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Hilton Head Diner satisfies cravings around the clock

Diners are quintessentially American,and in the visual and performingarts often serve as a symbol for thiscountry's optimism.

Just south of the entrance to PalmettoDunes on U.S. 278, the HiltonHead Diner beckons all day and night.This 1950s-style diner is a visual treatwith padded booths, pastel colors andelegant light fixtures.

As an alternative to fast food, it hasway more personality.

Owned by brothers Edward Lehnen,who is the chef, and Nick Tsironis,Hilton Head Diner offers a wide rangeof foods, mostly American. The atmosphereis casual but also a bit dramatic,in part due to the shining stainless steelinside and outside the restaurant andthe early rock n' roll era music.

Hilton Head Diner serves Americanfood including hamburgers, grilled cheesesandwiches, homemade soups, pork chopsand meatloaf. Breakfast is served anytime, andit's not unusual to see a table of four wheretwo people are eating dinner and the othertwo are enjoying breakfast food.

Hilton Head Diner has an on-site bakery;Lehnen is a talented pastry chef who trainedin Miami and does consulting work for restaurantsthere and in New York. Try the Challahbread French toast ($5.79)-this rich Jewishbread made with eggs is the base for full-bodiedFrench toast.

A glass case near the cash register showsoff about 20 dessert choices including varietiesof cheesecake, German chocolate cake,strudels, huge muffins and cookies.

On nights when the Arts Center of CoastalCarolina has shows, theater-goers congregateat the diner to enjoy a glass of wine orcocktail, or coffee and dessert. The tiramisu,flavored with coffee, liquor and cocoa, is heavenly.

Staff at Hilton Head Diner make their ownwhipped cream, used in many of the desserts."We start at the beginning," said Lehnen.In a unique definition of "early dining,"19 entrees served with two sides and a dessertare available for $10.99 from 3-9 p.m everyday. Choices include fried or broiled tilapia,award winning ribs (Hilton Head Diner won thelocal 2008 Ribfest) and roast chicken, amongothers.