Splurge is the word: Wilmington diner selling crazy amount of potatoes, doughnuts

Patricia Talorico
Delaware News Journal

Slap. Scrape. Sizzle

The soundtrack of a busy, bustling kitchen at Goober's Diner in Wilmington is music to the ears of co-owner Tom Hannum. 

Staffers serve breakfast at Goober's Diner on May 17.

Every time Chef Mark Brown takes a spatula and flips a crackly pile of hash browns frying in clarified butter on the searing hot griddle, Hannum knows the Delaware restaurant industry is one more plate closer to normalcy.

On May 21, the state is removing its mask mandate and also will lift capacity restrictions at restaurants, stores, places of worship and other businesses.

While it might be a slow rewind back to March 16, 2020, the day before COVID-19 caused a shutdown of indoor dining throughout the state and the nation, some things, like guilt-free eating from the past year, might remain in place.

Since COVID-19 restrictions have eased, Goober's Diner has seen an uptick in customers.

The pandemic pastime of scarfing down comfort foods and calorie-laden carbs is apparently still having its heyday, at least at Goober's Diner.

Hannum says he has been surprised at the amount of fried potatoes, homemade apple cinnamon cake doughnuts and creamy, thick milkshakes that customers have been consuming since the Wilmington diner at 1203 N. Lincoln St. opened in December.

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Vanilla, chocolate or strawberry milkshakes, $5.95 each, have been selling so swiftly, Hannum has had to add several machines to keep up with the demand. And that's not all that's popular at the diner that opens daily at 7 a.m.

Fresh apple cinnamon donuts go through all the steps before packaging Monday, May 17, 2021, at Goober's Diner in Wilmington

"People are certainly buying our 'big breakfasts,'" he said of the $12.95 order that can include hotcakes, two eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage and toast. 

"They want to eat a lot." 

Splurge is the word as the world slowly begins to reopen as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease.

Hannum says he has been seeing a pickup in business within the past month at the two-story, 1950s-style stainless diner off Pennsylvania Avenue as many customers talk about receiving a second vaccine and finally feel safe enough to venture out.

Another round of hash browns cooks on the griddle at Goober's Diner May 17.

One way to celebrate "freedom" seems to be by ordering a heapin' helpin' of crispy-on-the-outside, soft-and-fluffy-on-the-inside hash browns.

Hannum says he has been going through 50 pounds of potatoes a day at the diner to produce enough spuds for plates.

Goober's Diner's hash browns might look a little familiar to longtime Wilmington residents. They're made, along with other breakfast items, by Chef Brown.

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Brown was a longtime chef de partie at the Hotel du Pont and worked for years alongside Hannum when he was its executive chef. The men are such good friends, Brown also was a groomsman at Hannum's wedding in 1997.

When Brown was retiring from the Hotel du Pont, Hannum enticed him over to the kitchen of Goober's.

Brown follows a tried-and-true method with the potatoes that are never frozen. The day before the hash browns are served, he steams batches of whole potatoes for 23 minutes. The spuds are then cooled overnight.

Start the day with a big breakfast at Goober's Diner in Wilmington, Del.

The next day, the skins are peeled away and the potatoes are shredded. They are cooked in clarified butter on a griddle heated to 400 degrees. 

"You have to be able to hear the crackle," Hannum says. "If you can't hear it, then there's not enough butter. They also have to get the right color on them. It's almost a one-person job just to make the hash browns."

Breakfast is serious business at Goober's Diner.

Goober's also has been gaining fans with its homemade apple cinnamon doughnuts. Hannum bought a Donut Robot Mark II machine to produce the fried cake pastries in-house.

Rings of dough are plopped through the motorized machine into a pool of liquefied shortening heated to 375 degrees. The rings cook on one side until they turn a tawny brown. Then, the rings are flipped over by the machine for the other side to darken.

The whole process takes about 180 seconds. The doughnuts, while still hot, are coated on both sides with generous amounts of cinnamon and sugar. 

Apple cinnamon donuts are placed in oil to cook at Goober's Diner Monday, May 17, 2021.

Customers get a free taste of doughnut holes when they first sit down at a table. But they can go on to order a Goober's pile. Two doughnuts are $1.95; a dozen is $9.95.

The doughnuts are served at room temperature, but Hannum says they can be heated for anyone who prefers hot doughnuts.

The nostalgia offered at the 80-seat Goober's might be part of the reason for the food frenzy, Hannum said.

The comforting, classic diner decor, with its counter seating and red-and-white booths, is a retro throwback to another era, well before mask-wearing in public and fear of a global pandemic became the norm.

Goober's Diner cultivates a retro atmosphere.

A background of ’60s music adds to the back-in-the-day atmosphere. Outdoor seating, under an awning, is coming soon. And when the waits for tables become long, the diner likely will open its next-door car museum. The garage is filled with diner co-owner Vance Kershner's collection of mint-condition muscle cars and antique automobiles.

Hannum says he thinks customers are more than ready to be dining out again, be it at Goober's Diner or at its sister restaurant Buckley's Tavern in Centreville.

"We're as full as we can be, and we're turning tables as quickly as we can," he said. "People are not lingering as much as they used to, but the sales are doing well.

"I didn't expect to see so many locals coming to Goober's all the time. We have some people who are coming in every day for breakfast."

Contact Patricia Talorico at (302) 324-2861 or ptalorico@delawareonline.com and on Twitter @pattytalorico