Sometimes it feels like the classic American diner has become something of a lost art, something we have come to take for granted but never really take the time to enjoy.
Sure, you can virtually experience brief snippets on Netflix or HGTV, but when was the last time you actually visited one?
That’s where a place such as Gus’s Diner comes in.
There are two Gus’s Diners, and you can find the second one (the original is in Sun Prairie) tucked unobtrusively in the line of national fast-food chain restaurants on the main drag coming into Verona. It’s like the short kid in line obscured by the 6-footer (in this case, a Pizza Ranch), and if you’re not actively looking for it, you’re likely to breeze right past.
Look harder and slow down. The comfort food, from pot roast to turkey dinners and burgers, is worth seeking out.
Gus’s Verona location, which was opened four years ago by Gus Selimi’s son Tim, sports a compact and efficient interior. The walls are packed with Midwestern Americana from the Rat Pack poster in the entryway to the requisite section of Packers memorabilia.
A functioning jukebox is nestled next to the silver pie and cake carousel, and the counter is maybe 6 feet from the kitchen. But if you’re not interested in having your meal leavened with bustle, there are plenty of leather booths from which to choose. On weekend nights, you’re likely to find them crowded.
This is the kind of place with a menu special for every day of the week, and a list of senior specials longer than your arm.
The good stuff starts with the comfort food. A slab of chicken-fried chicken ($11.99) came drenched in a thick, delicious, tan-colored gravy that complemented the breading spice the way a comforter complements a top sheet. You could almost feel the stress evaporating after the first bite, and the gravy was so good you would want to use it instead of ketchup on your side order of fries.
The rest of the entrée menu checks every classic box you might expect from a pot roast drenched in gravy and served over noodles ($11.49) to steak and salmon and pasta dishes such as baked lasagna ($12.69). Fridays bring a full-fledged fish fry to the mix, with a fried cod plate ($12.99 for three pieces) that is solid but not superb. The more adventurous comfort-food clubbers can opt for some lake perch or fried walleye (both $16.99).
You would expect the burgers to be solid at a place such as this, and they certainly are. They are half-pound creations with enough flair to stand out from the crowd.
The Wisconsin Cheese Curd Burger ($11.99) heads the pack, combining the state’s favorite appetizer with juicy Angus beef. The brioche bun that contains Gus’s burgers is sizable enough to make you consider how best to unhinge your jaw.
The marble rye slices on Gus’s Reuben sandwich ($10,99) were only slightly less sizable. The corned beef was tender and tasty, but the standard-issue Thousand Island dressing was blah and unnecessary.
Even some of the modest items on the menu are eye-opening.
Side dishes, naturally, favor potato lovers—five of the 10 options include some form of spuds. And while several of them—including and especially the crispy hash browns—are delicious, don’t overlook the simple bowl of soup. A traditional chicken noodle—yes, that most basic of soups—got an unexpected star turn with thick noodles, smooth broth and generous spices. This is a side you would consider deploying as an entrée (well, if the other comfort foods here weren’t so good).
Likewise, an order of onion rings was crispy and solid, without so much as a hint of sogginess.
If you’re not suckered in by a piece of pie, you will want to make sure you add one of Gus’s shakes ($5.69) to your order. Blueberry won out over root beer in the flavor-choice derby, and it was a rewarding victory—lots of real fruit, both solid and pureed, made for a sweetly delicious end to a very satisfying meal.