A diner with a soup-rise: Prairie Joe’s sells home-cooked dishes, art


Maia Spoto/The Daily Northwestern

Customers eat Sunday brunch at Prairie Joe’s. The retro neighborhood diner is also a gallery for owner Aydin Dincer’s paintings.

Maia Spoto, Reporter

The diner on the corner of Prairie Avenue and Central Street is like an artist’s home. Wood-paneled walls burst with bold landscapes and stylized portraits, which hang between plastic sharks, bike tires and model helicopters. Beneath a painting of the owner cooking, eggs fry and sizzle. It’s Sunday morning brunch, and both rooms burst with brunch-goers of all ages, clustered in retro booths and lining the counter bar.

Prairie Joe’s, a 28-year-old family business with six employees, is known for its soups. However, owner Aydin Dincer said the diner’s founding mission was “to just cook.”

“What makes us different is that there’s an owner here all the time, and he cooks a lot of different foods,” Dincer said, referring to himself.

As diverse as the medley of paintings on the walls, Dincer’s menu features a broad range of dishes: diner classics, brunch, vegetarian, Mexican and Mediterranean. And Dincer designs the physical menus himself. A graphic on his lunch menu features a vintage family portrait, where a child wears fried eggs and wonders whether humans can escape reality.

He works seven days a week, but when he goes home, Dincer paints all of the art for the walls of Prairie Joe’s, drawing inspiration from his travels.

Dincer sells his art from his diner, and regular customer David Komie has a piece hanging in his house. Komie has been eating at Prairie Joe’s for about 20 years and said the diner’s food and unique, “neighborhood-y” character keep him coming back.

“I grew up going to a countertop diner, and they’re such a rare breed,” Komie said. “When I saw (Prairie Joe’s) it kind of sealed the deal for me to live in the neighborhood. It didn’t bring me to the neighborhood, but it confirmed it.”

Since Prairie Joe’s sits on a residential street, Dincer said he doesn’t see a lot of Northwestern traffic. Graduate students and teachers come through occasionally, but his restaurant is otherwise an undiscovered gem to the Wildcat community.

Even though Komie has been eating at Prairie Joe’s for decades, he said some things never change because Dincer has hooked a loyal customer base.

“The old dudes: They usually post up right there,” Komie said, pointing to a row of men perched on bar stools. “They’ve got certain orders, and they sit there every single time for years.”

The decor and the tone are full of nostalgia, said Joseph Dincer-Ubl, an employee and the restaurant’s namesake. For older generations, Prairie Joe’s is a wistful throwback; for younger generations, it’s a time capsule — a window into the past.

Dincer-Ubl, who grew up in his family’s restaurant, said he has spent the last five years working at other locations to bring back fresh ideas that are popular in the industry so he can grow the business. Despite the new additions, however, Dincer-Ubl said he will maintain the diner’s essential character.

“When I bring them here, my friends are just like, ‘Wow,’” Komie said. “Everything else is so chain nowadays. There’s no soul to (those places). This place has got wit and soul, and it’s cool.”

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