Note: This article was reported and written before the coronavirus prompted changes that ban dine-in services and limitations about public gatherings. As of presstime, New York Restaurant is still open, with owner Nick Drakos offering takeout orders for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week.
By Janet Gibson / Photography by Cindy Burnham
We totally expect Guy Fieri, the host of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on Food Network, to fling open the door and shout, “Give me the Western omelet, some hash browns, and throw in a side of country ham!”
New York Restaurant is that kind of place. Pure diner heaven. No pretenses. No fuss. Just soul-satisfying food and familial hospitality in a modest building that’s pretty much sandwiched between the “Jesus Car Wash” and Fuller’s BBQ on Eastern Boulevard. Turn into the parking lot at the big blue-and-white sign. Don’t worry if it’s full – there’s overflow in the back.
Inside, the waitresses buzz about, delivering bargain platters of bacon and eggs and keeping coffee cups filled. This is “Breakfast in America,” with all forms of humanity represented in the red leatherette booths. A mish-mash of art on the white-paneled walls includes a large calendar from a dedicated customer’s nearby business, a tribute to the movie “Casablanca,” and a vintage photograph of when the restaurant was called the Village Diner. Sometime in the 1960s, it switched over to New York Restaurant after the original diner by that name closed following a long run on Hay Street.
Nikolaos “Nick” Drakos bought the 48-seat eatery 30 years ago with his wife, Selena. Their daughter, Maria, was only about four months old at the time, so she has literally grown up in the business. With a Greek accent as thick as honey, Nick makes conversation with regulars and first-timers, too, who may just be passing through on I-95. He’ll likely be there for the lunch and dinner crowds, too. Always sporting a big smile.
His sister Eleni is working the sizzling grill, just like she’s done for the past 17 years. She pours batter to form bunny ears for a child’s hotcake order, adding raisins for eyes and a nose. It’s the little things that really are the big things.
Instead of spotting Guy Fieri, we see the Guy family, 11 strong, tucked into a far end of the dining room. The day before, they laid to rest the family matriarch, Edna Jean Guy, who passed away unexpectedly. “This is Fayetteville’s best-kept secret,” says patriarch Sam Guy, who favors the mammoth club sandwich. “We’re family, there’s no better way to put it,” he adds, referring not only to his children and grandchildren, but the Drakoses, their kind staff and customers.
His wife, “Mrs. Jean,” 72, was the owner of Guy’s Schools on McPherson Church Road. Daughter Jennifer says the family celebrated her mom’s 70th birthday at the restaurant, and her parents’ 51st anniversary there just the month before. Mrs. Jean loved the liver and onions.
Brenda Autry, a retired business teacher, taught Jennifer at Terry Sanford High School some years ago. She’s enjoying breakfast with her husband, George, who retired as an area manager at Goodyear. They figure they’ve been coming here for about 30 years.
“If you want to see someone you haven’t seen in a while, hang out and you’ll see someone walk in,” Brenda says.
Like a number of folks in the joint, they’re talking about the virtues of the daily specials. “Meatloaf day! Pork Chop Day! Chicken and Pastry Day!” But when are those days? It’s when Nick or Eleni says it’s that day. (Hint: Might just be a Wednesday for the meatloaf.) It’s not unusual for an individual’s total bill to fall in a range of $5 to $9. Some breakfast items, like biscuits or hotcakes, are less than $2.
Just make sure to bring cash. “Dealing with credit cards is such a pain,” Nick says. “But I know we’ll probably have to take them someday.” Guests who don’t know the cash policy are told the same thing at checkout: “You can come back later and pay.”
It’s about treating people right, Nick says. “It they come back later to pay, good. If they don’t, well, that’s on them,” he says.
Some customers eat at the restaurant every day, like clockwork, says longtime waitress Chelsea Kale.
At 3:30 on a recent afternoon, enter Adelaide and Alva Rozier, both 88. Chelsea takes special pride in serving them and other seniors, many of whom depend on the restaurant for their main meal of the day. Some call ahead for takeout, and Chelsea says she can usually guess customers’ orders by their voices or names.
The Roziers are splitting the Chuck Wagon Steak with mashed potatoes and gravy, a side of mac and cheese, and tossed salad, with two sweet teas.
Ask Mr. Rozier if he recalls the first time he ate at the restaurant, and he doesn’t skip a beat: “First of February, 1957.”
He explains that he had just gotten out of the Marines and went to work as a diesel mechanic at a truck dealership across the street from the restaurant. “It’s clean, and the food has always been real good,” he says.
Nick Drakos says the recipe for success isn’t brain surgery: “If you fix good food, peoples gonna keep coming back.”
But it’s also about the positive vibe at New York Restaurant, a Southern establishment with a Northern name. The clang of dishes. The whir of waitresses. The sizzle on the grill.
It’s about food, family and friendship – in a conversation- and laughter-filled diner that harkens back to simpler times – before life got so complicated.
New York Restaurant fills the order every time.
* The place: New York Restaurant, 201 N. Eastern Blvd., Fayetteville, 910-483-4702.
* Specialties: Breakfast, lunch and dinner! Homemade and Southern diner specialties, from the hefty omelets to meatloaf with mashed potatoes to fried pork chops. Also, chicken and pastry. Variety of sandwiches, including the popular (and filling) club. Weight watchers can’t go wrong with the grilled chicken salad, sandwich or plate with two vegetables. Good coffee and sweet tea, lemonade, orange juice and milk.
* Prices: Wowsers, talk about bargain prices! Get a hotcake (pancake) that’s nearly as big as your plate for just $1.79. An egg biscuit is $1.09, add 50 cents if you’d like to have country ham or sausage with your biscuit. Many breakfast choices, including omelets and other egg dishes, or French toast, are under $5. Lunch and dinner entrees will set you back around $7 to $9 per person, including pudding for dessert and a beverage. Bring cash. Credit cards not currently accepted.
* Hours: Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
* Reservations: First-come, first-served! And it’s well worth the wait, which typically hovers around five to 15 minutes. (Due to coronavirus restrictions, the restaurant is currently offering take-out orders only.)