With hearty home-style meals, big windows and bright, clean interiors, diners often are associated with down-home hospitality. Low prices, long hours and casual dress code all add to the welcoming vibe.
But it's the rare diner where you have a choice of more than 10 Bordeaux to go with your certified angus steak, or a range of whites to help wash down that chicken in a basket.
"It's the only place where you can get Bordeaux and a burger and not spend a fortune," says George Stratis, 33, who runs the front-end operations at the Shore Diner in Egg Harbor Township with his cousin, Georgia Bulko, 44. "We wanted to give our guests something they can't find anywhere else."
In fact, Shore Diner's wine offerings are so unique, it's the only diner in the country to earn Wine Spectator magazine's 2012 Award of Excellence for its wine list. The awards are bestowed each year based on the quality of wine producers, thematic match to the restaurant's menu in price and style, organization and presentation of wine list, as well as the actual number of wine selections. The judges say they look for "uncompromising, passionate devotion to wine," which Stratis has in abundance, Bulko says.
"My philosophy is simple: Offer amazing wines at amazing prices," Stratis explains. "Take away the sort of fancy, haughtiness and price gouging and you're left with just a really great addition to the food we serve here. We want wine to be served as it was meant to be enjoyed."
At Shore Diner, there are more than 120 vintages to choose from, as well as more than 100 craft beers. A Le Cache wine cooler houses 600 bottles of wine at constant cellar conditions - 55 degrees for reds, 45 for whites. There's even a humidor - and an extensive and varied cigar menu attached.
And a "boutique bar" beckons to the curious with 24 wines by the glass.
"It takes the risk out of ordering wine," says Stratis, who's been helping run the restaurant his father and uncle founded in 1992 for more than a decade. "If you're not happy, you can try another bottle, you're not stuck with it."
All that may sound like it belongs in a high-end steakhouse, but Shore Diner is a casual - albeit well-appointed - family restaurant where your server may be the owner/cook's son, Demetri Stratis, 23.
He's a good candidate to ask for recommendations of say, what to drink with the chicken Morango special - cooked in sherry wine with celery, mushrooms, sauteed onions, tomatoes and olives with rice pilaf. Conn Valley Prologue cabernet sauvignon has a nice, rich, dark flavor, he says, drawing on his experience with "Wine Tuesdays," on which his brother and cousin draft people like him and manager Elena Motalkina, 26, to help taste and select new wines for the ever-evolving list.
"What I enjoy most is when we discover a new wine, how different everyone's tastes are," Motalkina says. "Everyone picks up so many different references and has their opinions."
For example, Motalkina prefers pairing Michael Pozzan Chardonnay with the diner's broiled stuffed shrimp, because she likes the deep, complex flavor and vanilla aftertaste. And since the seafood medley over penne alla vodka has a little kick to its pink sauce and "is big enough for three meals," she recommends pairing it with Chianti, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay - you could even try each in turn.
George Stratis likes fruitier wines, such as Some Young Punks' Passion Has Red Lips cabernet-shiraz blend and sweet whites, Bulko is a fan of "smokey, earthy reds" like Bordeaux, Malbec and Pinot Noir.
The cousins know their new wine and cigar venture has to meet the high standards of hospitality people expect from the diner where desserts still are baked on the premises daily. Founder/chefs Spiros Stratis and Alexandros Markouris aren't about to let some new-fangled ideas upset the consistency of the food and service that's kept the diner popular for 20 years.
Even though they are "on the frontlines, we still have to get the OK from them," Bulko says. But they already have the OK from Wine Spectator magazine, and guests who can't stop exclaiming about the transformation.
"We had a group of about nine golfers who came in here the other day and were so surprised (to find the stocked humidor) they all bought cigars," Stratis said. "They came outside to smoke them all together and I brought out a table, they were very happy with it."
Contact Felicia Compian:
609-272-7209 or FCompian@pressofac.com
6710 Tilton Road, Egg Harbor Township
Hours: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily