Nik Gjonaj has this thick northeastern accent that tells you, right away, he’s not a Dallas native. He lives in Detroit, where he owns an upscale chop house and a flurry of other restaurants. When his cousin and business partner, Kola, lured him to Uptown, he fell so in love with Dallas, he says he might move. Permanently.
But for now, the restaurateur is happily traveling back and forth for his new project, Pop Diner, which sits right next to Max’s Wine Dive on 3600 McKinney Ave. Inside, it’s exactly what it sounds like: bright colors, 1980’s and early 1990’s pop art, and booths to make it feel like a diner affair. Much of what you see on the walls is made by Lesli Marshall, a mixed media artist in Dallas. The art is fun and playful, but most importantly, it acts as a rotating gallery for the diner. Everything’s for sale.
The menu is a hodgepodge of all sorts of diner food. “It’s going to be a lot of influence from Detroit and celebrate diners in America,” says Nik. “It’s a family fare.”
Breakfast is served all day, and it is, of course, the main focus of the menu. Nik and Kola are also pretty proud of the coney section. All hot dogs are sourced from Detroit, as well as the chili, corn beef, and ham. “Detroit chili,” says Nik,” is “beanless chili with seasoned beef. It’s got a little zest to it.”
The naanis on the menu are basically pita sandwiches using grilled naan as the wrapper. I ask Nik if he made up the word, “naani.” He says yes. “I’m trying to be special,” he admits. “The bread has a buttery flavor, less elasticity. If someone takes it to go, it’s going to hold up better than a pita.”
The cousins/owners are planning to host cult classic movie nights and serve fun beverages (pop rock martinis, adult shakes, rumchata) once business gets rolling.
Did I mention that Pop Diner is open 24 hours? It’s open 24 hours.