Thursday, February 13, 2014

What’s in a Name?

O.K. I know it’s trite. But it is a fair question to ponder when considering the name of the Standard Diner in Albuquerque.
Does it mean typical or traditional? I don’t think so. “In the…airing of a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode called ‘Return to Route 66,’ host Guy Fieri declared ‘there’s nothing standard about the Standard Diner’” (nmgastronome.com)
Given that the restaurant is located in a former classic car dealership, is it a play on the Standard Oil Company? Or does standard mean a benchmark or model? I think that the answer is yes to both of these questions. “Standard Diner, with it unexpected ingredients and modern take on traditional diner food, has become a culinary treasure in East Downtown. Mixing the old with the new pushes the standards expected from an American diner right out the door. Standard Diner keeps the old Route 66 memory alive, for a new generation…” (Denise Marquez at local-iq.com).
“I find the atmosphere at Standard Diner…to be pleasantly surprising. It has a touch of elegance and comfort and takes the idea of an old-fashioned diner into the 21st century, fully revamped and primped. The outside gives a vibe of a classic Route 66 eatery, with its neon lights outlining the roof and metallic trimmings. Yet the inside is more upscale and distinguished than a typical diner. It is definitely a place where you can either kick back and chow down, or suit up and enjoy finer dining” (Denise Marquez at local-iq.com).
Your first clue that an automobile-related influence is at work here is the large display of framed hood ornaments.
Lights are set on the inside edge of the frame and the colors alternate between red, green, and blue. I am sure that this is quite an eye-catching display at night.

The large windows looking out on a small dining patio were once the service bay doors back when the building was a car dealership.
And the walls of the dining area in which we were seated are hung with works by acrylic artist R.P. Jensen, many of which included cars or car-related images.
“His current work has focused on iconic western images; commercial brand images from the forties and fifties and Native American portraits…. One of his earliest series involved a variation on the theme of Geronimo's Cadillac. It featured lesser know Indian Chiefs, classic automobiles and long lost oil company signs and told the story of reservation land oil royalties being stolen from Indian Chiefs who had no concept of what a royalty check was…." (hiramditty.com/about rpjensen). The piece shown here is titled “Wounded Knee Revisited.”

“(Matt) DiGregory, a local restaurant impresario owns the Standard Diner with his brothers Chris, Vince and Jon. He also owns the very popular Range restaurants…. The Brothers DiGregory couldn’t have found a better location for their high-end diner which specializes in fresh, homemade comfort foods. The restaurant is situated in Albuquerque’s East Downtown (EDO) area, a burgeoning residential and business district regarded by real estate experts as one of the ‘top five up-and-coming’ areas in the nation…” (nmgastronome.com).
As much as I am a Guy Fieri fan and as much as I enjoy visiting restaurants featured on his program, it was the attitude of “trendy” displayed by the customers featured on this episode that kept me away on previous visits. I have no time for trendy or snooty.

So what finally brought us here? Chuck’s hunger for blue corn pancakes and my need for new restaurants to research and write about.
While the Standard Diner doesn’t serve blue corn pancakes, they do serve the next best thing (or maybe next better thing)—blue corn waffles with fried chicken. “…I know it might not sound like an interesting choice, but trust me when I say there’s nothing ordinary about the dish. The waffles are made of blue corn…which makes them possibly the most New Mexican waffles in existence. The chicken is piñon-crusted…” (Denise Marquez at local-iq.com).
Blue corn “…was originally developed by the Hopi, and remains an essential part of Hopi dishes like piki bread. Blue corn meal is a corn meal that is ground from whole blue corn and has a sweet flavor. It is also a staple of New Mexican cuisine. In addition to its sharply different color, blue corn has several nutritional advantages over standard yellow or white corn varieties. It contains 20% more protein and has a lower glycemic index than white corn. When used to make tortillas, blue corn produces a sweeter, nuttier taste than yellow or white corn, and is a more complete protein source…” (wikipedia.org).

Chuck’s plate contained a large blue corn waffle upon which sat two pieces of a boneless chicken breast.
Both were excellent, but to me, the star of his plate was the serving hash that contained potatoes, bacon, onions, apples, and what I think was spinach.

When faced with a breakfast menu, my first stop is always at the list of Eggs Benedict variations. And the Standard Diner’s menu didn’t disappoint. I had my choice of: the Crab benny with two poached eggs, Baltimore crab cakes, and fresh hollandaise; the Scotch benny with two poached eggs, smoked salmon, grilled tomato, and fresh dill hollandaise; the Edo benny with two poached eggs, sautéed spinach, mushrooms, grilled tomato, and fresh hollandaise; and the New Mexican with two poached eggs, house-made green chile turkey sausage, and green chile white cheddar queso. All bennies come with hash browns and fresh fruit.

I chose the New Mexican and the dish had both some high points and low points.
The turkey sausage was tasty with a moderate amount of heat from the green chile. But, since it was made with turkey, it was very lean and somewhat dry. This could have been alleviated if the eggs hadn’t been way over poached. The yolks were almost solid and had they been cooked less I would have had the runny yolk to moisten the sausage. And the cheddar queso sauce was a delicious alternative to hollandaise. And my hash browns were perfect—crisp without my remembering to ask.

As is apparent from our photos, the diner was virtually empty at the time (10:00 a.m.) of our visit.
We learned from our server that they had just recently begun breakfast service and that it is taking time for people to catch on. I am sure that they will—hopefully after the kitchen learns how to properly poach an egg. But Chuck’s chicken and waffles were so delicious that I will still award the Standard Diner 4.5 Addies.

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