Fred’s Diner satisfies lunch, dinner cravings, has an old-fashioned vibe
After living in Akron for 24 years, my husband, Steve, and I can’t believe it took us this long to visit the Akron institution that is Fred’s dinner.
Dining at the 33-year-old North Hill Restaurant is like stepping back in time to a 1950s-style restaurant, dominated by an orange lunch counter with turquoise seating. The turquoise wall behind is decorated with vintage signs including Coke, Pepsi, Royal Crown and Akron Sealtest milk.
We were seated in a booth immediately in this 53-seat restaurant, located in a small white cinder block building in the middle of industrial businesses on Home Avenue. It was 11:30 a.m. Steve was in the mood for lunch and I was craving lunch.
Steve ordered the biggest breakfast I’ve ever seen – #3 – for $10.49. This included two eggs he ordered poached medium (part liquid, part solid) with corned beef hash, home fries and toast with jelly.
“I’m going to get the corned beef hash. I can’t let this go,” he proclaimed.
The eggs and the perfection and the corned beef hash were delicious, said Steve.
Because Old-Fashioned Fred’s is famous for its extra-large portions of perfectly cooked bacon, Steve ordered it on the side for $4.75.
“Wait till you see the bacon,” our waitress said.
It wasn’t a small side, with seven strips of bacon.
“A little crispy, a little chewy,” Steve said, declaring it was cooked perfectly.
Bacon is the top seller at Fred’s, ranked in numerous local reader polls as the place for the best breakfast in Akron. Before the pandemic, when the restaurant was open seven days a week, Fred consumed 14 tons of bacon a year, owner Fred Spencer said.
So how does Fred make his bacon so perfect? The restaurant first bakes it halfway through the oven in a big batch first thing in the morning. Then it fry the bacon to order which only takes 35-40 seconds
“Instead of farm-to-table, we’re fryer-to-table,” Spencer, 62, joked.
Satisfying lunch at Fred’s Diner in Akron
I started with pure comfort food – a cup of Fred’s Famous Chicken Meatball Soup ($3.79). The soup arrived hot and quick, delicious with its fluffy dumplings, chicken pieces, celery bits and flavorful broth.
“It just tastes bright,” Steve said of the broth.
Spencer said the recipe for chicken ball soup came over 30 years ago from one of her kitchen workers, June Smith, and was once called June’s Famous Chicken Ball Soup. It’s so heartwarming that he’s had clients show up with their own containers asking to be refilled for loved ones undergoing chemotherapy.
For my lunch entree, I chose fried clams ($9.99) with a huge side of homemade mashed potatoes and a roll. The crispy clam strips, served with cocktail sauce, were a rare treat for me. I asked for tartar sauce, my favorite with fried seafood, and our waitress was happy to oblige with the restaurant’s tangy house condiment.
The savory mashed potatoes, which I ordered with the thick, dark sauce on the side, meant more comfort food for me. The portions were so big that I took almost half of my meal home.
Our bill was $28.22 before tax and tip.
Fred’s dinner may seem low-key on the outside, but the quick, friendly service and ambiance inside make for a great dining experience.
This includes a pastel floral wallpaper installed by the restaurant’s former owner in 1989, a Norman Rockwell print of a little boy and a policeman sitting at a restaurant counter. A vintage-looking sign was actually created by Spencer’s son, Max, who painted, wired, and framed a sign that lights up to say “wait to be seated” or “sit down.”
The story of Fred’s Diner
The white cinder block building Fred is in was built as a home in the 1950s, Spencer said. The building has seen several incarnations as a restaurant, including Mugsy’s, The Horn, Pandora’s, Duff’s and Beth’s before Fred’s Diner.
A longtime ex-postman told Spencer he was the property’s 13th restorer.
“He called me Lucky 13,” said Tallmadge resident Spencer.
Spencer began renting the restaurant in 1989 to Charlie Costa, an Italian immigrant who owned a machine shop next door. Costa had owned the place as Mugsy for just two months – with a 1940s speakeasy theme that featured floral wallpaper as well as lace curtains and doilies – before deciding he wanted go out.
Spencer took the place over the weekend and the transition went smoothly at the turnkey restaurant, where Costa had spent $20,000 on upgrades.
“He was a super nice guy. I didn’t even have to buy a fork when I started,” said Spencer, who bought the property from Costa a decade later.
When Fred’s Diner opened in 1989, two eggs and toast were 99 cents. This breakfast is now $3.79.
Spencer, who has a background in the bar and entertainment industry, previously worked at the former Iacomini’s which was in Akron on West Exchange Street. He said his son Donald, who is in charge of Fred’s kitchen, and Donald’s wife, Gia, a waitress, will eventually take over the restaurant.
Best Sellers at Fred’s Diner in Akron
All breakfast selections are bestsellers at Fred, the owner said, with breakfast served anytime from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. This includes Big Seller Salmon and Eggs (#12), the most expensive breakfast entree at $12.89.
Spencer also serves up plenty of country fried steak topped with sausage sauce ($10.49) and a “ton” of grilled marinated chicken ($11.89), marinated in honey and Italian seasoning, then grilled , which caramelizes the honey.
Fred’s, which was open seven days a week, reduced its opening days during the pandemic to Friday through Sunday. But since early July, Fred’s has added Mondays to the restaurant’s schedule.
Old-Fashioned Liver and Onions, the Monday special, sold out again on July 18, Spencer said.
“Nobody cooks it at home anymore because it stinks of the house,” he said.
Another thing that has changed during COVID is Fred’s take-out business, which was about 20% of sales before the pandemic and is now about 40%.
Reader’s Digest recently ranked Fred’s as the most iconic restaurant in Ohio based on customer ratings, TripAdvisor ratings, and “local gossip.” The article cited the restaurant’s no-frills vibe, delicious food, big “side” of bacon, and menu with most dishes under $10.
What is the secret of Fred’s 33-year longevity?
“Just being there, countless hours,” Spencer said. “The key is you have to be there.”
Art and restoration writer Kerry Clawson can be reached at 330-996-3527 or [email protected]
Restaurant: Fred’s dinner
Address: 930 Home Ave, Akron
Hours: 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Friday to Monday
Carry out: Yes