by Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE -- The old-fashioned diner seems harder to come by in modern times, when almost every block appears to be anchored by a chain restaurant. But a restaurant that recently opened here appears to carry on that tradition through home-style cooking.
Tucked into the Gulfstream Village shopping plaza on Clyde Morris Boulevard, Mel's Diner is all about comfort, from the food to the ambience. As I stepped into the restaurant, I didn't feel like I walked into a diner; it looked more like home.
Owner Phyllis Dessoye said her restaurant feels like home to her, too. And it helps that she works doing something she's always loved -- cooking.
"It feels like an extension of my house," Ms. Dessoye said. "I have everything here I need. Except for my dog, since my dog can't come here."
If the name Mel's Diner sounds familiar to you, it was the setting of the sitcom "Alice," which ran from 1976 to 1985.
But Alice had no significance to the name of the restaurant. The "Mel" in this Mel's Diner is Phyllis Dessoye's daughter Melissa, the restaurant's manager and co-owner.
Opening a restaurant was Melissa Dessoye's lifelong dream, a dream she finally had the chance to fulfill when the diner opened two months ago. She brings 13 years of experience in the restaurant business to the table, with skills in serving, bartending, catering and management under her belt.
The mother-daughter team decided to open the restaurant after Phyllis Dessoye learned she would lose her job with Amvets because the division she worked for was being shut down. Although Phyllis Dessoye has no restaurant experience, cooking has always been in her blood -- and she said friends often told her that her cooking is so good she should open a restaurant.
"I love to feed people and I love to cook," Phyllis Dessoye said. "Seeing people eat is a joy to me. I feel like feeding people is the best thing to do."
Phyllis Dessoye said she does "a little bit of everything" at the restaurant, from working the cash register to cooking some of the items on the menu based upon recipes that have been in her family for many years.
One of the diner's specialties is her 40-year-old family recipe for sausage bread ($2.50 per slice), fresh Italian sausage with onions, peppers, mozzarella and parmesan cheese baked into pizza dough that, once prepared, appears to be a pastry.
Customers can order the bread with either sausage gravy or marinara sauce upon request. Melissa Dessoye said the recipe originally called for the bread to be served plain, but on the first day she decided to serve it with marinara sauce, thinking diners would want something to dip the bread in. The idea to offer sausage gravy with the bread came when she saw a customer who ordered biscuits and gravy dip the sausage bread in the gravy.
I tried the sausage bread with both the sausage gravy and the marinara sauce, and I thought it tasted better with the marinara. The bread was very good; with the sausage and fillings inside it, I felt it had the consistency of a calzone.
After tasting the sausage bread, I decided to order breakfast. I tried the Western omelet ($7.99) with diced ham, cheddar cheese, green peppers and onions. Omelets are served with the customer's choice of a side of hash browns, home fries or grits, as well as a side of white, wheat or rye toast, an English muffin or a homemade biscuit.
The omelet was very flavorful and the fillings were not too overpowering. And unlike the omelets I've had at other restaurants, I felt it wasn't overly greasy. It was a perfect meal to help me start the day on the right foot.
But if eggs aren't your thing, Mel's Diner also serves biscuits and gravy, country fried steak, corned beef hash and French toast served on Texas toast.
At lunch, the restaurant's specialties include grilled sandwiches such as the Reuben, ham and cheese, turkey melt and tuna melt, as well as hamburgers and salads.
Mel's Diner serves its breakfast and lunch offerings all day. So if you want pancakes at noon or a Philly cheese steak at 9 a.m., the restaurant's staff will make it for you. Phyllis Dessoye said if a customer asks for something that's not on the menu, it's possible to make them as long as the restaurant has all the necessary ingredients.
Mel's Diner is usually only open for breakfast and lunch, but recently experimented with offering dinner specials during the last two Fridays in August. Some of the dishes served up at dinner include made-from-scratch chicken parmesan and lasagna, served with garlic bread and a side salad. The Dessoyes said they plan to offer dinner specials again on Sept. 14.
If you're away from home and looking for some good home cooking, Mel's Diner is your best bet.
Mel's Diner is located at 4649 Clyde Morris Boulevard, Port Orange. Hours are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call (386) 788-5862.