to the Welcome Diner.
During our March of 2009 visit to Phoenix, Chuck, his cousin Raina, and I had lunch at this iconic Valentine diner located in the Garfield neighborhood of the city.
At the time of our earlier visit, the diner was your basic burger and fries joint whose food was less memorable than the setting. Today, the Welcome Diner is still under the same ownership, but the kitchen is under new management with a new food direction. “The Welcome Diner is the new home of Michael Babcock and Jenn Robinson, who made the transition to the iconic, nine-seat diner in February after roaming the streets with their Southern-style food truck, Old Dixie's…(Babcock fell in love with Southern cuisine after a two-month-long road trip through the South.)
“Now, thanks to Babcock and Robinson, Welcome Diner has become something of a Phoenix roadside stop by way of New Orleans, with a sourcing list that reads like a who's who of Arizona purveyors.
“… Since it rolled into town, the cheery space, with its bright red counter and sky blue walls and stools, has, for the most part, remained unchanged.
"But with a decades-old compact space (including a kitchen smaller than Babcock and Robinson's food truck) come sacrifices:
“But Babcock and Robinson seem to be taking it all in stride—and with a sense of humor. They've turned the outside eating area in the front of the diner into a kind of neighborhood get-together scene. Here, at colorful mismatched tables and chairs and a railing lined with potted plants and mason jars, families and friends share good food and conversation while funky beats play through the speakers.
By way of entertainment, the four of us (Chuck, Raina, Jesse, and I)
observed Morgan (she of the blue hair and t-shirt bearing a cat’s face) prepare Raina’s Smoked Applewood Manhattan.
The emphasis on Southern food is scattered throughout the menu. All of the fried chicken sandwiches come on a biscuit. The Garfield Breakfast Sandwich is also served on a biscuit and contains a fried egg, collard greens, and Crystal Hot Sauce from Louisiana. The Port of Call burger is named for the famous New Orleans restaurant that we think serves one of the best hamburgers in the country. Collards can be ordered as a side. Red beans and rice come as a side or an entrée. And, of course, there is biscuits and gravy.
Both Raina and Jesse ordered the Big Jim—a biscuit sandwich containing a fried chicken breast, country sausage gravy, bacon, and cheddar cheese.
I went “whole hog” so to speak and ordered the Holy Puerco. This began with a fried cheddar grit cake that was topped with Carolina-style pulled pork, Carolina-style mustard barbecue sauce, a fried egg, and hog jowl cracklings.
And about the eggs and hash browns. First, I don’t like eggs cooked on a flat top. I don’t like them fried. I don’t like them scrambled. I don’t like them in omelets. Eggs are meant to be cooked in a pan where their “spread” is contained by the sides of the pan. And both Chuck’s scrambled eggs and my fried egg suffered from excessive “spread” which resulted in a decided state of overdoneness. (Is there such a word?)
And our hash browns were the result of needing to partially prepare them in the food truck out back and finishing inside the diner. The potatoes were prebaked on sheet pans and then reheated and crisped (although they really didn’t get that crisp) inside on the flat top. As a result, the interior seemed almost like mashed potatoes.
To finish the meal, the four of us shared an order of beignets that, while they were shaped more like fritters than traditional beignets, were still quite good.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.