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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Big Rig Diner, Darlinghurst

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.

Fajita condiments

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 on Urbanspoon

Big Rig Diner
EDIT: Big Rig Diner has now closed
231 Oxford St, Darlinghurst, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9326 0044

Lunch: Tuesday to Friday 12pm - 3pm
Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday 6pm - late

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
American - Counter, Crows Nest
American - Hooters, Parramatta
American - South Restaurant, Neutral Bay
American - Tony Roma's, Sydney

Ribs - Hurricane's Grill, Bondi Beach
Ribs - Outback Steakhouse, North Strathfield

American diners - Murray Hill Diner, New York City
American diners - Tom's Restaurant, New York City
19 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 12/23/2009 02:50:00 am


  • At 12/23/2009 7:28 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Where are the Twinkies? I haven't seen them for absolutely ages! And I love them! Hehe.

    Big Rig Diner looks interesting; how are the fries? I need some good fries. :-)

  • At 12/23/2009 9:54 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    That is so sad there were no milkshakes, you can't have a diner with no milkshakes!! But I'm loving the corn on the hotdog, and that cherry pie looks to die for...

  • At 12/23/2009 10:22 am, Blogger John said…

    Interesting place. I reckon I'd skip the mains and head straight for the cherry pie. It looks delish!

  • At 12/23/2009 11:05 am, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    LOL at the absence of milkshakes! Such an essential for a 'real' American diner AND the fact it's listed on the menu...kind of. And gosh, that hotdog - I would've eaten it with cutlery too!

  • At 12/23/2009 11:20 am, Anonymous GourmetRabbit said…

    Yum! As a yankee-born Aussie this looks just like a fatty, carby, oversauced delicious slice of home.

    Great post!

  • At 12/23/2009 1:00 pm, Blogger Kate said…

    No milkshakes? You can't have American fries without a thickshake topped with whipped cream! That's definitely NOT a true pecan pie. Did you ever visit a place called Johnny Rockets? It's an American diner chain that used to be in Aus. I wish they still had a few stores out here. There used to be one at Castle Towers.

  • At 12/23/2009 1:49 pm, Anonymous MissDissent said…

    Well I guess sweet style ribs ARE very American. Love the knife and fork style Baja Dog. When I dined there they told me it was 'not first date material'. Great descriptions on this one! Season's greetings!

  • At 12/23/2009 1:50 pm, Blogger A cupcake or two said…

    Cherry pie yumm. One of the first things I did when I went to America was go to a diner. ehehehe. Yes they do call you M'am

  • At 12/23/2009 1:56 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yeah, no thickshakes?!?!? That's just wrong :( but the ribs and hot dog do look mighty fine!

    Cherry pie also looks goood but that pecan pie is fail :(

  • At 12/23/2009 2:42 pm, Blogger Eyes Bigger Than Belly said…

    Great review!! I started drooling as soon as I saw the Cherry PIe!! :)

  • At 12/23/2009 5:06 pm, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    sounds like they've updated the menu since i was there in their opening weeks. the section headings are so cool. i remember their Succulent Sirolin Steak being really good and fajitas definitely good value. hoping to revisit one day. the hot dogs are looking a bit messy though to eat, looks like too much sauce all over the place and no where to hold them with your hands which is sacrilege :-)

  • At 12/23/2009 7:34 pm, Blogger Craig & Caroline Hind said…

    Ooh Cherry Pie. That always reminds me of Twin Peaks!

    Looks yummy!

  • At 12/23/2009 10:33 pm, Anonymous Trissa said…

    I'm totally a big fan of American Food - I'd love to try this place... lucky there was no one to offer you American coffee though... heard it was awful! (???)

  • At 12/24/2009 12:56 am, Anonymous Jacq said…

    No milkshakes? At an American diner?! But aside from that the food looks pretty good, especially that cherry pie! The pastry looks awesome!

  • At 12/24/2009 11:45 pm, Anonymous Yas (aboutthefood) said…

    Great post, Helen!

    Mentioning the shakes on the menu was such a tease considering they didn't have any. I'd go again if I was in the neighbourhood, but I'd definitely rush back if they promised good shakes.

    And to the commenter above, Kate, funnily enough I once worked at Johnny Rocket's! During dinner with Helen, I frequently reminisced about my Johnny Rockets days... Big Rig is similar, although without the dancing!

  • At 12/28/2009 1:48 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Joey - I was only speaking about American food in general. I was always obsessed with Twinkies as every kid in books I read seemed to adore them too. lol.

    Unfortunately we forgot to order fries but in the end we had more than enough food anyway. Will have to get them next time for sure.

    Hi Stephcookie - I know, milkshakes in a diner are like coffee in a coffeeshop! I was surprised by the corn on the hot dog and the cherry pie was truly very good.

    Hi HeNeedsFood - I often wish I could skip mains and go straight for dessert. lol. However I do think dessert tastes better after savouries though :)

    Hi mademoiselle delicieuse - I know. We were quite surprised it was listed on the menu but then unavailable. Odd. I was tempted to use hands for the hotdog but sensibilities won out in the end.

    Hi Gourmet Rabbit - I didn't realise you were Yankee-born :) And lol, fats and carbs are always my friend!

    Hi Kate - I never visited Johnny Rockets but funnily enough Yasmin used to work there. I wish it were still around - I'd definitely get there!

    Hi Miss Dissent - I do expect ribs but I was hoping for more of a hickory smoke flavour. I was actually thinking that this would be a perfect first date venue. lol. All that messy food sounds good to me :)

    Hi A Cupcake or Two - I did find it odd being called ma'am in the States. I loved diners esp the coat hooks at every table. Always so cosy too.

    Hi FFichiban - The cherry pie was a dinner but shame about the pecan pie. I wonder if they'll introduce milkshakes/thickshakes eventually?

    Hi Joy - The cherry pie was great. Glad you enjoyed the post :)

    Hi Simon Food Favourites - The hot dog was overloaded with filling but sometimes that's a good thing. lol.

    Hi Craig & Caroline Hind - lol, oh yes Twin Peaks! The cherry pie was delicious, esp with the cinnamon-flavoured Chantilly cream.

    Hi Trissa - I'm definitely not a fan of American coffee - it's rather watery and weak and not to my liking. I do love American cuisine though :)

    Hi Jacq - Ha, I love the blog post outrage at the lack of milkshakes. The pastry was a real highlight of the cherry pie. Let's hope they don't change suppliers anytime soon.

    Hi Yas - The shake debate! I don't often order milkshakes but in a diner - it just seemed wrong not to!

    I wish I had known about Johnny Rocket's when it was around! And thanks for your fine company - much fun!

  • At 1/18/2010 11:38 am, Anonymous aptronym said…

    Visited there a while back (post - http://bit.ly/7atNV4) and judging from your photos, it still seems a little overpriced to me! I had the fajitas, which were good, but overall was a bit disappointed in the Big Rig experience so I haven't been back since :( I did so want to like it.

  • At 1/19/2010 5:30 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Aptronym - The prices are a little high but I tend to find Darlinghurst is rarely for the budget-conscious anyway. I agree, it's a great spot and concept - now if only they served milkshakes like a diner should...

  • At 11/15/2010 11:50 am, Blogger lmblau said…

    Think this is now closed for good.


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