Friday, December 7, 2012

I Married a Monster

But more on that later.

So there I am, lounging on the sofa and surfing through the dials when I come upon the umpteenth repeat of a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives episode. Suddenly I exclaim to Chuck “That’s the place in San Diego with fried clams!” So it wasn’t too many days later that we found ourselves headed out to the Studio Diner.
“Do the time warp down Ruffin Road and feast your eyes on the neon-lighted Studio Diner. It’s an authentic trip back to the ’40s--in the middle of the Kearny Mesa Business District. Wrapped in chrome, the diner is a welcome roadside stop” ( (Note the filmstrip around the diner's border.)
“Most San Diegans don't know about the Studio Diner. This 1940's style diner isn't located on restaurant row, the Gaslamp or Hillcrest. Nope, you'll find this diner is in Kearny Mesa, in a location you wouldn't expect to find a 24-hour restaurant. What makes it unique is that the Studio Diner is attached to a reel(!) working movie and TV production studio--Stu Segall Productions. The Studio Diner sits in front of an 11,000-acre lot of sound stages and film sets. Step inside and you'll find the studio biz theme all around” (

Stu Segall was born in Swampscott, Mass., “a small fishing town where the lobster pot was invented in 1808. Partway through high school, Segall left Swampscott for Los Angeles… If someone created a movie set that was a metaphor for Segall and his life, it wouldn't be his bustling Kearny Mesa back lot. Instead, it would resemble the unmarked commercial building he owns in North Hollywood, operating behind brick walls, opaque windows and razor wire. Quietly, privately and protectively. He has repeatedly refused media interviews…’I don't feel comfortable doing it,’… ( In fact, we learned while talking with one of the diner’s managers, Stu was reluctant to have himself and the diner featured on TV.

In San Diego, Segall has recreated the New England diners that he loved as a child. While the building is fairly new, it bears all of the hallmarks of a traditional diner with a profusion of gleaming stainless,

a pressed tin ceiling,
both booth and counter seating, and a time-honored diner menu.
What New England diners lack is the strategic placement of movie props like this big boy from I Married a Monster from Outer Space. (Did you think I was referring to Chuck?)

There is an entire section devoted to East Coast Favorites. These included: Fried Clams--New England ‘Whole Belly’ Ipswich Clams shipped in fresh from Cape Ann, MA; a Clam Roll--the same clams served on a traditional New England Roll; Maryland Crab Cakes--three Blue Crab cakes served with a remoulade dipping sauce; a Lobster Roll--six ounces of fresh Maine lobster with mayo and celery; and New England clam chowder.

And then there was the East Coast Sampler, big enough for two and containing two crab cakes, clam chowder, lobster roll, fried clams, and two pieces of Icelandic haddock. And this latter was our choice.
Now the plate contained some misses along with the hits. The chowder was medium thick with lots of clams and had a mild smoky flavor from either bacon or fatback. But it could have used as infusion of white pepper.

The crab cakes were made with small flakes of blue crab (not the jumbo lump you find in a real Baltimore crab cake), were seasoned with an Old Bay-like seasoning, were breaded with panko crumbs, and did not contain an excess of filler. Not great but pretty good.

It is hard for us to evaluate the lobster roll. Certainly, the diner did not scrimp on the lobster which came in large chunks and were very lightly coated with mayo. And the authentic split top roll was buttered and grilled on the sides. But, and I know that this will be heresy to many, we just aren’t that fond of lobster. A lobster lover would probably been in heaven.

The weakest link on the plate was the Icelandic haddock that was coated with a too thick and somewhat chewy batter. I peeled the coating from my piece and the underlying fish was sweet, fresh, and flakey.

And now for the clams. Clams. Beautiful clams. “…These are whole belly clams, my friend. Not those dinky little clam strips that have virtually no flavor and all you can taste is the breading and some hint of clam. No, no. These are sweet, taste of the sea, and so delicious. The familiar bite and bit of sweetness was a welcome memory to my senses and I thoroughly enjoyed this meal…” ( “I dove in to the clams. They were delicious! Fried perfectly so they were crispy with only a hint of oil. Soft and chewy on the inside as a clam should be. The breading was really flavorful with a great blend of spices that I could not put my finger on.” (

And, if this wasn’t enough food, we had elected to share an order of quite good shoestring fries.
Not long after we placed our order, the manager approached us to apologize for the delay in getting our order out to us and offered to comp us a dessert. Who are we to argue? So we chose to share a giant serving of peach cobbler with twin scoops of vanilla ice cream.
The cobbler was as interesting as it was delicious. It had a graham cracker bottom crust that was covered with cinnamon infused peach slices. And on top was an oatmeal-based crust that reminded me more of my mother’s fruit “crisps” than a traditional cobbler.

Based on the Sampler’s misses, I am only giving the Studio Diner 3.0 Addies. But you can bet that we’ll be back for more clams.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

1 comment:

O'side Native said...

Sounds fascinating! Next time I'm in that area I will have to check it out.