Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tom’s Diner

Located at 601 East Colfax Avenue, Tom’s Diner is a throwback to the golden age of diners. While other similar establishments have closed their doors over time, competing against the likes of Perkins and Village Inn, Tom’s, which I remember initially as the Rainbow Diner when I moved here in 1998, has been serving standard short-order-cook fare for approximately the last decade. Insulated from the chain pressures that inhabit interstate exits and the American suburban and exurban landscape, Tom’s location on a yet another rough and tumble corner of Colfax limits competition. There is little doubt that a Denny’s franchisee would not want the unpredictably of Colfax Avenue and Pearl Street.

The place is all windows, so before you even step through the doors, you know a long wrap around lunch counter, yellow and red formica booths and horseshoe shaped purple naugehyde tables await. Mid-morning sunlight streams through the windows, illuminating the soft yellow walls as any lingering melatonin is chased from your system, as you pass from Colfax Avenue and into the retro-chic bosom of Tom’s Diner.



The repetitive efficiency of lessons long learned are evident throughout, and include the exact same collection of condiments spaced ~4 feet along the lunch counter. A geodesic dome of creamer that would do Buckminster Fuller proud, flanked by salt and pepper and sugar.


And behind the counter, cereal. Two bowls for a few bucks, all economy sizes, none of those single serving boxes from childhood.


The menu, like any 24 hour diner, is extensive. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the menu is multi-page affair, spanning full five pages, and brimming with the expected diner classics: blue plate specials, milkshakes (made on an ancient mint green milkshake machine), club sandwiches and dinner entrees such as chicken fried steak, that come with your choice of two sides.

The coffee is hot, offered fast, refilled often, and in the tradition of diners across the nation, fairly weak. This seems to be a universal truth, whether dining on Colfax or rural Route 29 in Virginia, or anywhere in between. The coffee will be watery, but what it lacks in boldness, it will redeem itself in sheer quantity.


The huevos rancheros featured a full plate that oozed a hansel and gretel drip of green chili from the kitchen to our table. It was what you expect from a diner, a large portion of food, all hot, some of it originating from a can, but completely serviceable.


Eggs and bacon! A staple of the American diet and staple of breakfast menus across the land (Watercourse withstanding).


The omelet was standard three egg affair that elicits alarm at its size, but then is inevitably finished and laying waste to any to-do list motivation for the next few hours. The toast comes heavily buttered and the hash browns a mix of crispy bits and soggy potato, unsurprising given the size of the pile placed on the griddle.


Tom’s Diner offers up classic diner fare in a vibrant environment. Catering to anyone and everyone, the mood changes with the time of day. Quiet mornings were inevitably preceded by a last-call lush rush just a few hours prior, with loud conversations and tipsy excitement evident. If you like food off a griddle you will find something at Tom’s to satiate your appetite.

Other reviews of Tom’s run the gamut, as to be expected, from great to awful. The negative reviews whined about the low quality of the food, but I have never considered diners to be on the forefront of the dining experience. Diners are known for uninspired food that will offend few, not for applewood smoked bacon and buckwheat pancakes. One should approach a diner expecting to hand out a “C” if asked to grade the meal. One should approach a diner expected to be fed for a low cost. If expectations are higher, then one should skip Tom’s Diner, and any other diner for that matter, and make room eaters with more realistic expectations, who will undoubtedly enjoy Tom’s Diner.

Tom's Diner on Urbanspoon

Wolfe's Barbeque

Wolfe's is the first stop in one of my favorite food categories -- BBQ.  I grew up in Kansas City so I've had plenty of exposure to the tangy, spicy good stuff.  I got the sliced brisket sandwich with spicy sauce and  beans, Sandy got the pork with sweeter sauce.

The barbecue was pretty good, the sauce was thick and not too vinegary, just like I like it, and the meat had the requisite pink smoke ring that lets you know it was cooked low and slow.  The atmosphere was perfect for barbecue, very casual, with vinyl tablecloths and food served on paper plates.

Wolfe's is our first casualty, as it closed on Christmas day after 25 years.  From this article it sounds like it is closing by choice, but still too bad to see a long time Colfax restaurant close its doors.  Here was the line on the Wolfe's last day.

Also, as I was leaving Wolfe's, I came upon a sight that you might only see on Colfax -- 3 bicyclists, one wearing a leapord costume, the next with a stuffed fish hat, and the last with a bear hooded cape.  Sadly, I didn't get my camera out in time to get a picture.

Wolfe's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cheeky Monk

The Cheeky Monk, at 534 East Colfax Avenue, serves up enough variety of Belgian beer to satisfy the most discerning Flemish fetishist, and if you venture across the expansive dark wood dining room and peruse the menu, you will find a menu that ventures well beyond Belgian staples (waffles and fries!).
The Cheeky Monk stakes it name on its wide selection of Belgian beer, offering a choice that is likely unmatched in the state. With exclusivity comes cost, with beers ranging from $4.50 to a soon-to-arrive specialty brew that will sell for $60. Most draft beers though are in the $5-$10 range, and unless you are connoisseur, you will likely be trying something new, with a name likely to flummox your American-English speaking sensibilities, such as the following: Blanch de Bruxelles, La Chouffe, Affligem, Kwak, and Koningshoeven.
I am a pale ale drinker, which is not in the repertoire of Belgian brewers, so I am not the person to offer up much of an opinion on the beer.  Everything I have had there has been drinkable, but I never found it necessary to order the same thing twice. Of course, Belgian beer lovers, and really anyone whose tastes go beyond hoppiness, will find something they like. Also, and I am unsure of the reasoning, but it may have to do with a distribution agreement, each beer comes in a signature glass. Order a Kwak, you will get a Kwak glass, etc. If they run short of glassware, you will be told to wait, or more interesting, given a beer after giving the server explicit permission that it is OK.
I have had sandwiches, croquettes, and frites over the course of several visits and have had mixed luck. The frites are always good. The croquettes, delicious, as fried cheese should be, but have been let down by the sandwiches. This time around we tested our luck by avoiding sandwiches.
The bangers and mash was good. It is hard to make a bad sausage, but the surprising thing, the sausages were overshadowed by the sauerkraut. The sauerkraut was spiked with carrots and had a roasted quality to it, not the biting flavor you get from hot dog vendors. This was all tied together with a garlic leek stoemp, which are, essentially, lightly mashed potatoes.
The fish and chips were…fish and chips. A little heavy on the breading, but was perched atop frites, which is a saving grace for nearly any food.
The three cheese penne in a cream sauce and topped with bread crumbs, was a wonderful marriage of texture and flavor. Think about what a three cheese cream sauce should taste and feel like and they nail it.
I would not consider the Cheeky Monk to be great, but it is a safe bet for drinks and a meal. And coming off the heels of the Great Wall and a drink at the Roslyn Bar and Grill, it is a shining star.

Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe on Urbanspoon