The open kitchen and lunch counter lit by Tiffany-style lamps at Eugene’s Diner & Bar at 112 North Main St. 
Richard Abel|Westmore News
The open kitchen and lunch counter lit by Tiffany-style lamps at Eugene’s Diner & Bar at 112 North Main St. Richard Abel|Westmore News

It was a long time coming, but now that it’s finally here, Eugene’s Diner & Bar at 112 North Main St. is a fun spot all the way around—décor, vibe and food. It fulfills chef/owner David DiBari’s motto: “Eat serious, have fun.”

“I had my eyes on Port Chester for quite some time, ever since The Cap moved in,” said DiBari, who owns three other restaurants in Dobbs Ferry—The Cookery, a 10-year-old Italian gastropub, The Parlor, a Neapolitan wood-fired pizza spot in a Lower East Side punk rock setting and The Rarebit, a British gastropub with the food and culture of England he opened with a partner within the past year. He also owns Doughnation, a wood-fired mobile pizza oven that can go anywhere for any type of celebration.

“I always wanted to do this diner concept and Port Chester represents what a diner is—where all walks of life can come together,” he said in an interview about a week and a half before Eugene’s opened on Apr. 5. “A policeman sits next to a gentleman and he says, ‘Didn’t you recently arrest me?’ and the cop says: ‘Yes, I did arrest you last week. Please pass the ketchup.’”

Philosophically that sounds great, and I’m sure you will get some of that exploration by people from all walks of life trying out a new restaurant, but on a long-term basis, the prices are kind of high for the blue-collar worker.

Comfort food with a twist

“We condensed the greatest hits into a one-page menu with all the fun things I love about a diner,” said DiBari. “I want to go back to the basics—really delicious food that’s approachable and not concentrate on the bells and whistles.”

“A diner is a license to do whatever we want,” added DiBari, “different than what was done in the past.”

So, you can get comfort food like meat loaf, spam, fried bologna, a burger, a hot dog or grilled cheese. But they are anything but ordinary.

“Our motto is “burgers, shakes, pancakes and caviar,” said DiBari. “We have pancakes, but feel free to add foie gras. You can get a $10 griddle burger or grilled cheese with caviar ($18).”

The meatloaf is topped with Swedish gravy, which is delicious and just the right portion, but it costs $18 and comes with no sides. All the sides cost extra.

The natural all-beef hot dog ($14) is 13 inches long, made in-house and topped with mustard, crisp onion and Eugene’s own sauerkraut. It’s also served in a wooden holder with slots so it can easily be cut into pieces with a knife for non-messy eating, perfect for kids and adults alike.

The burger is a double beef patty served on a sesame bun with cheddar cheese and bread and butter pickles ($12).

I haven’t yet tried the spam. In fact, I was steering clear of it based on memories from childhood (I never actually ate it, just knew it came from a can), but the menu indicates it is rotisserie house made and served with a pineapple glaze. General Manager John Leggio said the whole pineapple you see roasting on the rotisserie is cut up, a slice goes on top and he insists this spam must be experienced. So that’s for another day.

Everything is prepared in the restaurant’s open kitchen where you can watch the whole operation if you sit at the lunch counter where all the action is going on right in front of you. And even though this is a diner, all dishes are beautifully presented, from the addition of parsley sprigs to the last-minute pinch of sea salt or pepper.

Just like the spam, all meats, including the short rib pastrami, are aged and made in-house. My husband was a big fan of the pastrami sandwich served on toasted marble rye with house-made mustard and a dill pickle ($15). Although made with a different cut of meat, the sandwich rates second to the pastrami on rye you get at Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side, he says.

Speaking of Jewish delis and comfort foods, on our first visit to Eugene’s, my husband and I ordered the matzo ball soup ($10). We were presented with a small bowl filled with bone broth and a light fluffy matzo ball. The broth is darker and different from the standard chicken broth this traditional Jewish soup is made with, but it’s even more tasty.

Also on that first visit, I had the previously-described meatloaf, a dish I relish from my childhood, and chose the excellent salt-baked celery root topped with hazelnut brown butter and maple ($10) as a side.

On another visit with friends, I opted for the dry-aged minute steak with horseradish crème on the side ($19). Cooked perfectly medium, it was a cut above any minute steak I’ve ever had. The creamy mashed potatoes and gravy ($6) paired perfectly with the steak and, on top of that, I shared a chopped salad ($10) with my husband. A blend of iceberg, vegetables, sliced olives and feta cheese tossed with a Greek vinaigrette, this wonderfully fresh concoction pleased both of us, even though my husband doesn’t care for olives.

We do it almost everywhere, but at Eugene’s the atmosphere is especially conducive to sharing.

Breakfast all day

Eugene’s wouldn’t be an authentic diner if you couldn’t get breakfast all day. In fact, breakfast is the only meal I might consider eating at the Port Chester Coach Diner which has gone downhill over the years.

At Eugene’s, breakfast, once again, is not ordinary but extraordinary, and I’ve only had the opportunity to sample two items so far.

My husband and I once again shared our selections: the Belgian style waffles (2), one piled on top of the other with slices of house-cultured butter on top and in between and drizzled with maple syrup ($9). You can add bone marrow to these buttery, crunchy waffles for an extra $10. Sounds decadent! We also split the French toast, a thick piece of Japanese milk bread, butter fried and topped with blueberry syrup filled with dried blueberries. A sprinkle of sea salt cut the sweetness.

Next time I would order the house cured bacon or the maple sausage links with gravy (both $8) to complete this meal.

Since this was dinner, instead of coffee I ordered a stickabutta milkshake ($9) which went well with the breakfast items. Comparable to butterscotch, this creamy blend had the perfect flavor and consistency.

The menu at Eugene’s is constantly being tweaked, so don’t be surprised if something has changed when you stop by. For instance, the waffles were originally topped with a type of cotton candy (I saw it being made on my first visit), but that was scrapped because it quickly melted and did not look appetizing, according to our server. Additionally, the Sourdough Bread and Charred Ramp Butter ($8) won’t be around for long because ramps, like scallions with a garlic-onion flavor, grow wild and are only available in the spring.

Outstanding desserts

House made desserts are a highlight, and they are on display for all to see in a rotating cake display no diner should be without. I’ve so far sampled the stickabutta pie ($8), which is served in DiBari’s other restaurants and our server said was a must try, the coconut cream pie ($8) and the pina colada Jello mold ($8). I loved the buttery pie, which isn’t a pie in the traditional sense, made mostly of butter and sugar and baked to chewiness. The Jello mold was light and creamy with chunks of pineapple throughout plus a slice of fruit and a cherry on top.

Full bar with draft cocktails

As the name of the restaurant implies, Eugene’s has a full bar with eight wines by the glass ($9-$13), bottles of white, red, rosé and sparkling wine, eight beers on draft plus bottles and cans, and seven pre-made draft cocktails ($11 and $12). These have names like Phil Lush, The Detroit and Harvey Keitel. According to DiBari, “a draft cocktail gives us the opportunity to develop a delicious cocktail that is well balanced” and is a way “to keep them consistent.” Once made, they are put into kegs and can be dispensed in 30 seconds.

On our Friday night out with friends, we all opted for the Wonder Woman ($12), a takeoff on a margarita, we were told, and enjoyed the mixture of tequila blanco, lemon-lime and the cocktail’s sparkling effervescence.

Large format dinners

If you want to try something different, feel flush and can gather a group of like-minded eaters, you might want to try the large format dinners at Eugene’s, which must be ordered at least a few days in advance. There’s prime rib for $100 per person, roasted pig or roasted whole fish for $85 per person, Porchetta for $75 per person or roast duck or chicken for $35 per person. These dinners are served family style and include salad plus 2-3 sides the chef selects and dessert.

A place for everyone

Creating the special ’70s basement décor at Eugene’s Diner & Bar is what took so long, said DiBari, who admitted “we thought we would open in September.”

“It is an old building and we had to do a little extra,” he said. “We wanted to do it right.”

Eugene’s is named for DiBari’s grandfather and uncle, “so it has a deeper connection for me,” he said. “I loved going to diners with both of them.”

Besides, “Eugene’s is a timeless name like Vinny’s,” he said. “It has a little more meaning and a little more depth. It fits a diner.”

The retro look, varied seating for 114, and even the food are geared toward comfort. There’s a long bar that seats a dozen people in cushy tall black stools as you walk in from North Main Street plus a lounge section with high tops as well as low Formica tables that pull up to gold-colored benches. A ’70s yellow dial telephone like we had in our kitchen when I was a kid sits at one side of this space, and the back wall is covered with a multi-faced mirror and a collage of period prints and wall hangings. The floor is covered with rust and cream-colored linoleum in this section, with wood flooring covering the rest of the dining area.

In the main dining room cozy gold-colored booths each seat four or more directly across from the Formica luncheon counter lit by gold-colored Tiffany-style lamps and open kitchen. And in the far back portion of the restaurant even cozier-looking brownish-rust-colored booths complete the picture.

Flamingos pop up everywhere, even in the ladies’ room where a pink metal bird lurks in this pleasant space covered with flamingo wallpaper. If you look carefully, or are seated in the back booth, you’ll also notice a fish tank.

“It feels like us and it feels special,” said DiBari of the final product.

Vibrant vibe

Depending on the day and time, Eugene’s attracts all types of people, as DiBari had hoped, from singles to families, and there’s a lot of energy among the patrons as well as the friendly staff.

DiBari said his creative team is what makes all his restaurants possible, including the opening of this month-old diner in Port Chester. “I didn’t have to open another restaurant,” he said. “It was driven from creative expression. There are a lot of heartaches, but in the end it’s worth it.”

On my three trips to Eugene’s so far, I’ve spotted DiBari in the kitchen once and he was hanging out in the lounge area the second time. It was obviously his 41st birthday because Leggio, the general manager, dressed in a hotdog costume, presented him with a piece of cake with a lit candle in it as the “Star Wars” theme played on the restaurant’s excellent sound system.

From my experience, the entire staff, starting from the hostess, makes you feel welcome, and that’s key to a successful eatery. Manager Juan Vargas of Port Chester, who I’ve known from a previous restaurant he managed, is great, and our server on two occasions, a recent Port Chester High School graduate, was friendly and efficient. So was our server at the lunch counter.

Hours and parking

DiBari liked the 112 North Main St. location for his new restaurant because of the municipal parking lot in back and its proximity to the train station. There’s also plenty of street parking.

Although it’s pegged a diner, Eugene’s is not open 24-7. So far it is open for dinner six days and last weekend began opening on weekends for brunch. Lunch and maybe even breakfast could be in its future. Dinner hours are Tuesday and Wednesday from 5-10 p.m., Thursday from 5-11, Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m.-midnight and Sunday from 5-9 p.m. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday starting at 11:30 a.m. until about 4 p.m. The restaurant is closed Monday.

For Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 12, Eugene’s will be open straight through from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. The regular menu will be offered.

Reservations are a must unless you show up on Tuesday or almost any day except Mother’s Day at 5:00.