Chef Ernie Cornelius likes food tattoos.

He has a hamburger on one hand. The word "homemade" is inked across his fingers. A cupcake tat is near a piece of pizza on one arm.

"Yeah, maybe I'll get a stack of pancakes," he says dryly.

The pancakes are a reference to Cornelius' new spot, the Sunrise Diner in Akron's Firestone Park.

After cooking for others for years, Cornelius, 32, and friend Steve Lentini, 30, opened up the place at 1510 S. Main St. a few weeks ago. They're continuing a tradition; the white-brick building that sits between a used car lot and West Mapledale Avenue has been home to one diner or another for decades.

Don't let the nondescript exterior fool you. Cornelius, whose prior gigs include cooking at European-style cafe and bakery Blue Door in Cuyahoga Falls, and Lentini are bringing their own foodie standards and creativeness to the breakfast-and-lunch game.

"We're serving honest, Americana food," Cornelius says in the diner's eating area where he has displayed cookbooks by famous chefs (Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller) on the plate rails running along two walls.

Only a few items on the menu cost more than $10. Still, Sunrise serves hand-cut bacon and Cornelius' homemade sausage patties. All "Egg Combos" come with choice of bread and Cornelius' homemade jam. Last week, it was a tasty, not-too-sweet mix of berries.

The hash browns are homemade, and so are the hamburger buns, for which Cornelius uses a recipe for challah, the slightly sweet traditional Jewish egg bread.

The Sunrise Diner Burger (a thin griddle-pressed burger with choice of toppings) runs $6 for a single and $8 for a double. Bacon or cheese cost $1 extra. Sandwiches are served with potato chips, or upgrade to house-made fries for $3.

The butter croissant French toast with powdered sugar and maple syrup is $5. Buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup runs $3 for two and $4 for three. Add a topping of caramel and banana, or fresh berries and whipped cream or fresh apples and cinnamon for $2.

The place seats just 50 people, including eight at the counter.

That's a manageable size for Cornelius, who is back of the house, doing much of the cooking (his brother Christopher, 29, is helping out part time). Lentini is front of the house manager, getting orders out, greeting customers, helping to clean tables and doing behind-the-scenes stuff like setting up the computer system.

In addition to Blue Door, Cornelius has cooked at DBA: Dante Boccuzzi Akron — the fine-dining spot in downtown's Northside district — and at chef Dick Kanatzar's operations, including Chop & Swizzle in Green. Most recently, Cornelius was executive chef at Rm. 727 Gastropub in Akron's Ellet neighborhood, which opened last year in the spot that was previously home to Duffy's Restaurant & Grill. He got into the local restaurant scene early, washing dishes at age 14.

Cornelius and Lentini know each other from their days at Cuyahoga Falls High School. But they didn't start hanging out and talking about "how cool would it be if we could run something ourselves" until they met up again after graduation, Lentini said. Cornelius was working at DBA and Lentini was managing another eatery owned by a DBA partner.

Both say they're foodies and have long had an affinity for diners. For years, Cornelius has been eating at Flury's Cafe in Cuyahoga Falls, known for its made-from-scratch food. Lentini recalls exploring local breakfast and lunch spots with his foodie stepfather, Marty Adlesic.

Lentini lives in Stow, where he is a single parent raising his 3-year-old daughter. The diner's hours of 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday mesh well with parenting, he said. 

Cornelius moved to Firestone Park earlier this year. "I can bicycle to work," the avid cyclist said.

The interior is much the same — purple-brownish walls, faux-wood tables, black vinyl chairs. But as Rachael Schweyer, 34, a friend of Lentini's, said at Sunrise last week, "they've made the place their own."

Along with the cookbooks on the plate rail, diners can spot a small collection of vintage and new albums. They're shelved in a metal case behind the counter that Cornelius and Lentini think may have been used to display pastries or pies. Last Friday morning, Cornelius played The Doors before putting on a more recent album from indie-rock band Turnover.

"I like this place," said Schweyer, who gave high marks to her eggs, hash browns and toast with homemade jam. "I like how it's homey," she said, pointing out the coffee cups, all of which were thrift-store finds.

Carla Wooley and her husband, Brian, of Akron's Highland Square neighborhood, were off from work last Friday and remembered hearing about Sunrise's opening from a friend. "We're fans of diners and locally owned establishments," Carla said. "I like the in-house eclectic mix of food. We're excited to see this here."

She had a Sunrise Burger and said "it was amazing ... it was so good, yet it was simple," praising both the meat and the bun.

The name of the Blue Collar Benedict ($12) nods to the neighborhood and some of the nearby businesses. It features sourdough bread topped with sausage, scrambled eggs, smoked cheddar and hollandaise sauce. The Blue Collar Omelette boasts both sausage and bacon.

I had the California Fresco Benedict — poached egg, sauteed spinach, avocado and hollandaise, which was delightfully fresh-tasting, creamy and not too rich. Cornelius subbed extra spinach for avocado because he didn't have one ripe enough. I didn't miss it. 

The two are renting the South Main building that dates to 1946. The K&E's diner sign still stands in front. Near the Ido Bar & Grill, it most recently was home to Mick & Shirley's.

The phone at Sunrise is 234-208-9072. Go to the Sunrise Diner Facebook page to see the complete menu and pictures of specials.

Menches Bros.

Menches Bros. in Green is celebrating its 25th anniversary like it's 1994.

A burger and fries will cost $5 this Saturday and Sunday. That was the price the year the restaurant opened at 3800 Massillon Road in the Shops of Green.

Saturday’s festivities will begin with Green Mayor Gerard Neugebauer issuing a proclamation at noon, followed by remarks from owners John Menches and Linda Menches Aleman and raffle drawings. A children’s balloon artist will be on hand from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.

Menches Bros. is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. The phone is 330-896-2288.

The owners are descendants of Akron brothers Frank and Charles Menches, who some say invented the hamburger as food vendors at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, New York, in 1885.

This has been a big year for Menches. Earlier this year, Christopher Carosa of New York state was at the eatery to sign his book "Hamburger Dreams: How Classic Crime Solving Techniques Helped Crack the Case of America's Greatest Culinary Mystery.”

The author traveled all over the country, digging up origin stories about America's iconic sandwich, and says most evidence points to the Menches brothers as the burger birthers.

Rockne’s special hours

Rockne’s Pub at 7 Merriman Road in Akron hasn’t been open on a Sunday since 1988.

But St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Sunday this year so Rockne’s will open at 11 a.m. to usher in the holiday. The eatery will serve its corned beef and cabbage on the 17th and during the week leading up to it. On March 14, the Callahan & O’Connor Irish Band will play beginning at 8 p.m.

The pub is now pouring local drafts from Akronym Brewing and HiHo Brewing. Rockne’s phone is 330-762-7555.

Irish D'Agnese's

Also on tap for the season: D'Agnese's, the Italian restaurant at 566 White Pond Drive in West Akron, will host a multicourse Jameson Dinner at 6 p.m. March 13.

Irish foods will be paired with different kinds of the whiskey. Dishes will include pan-seared diver scallops with black pudding and minted pea puree, Mrs. Gallagher’s carrot and parsnip soup with Jameson-lacquered pork belly and watercress, and pan-seared ribeye with short rib. Executive Chef Joe Gallagher was born in County Mayo, Ireland.

Cost is $70. Reservations are recommended. Call 234-678-3612.

Wine tastings

• Four wines from Frog’s Leap Winery in Napa County, California, will be featured at a five-course wine dinner at 6:30 p.m. March 22 at Fleming's, 4000 Medina Road in the Montrose portion of Bath. Courses include black lava sea salt and peppered salmon, roasted pork tenderloin and New York strip steak. Cost is $99. Call 330-670-5200 to reserve.

• One Eleven Bistro, 2736 Medina Road in Montville Township, will host a Bordeaux wine dinner at 6:30 p.m. March 28. Cost is $75 ($50 without wine). Call 330-952-1122 for reservations.

Restaurant Week

The spring Cleveland Restaurant Week runs March 18-30. (Yeah, it's more than a week.)

Nearly all of the participating restaurants will offer $33 prix fixe menus. They are part of the Cleveland Independents group, which includes restaurants around the region.

Check out menus and make reservations at www.clevelandrestaurantweek.com. 

Order hamantashen

Orders are being taken for hamantashen made by the Women's Chavurah group at Anshe Sfard (Revere Road Synagogue) in Bath Township. Prepaid orders are due Sunday. An order form is available at www.akronshul.com.

Each year, the Women's Chavurah has helped to celebrate Purim, which this year begins the evening of March 20, by making and selling thousands of the filled pastries.

 

Send local food news to Katie Byard at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or on Facebook.