EDIT: Big Rig Diner has now closed
I've always had a romanticised affection for diners.
Blame it on a childhood brought up on American sitcoms, movies and teenage fiction, but alongside Twinkies, Kool Aid and Milk Duds, diners have always been that elusive promise of the quintessential American experience. The jingle of the bell as the door opens, the gum-chewing waitress with a pen tucked behind her ear, the cosy booths in which your kooky friends huddle... Don't all the best scenes from your favourite sitcoms take place in a diner?
The Big Rig Diner in Darlinghurst brings a little bit of America to our shores, designed to resemble a truckstop, with a jukebox at the front and three booths down one wall. Seating is minimal - a row of stools lines the kitchen counter with a few more near the jukebox. A private dining room is available for hire, although Yasmin and I don't get a chance to check it out this evening.
Barbecue pork baby back ribs (6 per serve) $8
We sit at one of the booths and peruse the menu, squinting occasionally at the stylised cursive script printed in red in a font size too small. A lamp hangs directly over our heads, at first turned up so bright we start to feel ourselves getting flushed with heat, but later toned down to a more ambient glow.
The menu is divided into quirky sections: hot dogs ($9.50 to $13.50) are listed under "Bow Wows", whilst steaks (sirloin $22.50, T-bone $25.50) and sausages ($15.50-$17) come under "2 Legs or 4 Legs". Burgers come with a promise of handmade patties and range in price from $13.50 to $16.50. Comfort food lovers may seek out Zac's Mum's macaroni and cheese ($11.50) or French toast with maple syrup and bacon ($9.50).
Salads are listed under "Bunny Food" and beneath the heading "Sans Animale", vegetarians are advised that options are "available upon discussion". With a Pavlovian desire for a milkshake, we check the menu to find the instruction next to milkshakes and thickshakes - "let's talk". So we do, asking the waitress what flavours are available. She looks at us blankly and, after checking with the kitchen says "sorry, we don't do milkshakes." We stop talking.
Instead Yasmin and I aagree to share a starter of ribs, a bowl of six sticky marinated and barbecued baby back pieces. The ribs have plenty of meat on them and are reasonably tender, if a little on the sweet side.
Baja dog $13.50
Hot and spicy sausage, homemade Jack Daniels chilli, sour cream,
guacamole, salsa, cheese and chopped habaneros
The Baja dog spills over with sour cream, guacamole, salsa and an inordinate amount of corn kernels. The corn wasn't listed on the menu, so I'm a little confused at first by their arrival. A crazed zig zag of tomato sauce completes the picture.
Sour cream overflow
The size of the hotdog is such that Yasmin and I end up eating this with knife and fork, which ultimately feels all kinds of wrong. On the flip side, we don't end up wearing our dinner either.
Baja dog cross-section
There's only a thin trail of the homemade Jack Daniels chilli, and I find the corn kernels seem to overwhelm much of the flavour of this dish. At $13.50, this is the deluxe hot dog (the others cost $9.50) but it still seems a little steep for what you get.
Beef Tijuana bang bang sizzling plate fajitas $16
served red hot with salsa, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and guacamole
Much better value can be found in our beef fajita, even though it does arrive on a cow-shaped hotplate more often assoicated with Chinese sizzling stir-fries.
Our fajita fixings include salsa, sour cream, guacamole, grated cheese and lettuce. A stack of six tortillas are warm and soft.
Fajita ready for eating
We roll our own fajitas with careful ceremony. The marinated beef has been cooked to a blackened herb crust - we detect thyme and oregano - that is a little bit smoky, salty and sweet.
The jukebox is booming throughout much of our early evening meal, more nightclub-decibel level than dinnertime background soundtrack. However I'm easily distracted by the view of the open kitchen, with a sole chef flipping burgers on the grill, teatowel flicked over one shoulder like a scene from a movie.
Pecan pie with chantilly cream $9.50
It goes without saying that we order dessert, found under the titillating menu section "Before and After Sex". I'm disappointed to find the pecan pie is more like a sweet caramel tart topped with pecans. It's not a patch on the nutty bourbon-rich version at South Restaurant.
Cherry pie with chantilly cream $9.50
Instead I'm blown away by the cherry pie, the pastry thin and buttery with a richness that tastes homemade. The cherry filling isn't overly tart nor overly sweet either.
We both wax lyrical over the chantilly cream, a lighter-than-air dollop that tastes of cinnamon.
As we dig our spoons into the cherry pie, all that's missing is a waitress drawling "cawfee, ma'am?" Oh yes, then my American dream would be complete.
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Big Rig Diner
EDIT: Big Rig Diner has now closed
Tel: +61 (02) 9326 0044
Lunch: Tuesday to Friday 12pm - 3pm
Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday 6pm - late
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12/23/2009 02:50:00 am