Thursday, January 15, 2009

Blue Plates and Pink Cadillacs

As our journey down Route 66 was nearing an end with nary a sight of Martin Milner nor George Maharis and their Corvette (you need to be of a certain age to get this reference), there it was, its white magnificence a stark contrast to the deep blue New Mexico sky – the 66 Diner. Did we have a choice? Of course not. Our truck veered quickly to the left and entered the parking lot, beebopping to the beat of classic 50’s music.

This is not the original 66 Diner. The original, converted in 1987 from a Phillips 66 gas station, burned to the ground in 1995. Roughly sixteen months later, the new 66 Diner opened much to the relief of its longtime customers.

When entering the diner, your eye is immediately drawn to the back mural, a depiction of old Route 66's route through eight states as shown by Betty Boop.
Next you notice the long counter dominated by turquoise stools. Along the soffit above the counter is a massive display of PEZ dispensers – a few of which are shown below.

We were led into a back dining room, walking over the hopscotch game imbedded in the floor tiles. As we sat down, I noticed that the d├ęcor was a pink, turquoise, and gray color scheme. This took me back a few years (OK – more than a few years), when sometime in the 50’s, my mother had a new Formica countertop installed. You may remember this - pink, turquoise, and gray boomerangs against a white background. The height of style at that time.

The 66 Diner is the kind of experience where the food can be secondary. Secondary to the posters of 50's art, the neon signs, and the grill of a Plymouth stuck in the wall.

Secondary to the waitresses' uniforms--from the color and the handkerchief in the pocket to the white collar and pointed "caps" on the sleeves.

Fortunately for us, our lunch exceeded expectations. Chuck’s choice, the Blue Plate Special of the Day, was chicken pot pie with mashed potatoes, corn, and a roll. Both the pot pie and mashed potatoes were first rate. These were real, red-skinned, mashed potatoes with a home-cooked taste. The pot pie had a flaky and tasty crust and was full of chicken and vegetables. The pot pie contained almost no gravy and would have been dry if not for the generous serving of white pepper gravy that covered both it and the mashed potatoes. The corn was standard frozen corn and the roll was only average.

My choice was the Green Chili Cheeseburger with fries. My cheeseburger was cooked medium as ordered, came with lettuce, tomato, and onion, and, at six ounces, was substantial and juicy. I was surprised, though, by the green chili topping which was just chopped roasted green chilies and not the thick green chili sauce I’m accustomed to seeing on a hamburger. I’m sure the fries came frozen from a bag, but as I’ve mentioned before, I’d rather frozen from a bag and crisp than hand cut and limp.

The menus includes a long list of sandwiches, “deluxe plates,” the daily Blue Plate Special, burgers and open faced burgers, soups, and salads. The breakfast special is something called the “Pile Up,” “a pile of pan fried potatoes, chopped bacon, chopped green chili, two eggs…, cheddar cheese, and red or green chili sauce on top.” The smaller version – the “1/2 Pile Up” – is also referred to as the Fender Bender.

Desserts are a high priority at the 66 Diner. Along with pies, cakes, and sundaes, the Diner claims to have Albuquerque’s best milkshakes. Taking this as a dare, we shared the Special Shake of the Month – the Pink Cadillac, strawberry ice cream and Oreo cookies. I haven’t had a milkshake in more years than I plan to admit to, and this was an extraordinary example of the soda jerk art--thick and smooth with bits of cookie making a textural contrast to the ice cream.

This was a good – but not great – diner. I have to deduct for unseasoned frozen corn, a bland roll, and the lack of sauce with the green chilies. The 66 Diner rates a 4.0 Addies on a 5.0 Addie scale.

A short trip back to the 50's on Route 66.

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