Monday, January 6, 2014

Welcome Back…

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.
“Valentine Diners began their nearly 40-year career in Wichita, Kansas—an idea born of the Great Depression. They were constructed as eight-to-ten-seat diners that one or two people could operate. If you were good at it—if you served good food at a fair price and kept your customers happy—you could make a successful business of a Valentine. In an industry where nearly all major diner manufacturers were on the East Coast, the Kansas creation managed to ship its little pre-fabs all across the country. Valentines could be found along major highways to attract travelers, in industrial areas to attract workers, and in small towns where they might be one of the only (if not the only) restaurants available” (

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.
"Sure, there are burgers here—and good ones, too—but what you've come for is a taste of the South. And a small and ever-changing menu of Babcock's favorite homemade dishes makes sure you get it—in soul-soothing, comfort food fashion” (Laura Hahnefeld at

“… 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:
"You have to crawl on top of the counter to reach the sugar, store boxes of potatoes on the floor, and, when the power goes out, which it sometimes does, yell out, ‘Smokey Joe's Cafe!’ before running out back to trip the switch.

“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.

"It's a scene that seems as friendly and informal as the one inside the diner itself. A plot of compact Southern comfort you hope will stay around for a while” (Laura Hahnefeld at

By way of entertainment, the four of us (Chuck, Raina, Jesse, and I)
(l. to r.) Raina, Jesse, and Kate

observed Morgan (she of the blue hair and t-shirt bearing a cat’s face) prepare Raina’s Smoked Applewood Manhattan.
Morgan set a block of applewood afire,
removed the fire source and inverted a glass over the wood to trap the smoke that would coat the interior of the glass.
The Manhattan fixins went into the glass that was then shaken, transferring the smoky flavor into the beverage.
Voila! A smoked Manhattan.
Musical entertainment came from the suitcase on a shelf. A product of the Loud Luggage Co., the functional vintage-luggage-boom-box is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery (
When it comes to the food, the first thing one needs to realize is that the diner itself has minimal food-prep space (see photos above). There is a one-basket deep fat fryer and a flat top that can’t be more than three feet square. That’s it. The Old Dixie’s food truck is parked out back and is where most of the advance work takes place with the finishing touches added inside the diner. Sometimes this works. Other times it doesn’t.

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.
(Raina so wanted Jesse to order the P.B. & B. Burger—a hamburger with peanut butter, bacon, and cheddar. Jesse—wisely in my opinion—demurred.) And Raina also ordered a side of the braised collards that had the requisite vinegar bite but seems to be missing the heat from either chile flakes or hot sauce.
Chuck ordered the biscuits and gravy with two scrambled eggs and added a side of hash browns.
The foundation biscuit was very good—light, but without the strong flavor of leavening. The gravy contained a more than ample amount of sausage, but was way too thick—even thicker than Chuck would have liked it. We’ll get to the eggs and hash browns a few minutes later.

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.
This might have worked had it not been for the mustard sauce that was so intrusive as to overtake everything else.

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.
I know that local restaurant reviewers describe the Welcome Diner’s menu as Southern food. It really isn’t. It is diner food with a Southern influence and really doesn’t merit more than a 3.0 Addie rating. Michael, it takes more than a two-month visit to learn to cook Southern food.

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


eyad ammar said...

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نقل عفش بالدمام
شركة نقل اثاث بالدمام
شركة نقل اثاث بالخبر
شركة نقل اثاث بالجبيل
شركة نقل عفش بالخبر
شركة نقل عفش بالقطيف
شركة نقل اثاث بالاحساء

eyad ammar said...

شركة نقل عفش الجبيل
شركة نقل عفش بالدمام
شركة نقل اثاث بالجبيل
شركة نقل عفش بالخبر
شركات النقل البري بالدمام
شركات نقل العفش بالدمام
ارقام شركات نقل العفش بالدمام
ارخص شركة نقل اثاث بالدمام
شركة تخزين عفش بالدمام

eyad ammar said...

شركة تنظيف خزانات بالمدينة المنورة وشقق بالمدينة المنورة شركة غسيل خزانات ومكافحة حشرات بالمدينة المنورة ونقل عفش بالمدينة المنورة مؤسسة صفوة المدينة
شركة تنظيف خزانات بالمدينة المنورة
شركة مكافحة حشرات بالمدينة المنورة مؤسسة صفوة المدينة انها الاولى فى مكافحة ورش الحشرات بالمدينة المنورة رش البق رش الصراصير مكافحة النمل الابيض بالمدينة المنورة
شركة مكافحة حشرات بالمدينة المنورة