By Chris Klint
Channel 2 News
1:57 PM AKDT, July 23, 2012
3000 Minnesota Dr.
$5-$20 per plate
6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week
I don’t usually have a specific place in mind when I eat a Lunchbox review: as often as not I simply drive a section of town and stop somewhere interesting. Occasionally, however, I know exactly where I’m going -- and why I’m going there.
The City Diner is one of the more iconic restaurants in town, its unmistakably retro silver-sided design easily the most interesting to occupy its spot after several eminently forgettable “American” and “international” restaurants whose full names I’ve, well, forgotten. It’s a little difficult to reach its corner, on the southwest corner of Minnesota Drive and Benson Boulevard, since you have to be headed east on Benson or south on Minnesota to make the turn, but there’s plenty of parking once you’re there.
When I visited on an overcast Friday, I was fresh from a movie marathon with all three of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, culminating in a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” -- as well as posting an initial wire story on the mass shootings during its Aurora, Colo. premiere. I hadn’t really eaten a formal meal since lunch the previous day and as I refused a table or booth in favor of a stool at the restaurant’s old-school counter, taking in the place’s throwback checkered-tile look, I was hungry for something fast, simple and good.
The City Diner’s menu is definitely up to the task of accommodating any appetite, with dozens of choices ranging from breakfast fare through soup, salads, sandwiches and hamburgers all the way up to full dinners available throughout the day. It’s extremely flexible and potentially intimidating for a first-time visitor, especially with the bits of lingo mixed in to item descriptions, but a helpful primer (anything “on a raft” is served on toast, if it’s “in the alley” it’s served on the side) keeps things making sense as you make a selection. I ended up going with a solid selection of comfort food, ordering a cold meatloaf sandwich with corn chowder in lieu of French fries ($10.75); drinks are generally served in 32-ounce pitchers rather than by the glass, so I went a little upscale and selected a chocolate malt ($5.95). Service was fast and efficient, with everything served within 15 minutes.
The chocolate malt was first to arrive, with the server who brought it over setting both a tall glass and a refill tin before me; it’s a combination of drink and dessert that’s easily enough to share with a second person, assuming you make it through a sip and still want to do so. While many restaurants offer shakes, relatively few make malts…and the Diner’s are a memorable indulgence, the chocolate variety akin to eating a candy box of Whoppers without any of that pesky chewing. Even a server behind the counter’s mention of a chocolate-peanut-butter version not listed on the menu can’t quite dissuade my allegiance to this sweet treat.
The cold meatloaf sandwich offered an intriguing compromise between a lunch and dinner item, a generous plank of blended meat bracketed by lettuce, tomato and mayo as well as two slices of toasted white bread. Its core component of beef and pork was liberally spiced and quite good cold; it felt like a summer dish rather than a winter one, while still being bland enough to take flavoring like ketchup or Tabasco sauce for diners inclined to kick it up a notch. Meatloaf is also available as a hot dinner for a few dollars more, and the sandwich tempted me to try it that way.
When I turned my attention to the corn chowder, I found a small but dense island of bacon bits and cilantro slowly sinking into the creamy density of the cup sitting alongside the sandwich, prompting me to rescue it with my spoon. While the bacon adds an obvious hit of savory richness, it by no means upstaged what tasted like a Southwestern classic, with big kernels of corn and bits of bell pepper inhabiting a peppery base that didn’t give an inch to the bacon; together the two were quite delicious, a well-chosen pairing that makes it a side selection not to be overlooked.
Anchorage has many diners, and Kriner’s Diner gives the City Diner a definite run for the money, but I have to give the City Diner a slight edge over the competition. Its appealing décor and classic menu with a touch of refinement give it the feeling of a greasy spoon that isn’t a greasy spoon, the kind of place where you can have everything from a family dinner to a business meeting without feeling self-conscious about it. Spend too much time there, of course, and you just might find yourself ordering something with your meal “in the alley” to take home.
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