The Sweet Peach Diner in Belmont is owner Ellen Carter’s valentine to her home state of North Carolina.
The room has a beach kitchen feel, borrowed from childhood days spent on the Carolina coastline. From the L-shaped front dining area to the cozy back room, the walls are sky blue with white wainscoting and paintings of boats, buoys, and dunes.
“It’s Southern and it reminds me of home but I didn’t want to take away from the fact that we’re in Massachusetts,” says Carter, 27, a Wilmington, N.C., native who moved to the Bay State about three years ago. “All of the paintings are actually of Cape Cod or by someone from Cape Cod. So I did try to tie things back in a semi-local way.”
The menu still has a strong Southern accent. Most dishes are pulled from her mother’s and grandmother’s cooking.
THE SWEET PEACH DINER
“I told [my mother], ‘You should open a restaurant with all your recipes,’ but she never wanted to. She was only interested in cooking for her family,” Carter says. “So when I decided to open a restaurant, I sort of knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to take what my mother had fed us as kids and see what the rest of the world thought of it.”
After acquiring the site of the former Andros Diner, the first-time restaurateur opened her doors last July. The Sweet Peach has an enormous menu, great for diversity but overwhelming as to where to begin. Our first foray is Ellen’s banana bread French toast ($7.99), a recipe with three generous slices of banana bread taken from a chef friend of her family, and the veggie garden omelet ($6.99), packed with broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and spinach, in stringy Swiss cheese. Both are good, though the spongy French toast with powdered sugar and maple syrup doesn’t balance the strong banana flavor. It’s not as delicious as it should be. A later visit confirms that the traditional French toast ($4.99) is better, simple and straightforward and immediately cleaned off the plate.
The same holds true for Southern pulled pork Benedict ($9.99), one of Carter’s favorite menu items, with slow-roasted pork and poached eggs on a buttermilk biscuit with hollandaise and two kinds of barbecue sauce, and the classic Benedict ($8.99), Canadian bacon and poached eggs on an English muffin with hollandaise. The experiment is notable, featuring both a North Carolina vinegar-based pork marinade and a peach puree barbecue sauce atop, but the original wins. However, fried green tomato Benedict ($8.29), with fried green tomatoes on an English muffin with sauteed spinach, poached eggs, and hollandaise, is a pleasant surprise. The tomato appears pale, almost like an onion ring, but the overall flavor is punchy.
One Southern-inspired breakfast item rises to the top: chicken and waffle ($8.29), three chicken wings served on a single Belgian waffle with syrup. Like the fried green tomato, the chicken is a faint color, but has plenty of taste. The thick waffle is perfect, at once fluffy and firm. Make it a “Hungry Man special” for $2.99 more and add two eggs any style and either hash browns, home fries, or cheese grits. The hash browns topped our list.
After breakfast, lunch was similarly inconsistent without the same standouts. Southern chicken burrito ($8.79), with fried chicken, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and honey mustard, and fried chicken sandwich ($6.99), lettuce, tomatoes, and onion on a roll, both use very crispy chicken that was decent but better elsewhere. The burrito is more of a wrap and its various flavors cancel each other out. The fried chicken on the sandwich isn’t skimpy – it actually looks like huge tempura pieces – but fails to make a lasting impression.
Southwest veggie burger ($7.99), a very soft sweet potato and black bean patty with lettuce, tomato, and onion, is one of the better sandwich options, though the best lunch dish we sample is an appetizer: BBQ chicken quesadilla ($6.99), shredded chicken and cheddar cheese in a flour tortilla, drizzled with Sweet Peach barbecue sauce, and a side of sour cream. The slightly spicy barbecue sauce with hints of peach, also found atop the Southern pulled pork Benedict, works perfectly.
This month, the Sweet Peach plans to open a walk-up, cash-only takeout window with a limited menu based primarily around hot dogs, perfect for families picnicking in next door’s Beaver Brook Reservation. With recipes from her family, Carter should be pleasing many more.