Burgers are lined up and ready for critiquing by the Mahoning Valley Burger Review Board at Donna’s Diner in Sharon, Pennsylvania.
If You Go...
Address:10 W. State St., Sharon, Pa.
Hours:Sunday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Menu: Nine burgers, plus the WinnerBurger of the Day ($6.99 to $7.99)
By Anthony M. FUDA
Change is constant, and sometimes you have to go back to the past to build a good future.
What is now Donna’s Diner in downtown Sharon, PA, went through some changes -- 10 years of different restaurants and owners serving everything from pizza, to ribs, to Italian food.
Finally, Laura Ackley, took over operations of the little silver diner and started by changing the name back to Donna’s Diner and creating a 1950s-style atmosphere.
Her aunt and uncle, Donna and Jim Winner, owned Donna’s Diner before Jim passed away in an auto accident and forced the family to step away from the business. Donna still owns the diner, and Laura saw an opening, took over General Manager duties, and brought back the good old-fashioned 50s diner food everybody loved.
She keeps the place fun and very family friendly. It is evident as soon as you open the menu and see all the food selections named after iconic figures and songs of the 50s.
The burger section is called “WinnerBurgers - Billboard’s top 10 burger selection,” and some of the chart toppers are: the WinnerBurger of the day (changes daily), the Chubby Checker (Swiss cheese, grilled onions and mushrooms), the Ricky Ricardo (pepperjack cheese, bacon, Habanero hot sauce), the Bleu Suede Shoes (melted bleu cheese), a Peggy Sue (provolone cheese, grilled onions, roasted red peppers), and the Great Pretender (no beef here, but a vegetarian garden burger).
There are also burgers named for Laura’s uncle and aunt: Big Daddy Jim (cheddar cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce, topped with an onion ring) and the Donna Burger (melted cheddar cheese, grilled red onion and avocado).
You can find the entire list, and some of the past WinnerBurgers of the day at www.donnas-diner.com.
All the burgers are 7 oz. hand-pressed, char-grilled, and served on a Kaiser bun with lettuce, tomato and onion. You can choose from these cheeses: American, cheddar, provolone, Swiss, and pepperjack. For .75 each, you can add bleu cheese, bacon, grilled onion, grilled mushroom, and if you want avocado on your burger, add $1.75.
The burgers come with a side of freshly made chips dusted with dry ranch powder and dill pickle chips. You can substitute the chips for fries, onion rings, mashed potatoes, sweet potato puffs, grilled veggies or a side salad for $1.00.
Our waitress, Amanda Hoffman, clad in red scarf and saddle shoes, took our orders and kept the evening fun.
With the 50s music and decor all around us, you could imagine Richie Cunningham and the Happy Days’ gang sitting at a booth right next to you.
Our burgers arrived and we jumped back to the present.
I went with the Ricky Ricardo and thought the seasoning of the beef was perfect. The pepperjack cheese and Habanero sauce provided enough heat to keep me happy; and the burger was so juicy, the bun caught all the drippings, adding a little extra flavor to each bite. I had the ranch chips and though they mashed well with the spicy heat of the burger.
Eric also had the Ricky Ricardo and said, “It was tough picking a choice from the menu, as there were quite a few burgers that looked great, but the Ricky Ricardo is what really caught my eye. The combo of heat and bacon is a match made in burger heaven. The beef was very well seasoned, and the Habanero hot sauce gave great extra flavor. Not so hot that it turns you off but it lets you know it's there. Add in the bun that is cooked fresh daily and you've got yourself a burger that doesn't disappoint. And definitely try the chips as your side, they're very tasty.”
Our newest member, James “Too Tall” Chismark II also chose the Ricky Ricardo, and remarked, “Although toppings and buns are important, I enjoyed the perfectly seasoned and juicy goodness that this burger had to offer more than anything. It had tremendous balance with those seasonings, to where the seasonings did not weigh out the taste of the meat whatsoever. My taste buds were in love from the first bite to the last!”
Spatman had the Peggy Sue and said, “With the first bite of the well done patty the seasoning leapt forth and captivated my taste buds to the last bite. A 4.5 out of 5 on my wet-nap scale, and topped with provolone cheese, grilled onions and a fried red pepper and sided by onion rings this diner’s delight was truly the cats meow.”
Scott chose the Big Daddy Jim and said, “When I tasted the beef I knew this was going to be good. The quality and texture were excellent. You could taste the higher grade in each bite.”
JT, who also went with the Big Daddy Jim, added, "We've had a few diner burgers in the past but this one has to be, without a doubt, the best! Excellent flavor! And the diner itself is awesome - great location, friendly staff, and immaculately spotless! What a great way to start out the new year! Definitely on the return visit list."
We couldn’t leave without trying one of Donna’s famous shakes, with more than 20 choices. We slurped them down and finished our evening with our appetites satisfied.
When you’re riding through Sharon, Pa, on old 82, stop by the silver diner and time warp back to the 50s. Even if Fonzie isn’t standing by the jukebox ready to punch in your favorite song, pull up a table, have a burger and a shake, and sing and dance to the music.
If you go on a Friday night between the hours of 5 pm - 7 pm you can hear live music, and in the summer you can sit by the river and enjoy the musicians.
4 1/2 stars
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If you know of a burger that should be on our hit list, send the info to email@example.com, or on our Facebook page BurgerGuyz.
Donna’s Diner info:
Donna’s Diner guests “give back” to the community through the diner’s H2O for Hope program. Diners can make voluntary donations for water which the Winner Foundation matches dollar for dollar. More than $2000 was raised for area charities in the program’s first year.
A new loyalty program was just implemented: Donna’s Hopelessly Devoted Diners. For each dollar spent, diners earn a point that at the end of the year translates to 5% cash back on a Donna’s Diner gift card. Guests can choose to spend the dollars at the diner or donate them to the H2O for Hope charity of their choice which will be matched by the Winner Foundation. Loyalty perks also include preferred seating at special downtown Sharon events such as WaterFire and a private party for the year’s most loyal guests.
Keep reading the Valley Food section each Wednesday for the best food the Valley has to offer. If you know of a burger that should be on our hit list, send the info to firstname.lastname@example.org, or on our Facebook page BurgerGuyz.