Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Diner on Main: I don't like sports.
The Diner on Main is an odd one. Located in the heart of what the City of Alhambra Chamber of Commerce calls "the historic Main Street Entertainment district," it is gigantic and overflowing with neon. It has an impressive pedigree as a diner, being an actual Armet and Davis designed "googie" building (it was formerly called Sandi's Restaurant). Once inside, however, you get smacked in the face with the fact that the Diner on Main might actually be aspiring to be a sports bar.
Dinerpal Paul and I went in for dinner a few weeks ago. For some reason, although there were plenty of tables available in the main dining area, we were shuffled into a "lounge" area underneath a blaring flat screen TV playing a basketball game. Bud Light pendants hung all around us, which really distracted from the 50's style architecture and fixtures.
We were the only two diners in this section so we were doted on by our waiter slash bartender. He was all up in our business but only to the point of mild annoyance. He really pushed the happy hour specials on us and seemed a little disappointed when we ordered coffee and soda.
It was hard to get a sense of the rest of the restaurant from our alcohol serving corner. I ventured out to get a glimpse and saw a pretty traditional diner set up. A large, long counter face the kitchen and several booths line the walls. The walls were decorated with only a moderate amount of kitsch and several black and white photo prints of classic--probably long extinct-- diners. I valued this connection to the past. In our lounge we were graced by the presence of college dorm art Marilyn Monroe.
The menu at Diner on Main is pretty decent. It's not extensive, but it covers everything you would reasonably want to order. The frou-frou factor was pretty light. I think I made our waiter's day when I ordered the dinner special, the chicken pot pie. Paul ordered the Philly French Dip.
My dinner came with side salad which was actually pretty good. I didn't expect that. The chicken pot pie was interesting. The crust was basically a giant floating biscuit on top of a hearty bowl of chicken and vegetable soup. I liked it, although the cheese on top was unnecessary and could be skipped. Included with the meal was a small plate of foccacia bread, I assumed for dipping; it also didn't add that much, but was a nice surprise.
Paul really like his Philly French Dip. It was exactly what you thought it would be, a Philly cheese steak with a bowl of au jus for dipping. It was a thick sandwich, which made it a little difficult to dip in the juice without stuff falling out. It came with coleslaw that was slightly rubbery but nice and tart. I'm pretty sure they used apple cider vinegar.
We both had room for dessert and I made our bartender slash waiter's day even better when I ordered the dessert special, the boysenberry and apple cobbler. Paul ordered a vanilla shake.
The cobbler was really good. They serve two kinds of pie at Diner on Main: apple and boysenberry. The apple is served with a warm cinnamon sauce and the boysenberry is best a la mode (according to them). The cobbler is basically these two items smashed together in a bowl.
Vanilla shake was a vanilla shake. It was good.
Diner on Main is part of the Pasadena based restaurant conglomerate that also owns Wild Thyme and Shakers (which will probably get reviewed sooner or later). I can really appreciate what they are trying to do decor-wise and that they need to do it, but the Diner on Main overwhelms you. There's so much neon (the blue hue to all the pictures will give you an idea of what it's like) and the reflection of the lights offf the large plate windows can easily disorient you. The jukebox can go from playing Wanda Jackson to Bon Jovi--and not classic Bon Jovi, MODERN Bon Jovi--and it makes you want to die. You miss out on some of the great atmosphere it would have had back in the Sandi's Restaurant days. Or that it might have in the morning when they aren't competing with the other restaurants located all around them. It unfortunately reminded me a lot of Ritchie's Diner.
Paul and I ended up going back to Diner on Main just a few days ago. We tried their breakfast (ham and eggs and Portuguese sausage and eggs) and found our reactions to be pretty similar to our dinner. It was good, but not great.
I will probably find myself in Diner on Main again. It's located in our new neighborhood and sometimes we might not want to drive the 1.2 miles to Twoheys. Ultimately, I'm glad it's there because of the history and the need for something more real than the Johnny Rockets a block away. I swear to g-d though, if I see them advertise a "Watch the Super Bowl here" campaign, I'm going lose that goodwill in a heartbeat.
Service: Fine. (Desperate if you get stuck in the empty lounge)
Price: $7-$10 most things. Up to $14 for entrees.
Pie: Apple and Boysenberry
Diner on Main
201 West Main Street
Alhambra, CA 91801