25 Delectable Dishes from the Five & Dime Lunch Counter

Ah, the five and dime!  These once-ubiquitous stores offered a treasure trove of household goods at bargain prices.

But for many, a trip to the five and dime wasn’t complete without a visit to its iconic lunch counter.  These lunch counters were a cornerstone of American dining culture, serving up simple, affordable, and undeniably delicious meals.

Fast forward to today, and the five and dime may be a relic of the past. However, the nostalgia for those classic lunch counter dishes remains strong. 

This list dives into 25 mouthwatering specials that once graced the menus of five and dime lunch counters, transporting you back to a simpler time and inspiring you to recreate these taste bud pleasers in your own kitchen.

Savory Sandwiches: Building Blocks of Deliciousness

1. The Classic BLT: 

This timeless combination transcends generations. Crispy bacon, juicy lettuce, and ripe tomato nestled between slices of toasted bread is a lunch counter staple for a reason.  The beauty of the BLT lies in its customizability. 

Want to add a touch of creaminess?  Spread a layer of mayonnaise or aioli on your toasted bread. Craving a bit of smokiness?  Opt for applewood smoked bacon. Feeling adventurous?  Swap the white bread for a toasted sourdough or rye for a more robust flavor profile.

2. Reuben Reimagined: A Corned Beef Classic with Modern Twists

The Reuben, a hearty concoction of corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing between slices of rye bread, is another lunch counter favorite.  This sandwich is all about the interplay of textures and flavors. 

The salty corned beef is balanced by the tangy sauerkraut and creamy Swiss cheese, while the Thousand Island dressing adds a touch of sweetness and a hint of spice.  For a modern twist, try a turkey Reuben, substituting the corned beef for lean turkey breast.

Vegetarians can rejoice with a vegetarian Reuben featuring grilled tempeh or portobello mushrooms in place of the meat. No matter your dietary preference, there’s a Reuben variation waiting to tantalize your taste buds.

3. Grilled Cheese Glory: A Childhood Favorite Elevated

This childhood favorite needs no introduction.  Melty cheese between two slices of buttered bread – pure comfort food in its simplest form.  The beauty of grilled cheese lies in its versatility.  Elevate this classic by experimenting with different cheeses.

Swap the standard cheddar for a sharper Gruyere or a creamy Havarti. Feeling adventurous?  Add a layer of thinly sliced ham or turkey for a protein boost. Take it a step further by incorporating caramelized onions or roasted red peppers for added flavor and texture.

4. Club Sandwich Extravaganza: A Multi-Layered Masterpiece

The club sandwich is a layered masterpiece typically featuring sliced turkey, ham, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise on toasted white bread.  This sandwich is all about the combination of savory flavors and textures. 

The smoky bacon and salty meats are balanced by the crisp lettuce and juicy tomato, while the creamy mayonnaise adds a touch of richness. But the possibilities are endless! Feeling adventurous? 

Add sliced avocado for a creamy texture and healthy fats. Craving a cheesy element?  Incorporate a slice of your favorite cheese. Don’t like mayonnaise? Swap it out for a different spread like pesto or Dijon mustard.  Personalize your club sandwich to create a flavor explosion that suits your taste buds.

5. Tuna Salad Delight: A Versatile and Customizable Filling

Canned tuna mixed with mayonnaise, celery, diced onion, and a sprinkle of herbs makes for a quick and satisfying sandwich filling.  The beauty of tuna salad lies in its versatility.  Don’t like celery? 

Omit it or swap it for chopped bell peppers for a touch of sweetness. Craving a bit of crunch?  Add chopped nuts or crumbled crackers. Feeling fancy?  Incorporate chopped fresh herbs like dill or chives for extra flavor. 

Serve your tuna salad on toasted bread, fluffy croissants, or a bed of lettuce for a lighter option. No matter how you choose to enjoy it, tuna salad is a lunch counter classic that offers endless possibilities.

6. Macaroni and Cheese: A Creamy, Cheesy Symphony

This creamy, cheesy dish is a true comfort food classic. Five and dime versions were often simple yet satisfying, featuring elbow macaroni bathed in a rich cheese sauce.  The beauty of macaroni and cheese lies in its endless customization options.

Experiment with different cheese combinations to create your own flavor profile.  A classic cheddar macaroni and cheese is always a crowd-pleaser, but feel free to get creative! 

Incorporate Gruyere for a nutty flavor, Monterey Jack for a touch of sweetness, or Parmesan for a sharp bite. Want to add some extra oomph?  Stir in cooked vegetables like broccoli or crumbled cooked sausage for a protein boost.

7. Tomato Soup with a Kick: A Childhood Staple with Grown-Up Twists

There’s nothing quite like a steaming bowl of tomato soup on a chilly day.  Five and dime lunch counters typically offered classic tomato soup, a simple yet satisfying dish that warms you from the inside out.

This bright red soup is traditionally served with a grilled cheese sandwich on the side, creating the ultimate comfort food pairing.  But for those seeking a bit more excitement, there’s room for customization. 

Add a pinch of red pepper flakes or a dollop of sriracha for a touch of heat. Feeling adventurous?  Stir in some chopped fresh herbs like basil or oregano for a burst of flavor.  Want a creamier texture?  Add a swirl of heavy cream or a dollop of sour cream before serving.

8. Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul: A Timeless Remedy

This classic soup is a must-have on any five and dime lunch counter menu.  Chicken noodle soup is a simple yet heartwarming dish, perfect for a light lunch or a soothing meal when you’re feeling under the weather. 

The traditional recipe features a clear chicken broth brimming with tender shredded chicken, fluffy egg noodles, and chopped vegetables like carrots, celery, and onions.  This soul-warming soup is a blank canvas for customization. 

For a heartier option, add cooked rice or barley. Craving a Mediterranean twist?  Incorporate chopped fresh tomatoes and a sprinkle of dried oregano. Feeling adventurous?  Swap the chicken for shredded turkey or tofu for a vegetarian option. No matter how you choose to prepare it, chicken noodle soup is a classic dish that offers comfort and nourishment.

9. Meatloaf Marvel: A Ground Beef Masterpiece

Ground meat, mixed with spices and breadcrumbs, baked to perfection – a quintessential five and dime lunch counter offering.  Meatloaf is a classic comfort food that evokes feelings of nostalgia.  The beauty of meatloaf lies in its versatility.  Experiment with different spice combinations. 

A classic meatloaf might feature onion powder, garlic powder, and dried herbs like thyme and oregano. But feel free to get creative!  Add a kick with chili powder or smoked paprika.  Incorporate a touch of sweetness with brown sugar or ketchup.

Don’t like beef?  Swap it out for ground turkey, chicken, or even a lentil mixture for a vegetarian option.  Serve your meatloaf with mashed potatoes, gravy, and steamed vegetables for a complete and satisfying meal.

10. Hearty Chili Con Carne: A Flavorful Stew with a Kick

This simmered stew of ground beef, beans, tomatoes, and spices is a hearty and flavorful dish. Perfect for a cold day, chili con carne warms you from the inside out.  The traditional recipe features kidney beans, pinto beans, or a combination of both, simmered in a rich tomato base with ground beef, onions, bell peppers, and a variety of spices.

This chili is all about the interplay of textures and flavors.  The tender beans are balanced by the hearty ground beef, while the spices add a touch of heat and depth.  But chili con carne is a canvas for endless creativity!  Feeling adventurous? 

Add chopped corn or black beans for extra texture.  Craving a vegetarian option?  Omit the beef and stir in lentils or crumbled tempeh. No matter how you choose to prepare it, chili con carne is a satisfying and flavorful dish that is sure to become a family favorite.

sugar. For a modern twist, try adding chopped nuts, fresh fruit, or a drizzle of caramel sauce.

Sweet Treats:

11. Banana Split Extravaganza:

A quintessential five and dime dessert, the banana split features a halved banana topped with scoops of ice cream, chocolate syrup, strawberry syrup, whipped cream, and a maraschino cherry. It’s a true celebration of sweetness!

12. Classic Milkshakes:

Thick, creamy, and undeniably delicious, milkshakes were a popular five and dime beverage. Vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry were the traditional flavors, but feel free to experiment with other favorites like peanut butter, coffee, or fruit flavors.

13. Chocolate Sundaes:

Similar to the banana split, sundaes are another iconic five and dime dessert. Get creative with your toppings! Ice cream, hot fudge, caramel sauce, whipped cream, nuts, cherries – the possibilities are endless.

14. Homemade Apple Pie:

Slices of warm apple pie with a flaky crust and a scoop of vanilla ice cream – a timeless dessert that never goes out of style. Five and dime lunch counters often offered slices of classic desserts like apple pie.

15. Rice Pudding with a Twist:

This creamy rice pudding dessert is simple yet satisfying. Five and dime versions were often topped with raisins or cinnamon

On the Lighter Side:

16. Chef’s Salad Supreme:

This salad often featured a variety of chopped meats like ham, turkey, and chicken, along with hard-boiled egg slices, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a light vinaigrette dressing. A perfect option for a lighter lunch.

17. Tuna Salad Plate:

Instead of a sandwich, opt for a scoop of tuna salad served on a bed of lettuce with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and a side of crackers or toast.

18. Cobb Salad Creation:

This classic salad features grilled chicken, bacon, avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers, blue cheese crumbles, and a vinaigrette dressing. A delicious and satisfying option for a lighter meal.

19. Egg Salad Delight:

Hard-boiled eggs mashed with mayonnaise, mustard, and chopped vegetables make for a protein-packed and versatile salad. Serve it on bread for a sandwich or on a bed of lettuce for a lighter option.

20. Fruit Salad Medley:

A refreshing and healthy option, fruit salad is a perfect way to incorporate a variety of vitamins and antioxidants into your lunch. Mix your favorite seasonal fruits for a delightful and colorful salad.

Drinks and Sides:

21. Classic Milk:

A staple on any five and dime lunch counter, a glass of cold milk was a refreshing accompaniment to any meal. Choose whole milk, skim milk, or chocolate milk to suit your preference.

22. Fizzy Fun:

Five and dime counters often offered a variety of fountain sodas. Classic flavors like cola, root beer, and orange were popular choices.

23. Coffee for the Connoisseur (or Not So Much):

Coffee was another popular beverage option, served black or with a splash of cream and sugar. Five and dime coffee might not have been gourmet, but it did the trick for a morning pick-me-up or an afternoon caffeine boost.

24. French Fries Frenzy:

These crispy potato strips were a ubiquitous side dish at five and dime lunch counters. Enjoy them plain, with ketchup, or with a sprinkle of vinegar for a tangy twist.

25. Pickled Perfection:

A jar of pickled vegetables like cucumbers, peppers, or onions often graced the five and dime lunch counter, adding a burst of flavor and a touch of acidity to any meal.

Recreating the Magic: Tips for Bringing Back the Five & Dime Lunch Counter Experience

While the five and dime may be a thing of the past, the spirit of its lunch counter lives on. Here are some tips for recreating the magic of a five and dime lunch counter experience at home:

  • Set the Scene: Use vintage tableware like mismatched plates and diner-style mugs to create a nostalgic atmosphere.
  • Embrace Simplicity: Five and dime dishes were known for their straightforward preparation. Don’t overcomplicate the recipes – simplicity is key.
  • Focus on Fresh Ingredients: Using high-quality, fresh ingredients can elevate even the most basic five and dime recipes.
  • Get Creative: These recipes are a starting point! Feel free to experiment with different flavors and ingredients to personalize these classic dishes.
  • Make it Fun: Cooking and sharing a meal with loved ones is a fun and nostalgic way to connect with the past.

So, dust off your grandma’s recipe box, put on some classic tunes, and embark on a culinary adventure through time. With these delicious five and dime lunch counter specials, you can create lasting memories and enjoy the timeless flavors that have brought joy for generations.

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