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Comfort on the Menu 

by Susan Hamilton & r & There's nothing like a home-cooked meal to warm you up on a rainy fall evening. And Wall Street Diner delivers just that.

On a recent Friday evening, the diner's counter was full with customers carrying on a lively banter. The cozy dining room was packed with young families, couples and seniors, some greeting each other. Waiting for a table gave us all the more time to take in the vintage '40s interior created by well-known designer Pat Jeppeson. Cherry-wood walls topped with kitschy plates, photos and memorabilia caught our eyes. Ruddy-hued, upholstered booths and colorful table lamps add to the nostalgia.

It wasn't but five minutes and our table was ready. Though no one appears rushed at the diner, the tables turn over relatively quickly. Our place in the middle of the dining room afforded a great view of the busy diner, but if you want more elbow room, request a booth.

Though breakfast is served all day (and evening) at Wall Street, (and I've heard rave reviews), my family and I gravitated toward the lunch and dinner menu. The blue plate special caught my eye. Beer-battered halibut ($9) offers fish and chips at its best. The Cobb Salad ($8.50) looked interesting too, with its mixed greens, blue cheese, bacon, turkey, mushrooms, avocado, tomato and egg. In the end, the halibut won out. I urged my husband to try the hot turkey sandwich ($8.25), having heard that it's reminiscent of a day-after-Thanksgiving meal. He almost opted for the homemade meatloaf ($8.25), but the turkey's pull was stronger. My daughter wished we had come on Wednesday, when the blue plate special was spaghetti and meatballs ($7.25), but decided on Wall Street's new chipolte chicken sandwich ($8).

Our soup and salad came soon after our server took our order. The day's soup was clam chowder, made from a wonderful fish stock base, with plenty of clams and chunks of potato. It was very satisfying without being too heavy or thick with cream. The house salad was brought out of the ordinary realm by the huckleberry vinaigrette's tangy sweetness.

Our entrees came just as quickly. The hot turkey sandwich filled its thick oval plate. House-roasted turkey covered thick slices of bread, with a small sea of mashed potatoes at its side. Deep brown turkey gravy pooled over the sandwich and potatoes. My husband pronounced the turkey tender and juicy, and the gravy rich without being thick or heavy. And the mashed potatoes were the real thing, with a hint of roasted onion. Cranberries added a tart yet sweet flavor to the meal. The only disappointment was the watery, rubbery vegetables that swam in yet more water inside their small bowl.

My beer-battered halibut was no disappointment. Its crispy, tasty coating enfolded the flaky, tender fish. The mound of fries was the real thing, although the fish was clearly the star here.

My daughter's chicken chipolte sandwich was a savory mouthful. Crispy yet tender fried chicken, tomato and lettuce on a sourdough French roll got a nice little kick from the chipolte aioli. The sandwich was so large that she decided to take half of it home, and it made a great lunch the next day. A dramatic chocolate shake delivered at the next table tempted her taste buds. She just had to have one of her own. Hers, though, was a chocolate malt -- rich, creamy and topped with whipped cream, drizzles of chocolate syrup and a cherry on top. The real chocolate ice cream that formed the base made the creation so thick that it stuck to her straw.

Desserts from the Europa bakery (also owned by the Maas family, proprietors of the Wall Street Diner) are a definite indulgence. The triple-berry cobbler ($4.50) was big enough for two. Its light cake was the main attraction, swimming in a tart yet sweet berry sauce, topped off with generous scoops of rich vanilla ice cream. The peach cranberry pie sounded delicious, but it was a popular item and had sold out. I opted for the Dutch apple pie ($4), a densely rich dessert studded with walnuts and topped with a sweet crumble over juicy, tender apples.

As we left the restaurant, we felt that we had enjoyed a cozy dinner at a family friend's -- stuffed and satisfied after a great home-cooked meal.

Wall Street Diner, 4428 N. Wall St.; 325-4730; Open daily from 7 am-8 pm.

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