Diner is open all day, every day

Posted: January 26, 2011

The Winchester Star

Some of the range of food at Valley Ave. Diner includes chicken quesadilla with homemade salsa in the foreground, the three egg breakfast with home fries and toast in the background, and Delmonico steak with soup or salad and homemade au jus. (Photo by Rick Foster/The Winchester Star)
Elizabeth Scott serves customers Leila and Joe Domagala of Frederick County recently at the Valley Ave. Diner in Winchester.

WINCHESTER- For Victor Lemus, cooking is a way of life.

He's worked his way up from busboy to restaurant owner during 30 years in the United States.

He and his family own the Valley Avenue Diner at 1928 Valley Ave., which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The spot is well-known to locals, having previously been the House of Liu and Szechuan Restaurant for about 20 years before closing in July 2008, and Jolly Jacks before that, from 1962 through the mid-1970s.

Lemus, 47, who had his own restaurant in Marysville, Pa., and jointly owned one with his brother in Carlisle, Pa., decided to open a place in Winchester because his family had friends here and the people seemed nice.

When he saw the space available on Valley Avenue, he sold his other interests and moved south.

The diner, which opened in mid-December, is a family oriented operation.

Lemus said he and his brother-in-law are the primary cooks, and his wife and sister handle the front of the house.

During his years doing kitchen work that ranged from diner cooking to fine dining, Lemus said he learned a variety of cuisines.

The menu features some staples of Italian, Mexican, and Greek cuisine, including baked lasagna, spaghetti, quesadillas, and gyro sandwiches.

Denny Sours of Frederick County tried the lasagna recently and said he enjoyed it.

He knows the diner's location from way back. In 1965, he would drive his 1960 Corvette around Jolly Jacks, which was a drive-in, with a small eat-in space.

He recalled that like other young men at the time, he would also take the plastic swords that pierced the burger tops and plunge them into the car's headliner. "That was the thing to do."

Lemus said he likes the location's history.

A lot of people remember its other incarnations, and one older man came in and said, "'I built this place,'" Lemus said.

Other entrees include everything from Delmonico steak and baked meatloaf to a variety of seafood dishes. There are senior specials, burgers, pastas, salads, and club sandwiches and wraps on the menu, too.

Hot open sandwiches are particularly popular, with the roast beef already a customer favorite, Lemus said.

The meatloaf sandwich is big, too, as are steaks, he said.

Breakfast is served all day, and from that menu, the restaurant serves "a lot of chipped beef and sausage gravy," he said.

The menu is an extensive one, he said. "We make everything from scratch."

Only the baked desserts and chocolate pudding are outside purchases, said Lemus, who came to the United States from Guatemala in 1981.

The beef broth that is the base for the diner's French onion soup is homemade, just like the au jus served with steaks, he said. Even the ranch dressing is made at the diner.

Preparing items from scratch also helps keep his food prices about 20 percent lower than they would be if it used a lot of prepared items, he said.

Each morning, from 6 to 11 a.m., the diner offers a $1.95 breakfast special that features two eggs any way, home fries and toast. After 11 a.m., the meal costs $2.95.

The home fries are fresh, created from potatoes that are boiled in the kitchen, peeled and cooled before they hit the grill.

Lemus said he uses little seasoning on the potatoes, preferring to let customers add the amounts of salt and pepper they prefer.

However, if a customer asks for certain seasonings or additions, the diner will accommodate the request.

If a customer wants to add onion, peppers, or cheese to the potatoes, they'll do it, he said.

While the home fries are usually cooked until they're a little crispy on top, he will make them crispier if a customer asks for it, or leave them totally white, if that is another customer's desire.

While the three-egg omelettes with American cheese usually feature just two slices of cheese, the cooks will add more if people request it, he said.

Many people ask for additions, he noted. The turkey club has been known to grow with great heights due to them, he said.

Also, a lot people ask for the restaurant's salsa as a regular condiment. The salsa, which is made in 3- or 4-gallon batches every two days or so, is always served with the diner's Quesadillas and its Spanish Omelette, Lemus said.

"Everything is good," said Joe Domagala of Frederick County, who was accompanied by his wife, Leila. His meal included the French onion soup.

The pair were House of Liu customers and they enjoy diner food, too, she said.

"We just like to go out to eat," Joe added.

- Contact S.M. Mangino at
smangino@winchesterstar.com