A coworker raved to me about The Nutcracker in Pataskala, a neat retro diner, but Pataskala is usually a little too far outside the outerbelt for me. I happened to pass the restaurant on my way out to pick pumpkins at Lynd's Fruit Farm last weekend, though, and immediately decided to stop in afterward for lunch. I'm glad I did--this place is a hoot.

A coworker raved to me about The Nutcracker in Pataskala, a neat retro diner, but Pataskala is usually a little too far outside the outerbelt for me. I happened to pass the restaurant on my way out to pick pumpkins at Lynd's Fruit Farm last weekend, though, and immediately decided to stop in afterward for lunch. I'm glad I did--this place is a hoot.

The Nutcracker has been around for just 15 years, but looks exactly like a '50s diner, with great red vinyl booths, formica tabletops, counter service and neat vintage neon signs. And then, on top of that, every single available surface (ledges, windowsills, etc.) is filled with what has to be thousands of nutcracker dolls. It's kinda like a mix between your grandma's favorite teenage hangout and her house today. But it works.

They specialize in homestyle comfort food, like liver & onions, turkey & noodles and country fried steak. There's also traditional diner fare, like burgers, patty melts and club sandwiches.

The Nutcracker serves breakfast all day, too, so of course that's what I ordered. I went with the Country Breakfast: 2 eggs (scrambled), potato (I got the cheesy hashbrowns but next time would try the home fries), meat (delicious bacon) and toast. A perfectly decent diner breakfast. (If we're being completely honest, this place is more about the atmosphere than the food.)

My daughter ordered chicken fingers, which came served in this excellent cardboard convertible. (Note: the other 2-year-old we were eating with ordered pancakes, which were not served in a car. So if your kid is looking forward to the car, make sure you specify you want one.)

Here's a very small percentage of the nutcracker collection, including a life-sized guy. And The Nutcracker also sells nuts! Fresh-roasted, still warm peanuts and cashews.

If you're ever in the Pataskala area, The Nutcracker is a definite must-stop. And for fans of vintage diners, this one's well worth the trip.

The Nutcracker

63 E. Broad St., Pataskala

740-964-0056

nutcrackerpataskala.com