Delta Diner: So good you’ll want to tip

March 8, 2016


Annie Walchuk
Zenith News

Delta Diner, at 14385 County Highway H, lies just outside Iron River in Delta, Wisconsin. The building is a renovated 1940 Silk City Diner resembling an old boxcar that was abandoned in a field in New York City. Restored in 2003, it is the epitome of a classic East Coast roadside diner and a destination for outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of great cuisine.

On this particular Saturday, we were served by owner Todd Booker, who stepped into the role of waiter for the day because his staff had gone to a funeral. This speaks volumes about the sense of camaraderie at the restaurant.

Booker made headlines in 2015 when he implemented a “no tip” policy. This was controversial because tipped employees in Wisconsin are only paid $2.33 an hour ($2.13 if they’re younger than 20). If tips—which are usually shared—don’t meet the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, the employer is expected to make up the difference.

Everyone started looking for a catch. Was there now a mandatory gratuity? No. Was Booker stiffing the kitchen staff in order to pay his wait staff more? No. All adult employees make $15 an hour and students make $10 an hour.

Is the service suffering because staff no longer chase the carrot of a big tip? Definitely not. Once seated, we were immediately offered coffee and pie crust strips—leftover pie crust that is buttered, topped with cinnamon sugar, and baked to a golden brown—a delicacy in addition to Saturday morning coffee.

There are no menus at Delta. The server actually takes the time to explain every item available, which allows for conversation and connection between server and guest.

As a starter, we ordered the Jalapeño Pancake, a Norwegian dish that is thin and sweet, mixed with diced jalapeños, topped with powdered sugar, and served with a lemon wedge. It sounds nuts, but that squeeze of citrus on top makes for an exquisite taste. I would recommend it even to those who don’t usually enjoy jalapeños.

For the main course, I opted for the Blue-Plate Special of the Day, stuffed hash browns—crispy and filled with juicy pulled pork and cheese, then topped with an egg. Delta keeps its egg-cooking station slightly cool, so the eggs have a perfect taste and texture without burned spots.

The Mexi-Benedict is two eggs over-easy, served on jalapeño corn bread with a spicy sauce. Most corn breads come out dry and gritty, but Delta’s is moist and delicate, with the perfect amount of spice. Combined with the eggs and sauce, it’s like breakfast and dessert all in one.

Delta Diner has taken the classic BLT and added a twist. The PBLT includes lightly battered Lake Superior perch. There is nothing unexpected in this dish, but it is simplicity at its finest.  Delta’s exquisite fresh breads (and bacon) come from the Ashland Baking Company.

For those with a sweet tooth, the Stuffed French Toast is a grilled baguette stuffed with mascarpone cheese and fresh blueberries. Another favorite is the Red-Eye Biscuits and Gravy, an espresso cream with bits of bacon, sausage, and prime rib, served atop buttermilk biscuits.

Mondays at Delta are “Burgers Only.” These are not your ordinary burgers—half steak and half chuck roast, hand-cut, seasoned, and then put through the grinder, which avoids working the meat again, so it remains fluffy.

Delta Diner exceeded every expectation I had. From the friendly service to the extraordinary food, not one ingredient was overlooked. If you live in the Iron River area, you probably already know what I’m talking about. If you live anywhere else in the region, get in the car and head to Delta. Once you’ve been, you will want to go back.

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