The term “comfort food” evokes memories of the meals my parents used to prepare for my sister and I when we were growing up. Dishes like eggplant parmesan, fetinni (pan-fried paper-thin pieces of chicken breast coated with breadcrumbs, garlic, and parsley), and pasta orechietti come to mind. Meatloaf, fish ‘n chips, and chicken pot pie were what my mother would refer to as “English food” that, while not forbidden, was certainly frowned upon in our Italian household. In fact, it wasn’t until many years later, after I had moved out and was living on my own, cooking for myself on a limited budget, that I finally discovered the virtues of mac ’n cheese and chili.
I have to admit that my one and only visit to the place formerly known as Diner was not a positive one. I went with my fellow writers and, when all was said and done, the only menu item to really stand out for us was the Elvis, a magnificent peanut-butter and banana shake. I remember thinking at the time that had I ordered two Elvis’s, I probably would have declared Diner one of my top ten dining experiences of the year. Fast-forward a year and Diner is no more. Instead, Lucky Diner has sprung up at the same location with a new owner, a new staff, a new menu, but still sticking to the original “comfort food” format.
Carl, Martin and I arrived at 6:30 p.m. to a fairly empty room. Although that evening’s specials (written up on the big chalkboard above the kitchen) looked inviting, we were already drawn to some of the offerings on the regular menu. We started with the Tower of Onion Rings that, in all fairness, were more triplex than tower. While the accompanying smoked paprika mayo was a winner, the cornmeal-crusted onion rings that immediately fell apart in our hands proved both messy and devoid of any discernible spicing. Quite the opposite was true for the handcut Kennebec fries. They were crisp, tasty, and not too greasy, but the spiced homemade ketchup was disappointingly mild and runny. Our mains fared much better. I had a very good smoked bacon-belly wrapped meatloaf with buttermilk mash. The meatloaf was moist and flavorful, the bacon a welcome sweet and smoky addition to the dish. Carl ordered the Lucky Sucker Burger and had nothing but praise for his selection, particularly singling out the local mushroom ragout that topped his burger – along with belly bacon, three year old cheddar, and lucky sauce. Martin enjoyed his wild mushroom and aged cheddar, parmesan, and asiago mac ’n cheese, but was unimpressed by its weak consistency. Although the flavors were all there, his pasta and mushrooms were swimming in the thin cheese that had pooled at the bottom of his dish rather than unifying the whole. For dessert, I had the pecan, maple, and bourbon pie a la mode – good, but the Memphis Blues Barbecue House take is still the version to beat. Carl, meanwhile, loved his deep dish apple pie a la mode.
Service was relaxed and friendly, the décor bright and clean, and the prices more than reasonable. Now, if they could only find a way to work the Elvis shake back onto the menu. Or, barring that, maybe some eggplant parmesan.