All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
There’s a feeling that tugs at your heartstrings not long after finding a booth.
You’re sitting with a porcelain mug of coffee, and you hear the newspaper crinkling open from a nearby customer. The faded yellow of the menu lights up the counter, and the fragrant sizzle-pop of bacon on the griddle sounds like the end of a vinyl LP. That’s when you hear the words that fill you with nostalgia:
“Help yourself to a salad at the bar.”
Oh, the salad bar! There's only a handful of change left in the Dallas salad-bar wallet; maybe a steakhouse, a Char Bar or a Jason’s Deli or two have salad bars at this point. Only a select few showcase these freestanding joy stations. It’s the age-old painter’s palette, where iceberg lettuce is your canvas, and ranch dressing and those crumbly, oily bacon bits and shredded yellow are your supplies.
At the booth, mug hot to the touch with coffee, I’m sitting with a gyro omelet. Gyro and omelet are two words that I never knew married so well, and then it hits me: They simply do not make restaurants like John’s Cafe anymore. Jangle open the doors of the old diner, stuck almost cruelly into a strip mall center where Greenville pulls out of Ross, and you’ll feel that jab in the gut, too.
John’s Cafe is something that can’t be replicated. No one should or could try. It’s the kind of place where griddled, fresh food isn’t a coddled, overtly precious experience. John’s Cafe is about John — it’s about loud, bright conversations, throwing baklava into your face and laughing. It’s about bacon and brothers. Omelets and burgers aren’t poetic homages to the everyday food we grew up on; they are the food we grew up on. When I ask brothers Deno and John Spyropoulos and their cook about the dishes, they react in a way that could have been subtitled: “What the hell do you want to know? It’s just good, fresh food.”
There are Greek salads and briskets roasted early in the day, coated with dried oregano and parsley, blanketed in a rich, peppery, onion-loaded brown gravy with store toast. There’s no chef-driven, Edison-bulb renovation on Earth that can pay homage to the feel of a hot-sauce hammered cheese omelette. It is masterful diner food. The touch of mystery gyro meat grease and blistery, grilled tomatoes and onions could stop a hangover train. I devoured most of it, folding the fluffy egg sparkling with tomatoes and diced peppers with toast.
John’s Cafe is a spiritual place where the faded yellow menu has pork chops, onion rings and a gravy-smothered, open-faced roast beef sandwich. Chocolate milk is still on the menu for a couple of bucks.
John Spyropoulos emerges from the kitchen to the front counter, apron clung tightly to his body. He’s got a thick mustache, seasoned gray, and a bright smile.
“I’m not a young man anymore,” he says, loud and jubilant, smacking a stool where I can sit. “I had good years, and I had bad years.”
In April 1972, Spyropoulos and his family found a home for fast, fresh food at 2724 Greenville Ave. He spent more than 30 years there before business began to roller coaster up and down — that location morphed into a bank — and jumped to a spot just outside of Garland at Plano Road and Miller. A few of his breakfast regulars were the owners of a little spot on 1733 Greenville Ave., where John's Cafe now resides, 45 years after its humble beginnings.
On June 10, 2007, Spyropoulos hosted a John’s Cafe grand reopening.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
“People showed up. They were waiting in line from 7 a.m. to 4 in the afternoon,” Spyropoulos says. He’s zipping around the counter, filling orders, dropping baklava into foam containers and greeting guests.
“I have the happy life,” he says. Later, he wraps his arm around Mario Flanco, his cook for more than 27 years, and jokingly pats at Flanco's belly and says, “Look what happened!”
It’s a friendly little jab at what cooking homey, comforting and cheesy food can do over the years. “This is my adopted son,” Spyropoulos says, and everyone smiles.
John's Cafe, 1733 Greenville Ave.