite all that, Dagnall — a hands-on owner as likely to be in the kitchen slinging orders as in the front of the house — noted that special requests and substitutions are always welcomed.
“A lot of regulars get their own customized dishes — we all know just how they want things cooked,” he said. That’s anything but a problem for the kitchen, he said, and in fact, “That’s fun for us!”