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The Shining: Veteran server Jeffrey Le Barron hoists a platter in front of Denny's shiny new interior.


Denny's Does a Diner

The chrome fixtures at the refurbished Denny's on Ocean Street reflect a whole new attitude about 24-hour cuisine

By Janet Blaser

I REALLY DON'T KNOW what came over me that day at the salon a few weeks ago. Out of the blue, all of a sudden, a routine haircut turned into a four-hour hair-coloring ordeal--and it was my idea. My dark curly locks now shine with varied tones of gold, hinting at my real life as a blonde California girl.

What does all this have to do with food, you may ask? Well, getting one's hair highlighted is, I think, similar to what's happened to the Denny's on Ocean Street: a simple facade improvement that's changed the whole image for the better. What used to be monotonous, familiar and ordinary is now sparkling and different, tinged with a playful attitude that makes the 2am pit stop for a Grand Slam a lot more palatable.

Turns out the Santa Cruz Denny's, #231, is one of the first batch of corporate-owned restaurants to go under the surgeon's knife. (Some are franchised and not part of the new retrofitting.) The kitchen still remains to be done--and will be in the coming months. Even the plates are new.

A week-long grand opening celebrated the changes, which include a new name--Denny's Diner--splashed gaily about in a sort of '50s-style airbrush look on snazzy new uniforms and the big sign on the roof. There's a gorgeous jukebox just inside the newly done main dining room--as well as a wonderful revolving glass pie-stand that tantalizes and tempts as it spins its shelves of Dutch apple, key lime, chocolate peanut butter and cherry pies. If you don't want dessert, avoid sitting near it, that's all I have to say.

What really sets the mood, though, is all the chrome--shiny, silver, reflective chrome pillow-tacked over the back wall, flashing the roof line and windows. But best of all is the front door--an absolutely splendid solid chrome door with a half-moon glass cutout and a squiggle of a handle that seems ready to slither away into the freshly landscaped gardens. It's an art piece--and at Denny's, no less. A good part of the demolition work was done by happy employees wielding sledgehammers who got to knock out old booths, tear up carpet and generally open up the dining room. That memory still brings a big smile to their faces, as you can imagine.

The menu's been expanded, too, with the look and feel of an old-fashioned diner. Don't worry, you'll still find all your old Denny's favorites, as well as a good selection of "American comfort foods" like meat loaf and mashed potatoes, pork chops and chicken pot pie. There are also some very definite California additions: "healthy" stir-fry entrees and a whole-meal grilled chicken salad.

So, is this new Denny's Diner trying to compete with the Saturn Cafe? Naw, not possible, although the rattle of my server's tongue ring did make me wonder for a minute exactly where I was. You can find Denny's Diner at 1515 Ocean St., Santa Cruz, at the entrance to Highway 17. It's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except this year it will be closed for New Year's Eve (darn) and part of Christmas Day. Need to know more? Call 426-4628.

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From the October 6-13, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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