“I love Palm Beach for being the small town it is, and anything I can do to keep that feeling of home, I will do.”
And, do well! Danny Ponton has been affecting the good nature of Palm Beach since 1982 when the charming 22-year-old took control of Club Colette from Aldo Gucci in a daring, smiling, smooth talking act of salesmanship. He spoke of bringing back the nostalgic feel of the intimate nightclub and wed it to Gucci’s Northern Italian Cuisine. Gucci, no fool he, jumped at the opportunity, and Club Colette became the new hot darling of Palm Beach’s nightlife. Danny had been wintering in Palm Beach since he was a child, and from the beginning he intuitively understood not just the culinary needs of Palm Beachers, but what made them happy: Gracious hospitality and the feeling that as guests they are meant to be comfortable – that they are appreciated and wanted.
“There are two thing Palm Beachers love: 1) Dressing up and slow dancing on an intimate dance floor at Club Colette; and 2) going to the beach, watching their kids surf, and ordering a grilled cheese sandwich with a cup of tomato soup on the side.”
Now Ponton’s world of nostalgia sans kitsch has finally gotten to the grilled cheese sandwich with the side of tomato soup. This season he opened SurfSide Diner - which he lovingly refers to as the “joint.”
Located where the old Hamburger Heaven held sway, Danny kept everything good about the old place – the counter, the benches outside (his ‘office’) the egg chef and some of the wait staff. The changes were simple: it is brighter, happier, with a décor that has settled comfortably between industrial chic and homey. Beyond the new décor and Lilly Pulitzer’s grandson, Chris Leidy’s large-scale underwater photographs, he has added a few new, much appreciated elements into the mix such as a cappuccino machine (Cheers!) and a frozen yogurt/ice cream shake machine.
And, of course, the newest most wondrous element is Danny himself.
A host to his fingertips, Danny spends breakfast (“takin’ meetings” he jokes) and lunch at the diner, where he simply cannot help himself; he seats people… at a diner! Though it is open seating with no reservations, his specialty is finding the right place to seat single guests at the counter. The result strangers become friends, and the sounds of laughter are constant.
The menu is modern American Comfort Food, but forget the Kobe Beef Burgers with Fois Gras. The menu may be modern, but the tastes are solidly familiar. Besides the usual cereals, breakfast burritos and finely made eggs-any-style offerings, there is a selection of Benedicts: The Classic, The Palm Beacher (smoked salmon and Béarnaise sauce), and The Malibu (poached eggs, avocado, sliced turkey breast topped with Hollandaise Sauce). Also available – steak and eggs.
Along with the grilled cheese and tomato soup, lunch offers BLTs, PB&Js, sliders, Tuna Melts, chili, sandwiches made with a delicious variety of breads, salads (including a yummy one of avocado, black bean, garbanzos, bacon and tomato)
Later in the season Surf Side expects to be open for dinner as well, featuring his lunch menu along with a variety of casseroles that can be eaten at the diner or taken home. While designed for the grab a meal crowd, the joy of being at Surf Side has turned this “joint” into a lingering, friendly destination happening.
“Where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came…”
SURFSIDE DINER: 314 South County Rd., Palm Beach, FL 33480 - (561) 659-7495
Nancy Ellison, award winning photojournalist and celebrity portraitist, has authored fourteen books of photographs, including "Romeo and Juliet: The Love Story in Dance" and "Starlet". Her latest book is "Wagner's Eternal Ring."