Friday, November 19, 2010

Starlite Diner: rant averted.

SO BAD, SO GOOD:  The MacArthur Chili Cheeseburger at Starlite Diner
  • SO BAD, SO GOOD: The MacArthur Chili Cheeseburger at Starlite Diner
This summer and fall I’ve been lamenting one thing really strongly — the lack of 24 hour non-chain diners in Central Arkansas. I mean, if Fort Smith can have several and every little spot along I-40 have one, why not Little Rock or North Little Rock?
Well, I gotta be quiet now. We have one… back, open 24 hours a day 365 days a year serving up breakfast and burgers and lunch specials and ice cream. So how can I complain?
In short, I’m not. I’m really glad Starlite Diner is open again.
UPDATE: 24/7? Then why was the restaurant closed the other night?
My argument has been for some time: “Why don’t we have a local 24 hour diner here?” Yes, I know, there’s IHOP and Denny’s and Waffle House. But something local and lovely? Nah.
Starlite Diner reopened last month after being closed for nearly a year. The traditional prefab linear diner has its barstools, booths and even a separate dining area in the back. The original operation began in 1994, after the previous owner moved the building up from Florida. Gone now are all the plaques, posters and photos on the walls, the tin ceiling and slowly oscillating ceiling fans; the whole place has been gutted and renovated, and it smacks of clean — not something you normally get all excited about with a diner, but I’ll take it.
I’ve been hearing mixed reviews — people who are glad it’s back have bragged on breakfast but some have said lunch service is spotty. Been meaning to go back and try it out.
And no, I was not about to eat another breakfast, though I did look through the menu. Research, ya know. I figure once I get back to wanting breakfast again, I’ll have to come back for the Pecan Blueberry Pancakes (1 for $5.50, 3 for $7.50) — those prices seem pretty high for pancakes. But I watched the griddle from my barstool and secretly lusted after the thick, 12” wide pancakes being flipped there upon. Massive, massive pancakes. I should bring a crowd and share a big stack.
There’s chili all over the menu — no, not the physical copy of the menu I had (very clean, actually) but in the items. In the appetizers, in the dinners, on the sandwiches. I think the word “chili” was planted in my subconscious mind by all the references, so when I flipped the menu over to the backside it triggered a great desire for one of the menu items.
That item is the MacArthur Chili Cheeseburger ($7.95), a sloppy open faced burger smothered in chili, cheese and onions served up with a healthy dose of fries. I couldn’t help myself. Out it came, buns toasted but inverted with their flat side down, big half pound burger patty on top, smothered in chili and that cheese and those bits of onion I should never consume but always do. The chili makes this dish fantastic — soft pinto and kidney beans, big swaths of stewed tomato, chunks of beef all nicely stewed together. It’s a hearty chili, not too sweet and not spicy at all, though there are things on the table to doctor up your dish if you feel it’s necessary.
The fries are nice and firm golden spears, about a half pound’s worth or more, far more than you can eat in a sitting. I took them with me. They’re too good to leave behind but were far too much to tackle with that burger. Oh, and it was all served up with a massive, massive pickle spear.
The gentleman sitting down the bar from me asked me what I was eating, the scent of that chili was just powerfully good. He told me he had been a regular years ago and had missed the restaurant while it was gone. He lives out of town now but plans to come back. His toasted Ham and Cheese Sandwich ($6.95) smelled wonderful with its hand cut smoked ham and Swiss; it was similarly paired with a load of fries. And yes, in case you were wondering, there is a Reuben ($7.95).
I’m still trying to get my weight down from this summer’s adventure (five more days, folks) so I skipped the ice cream — but you can have it here, banana splits for $5.25 and sundaes for $3.95, floats for $2.95 and milkshakes for $3.50, all with a choice of strawberry, pineapple, hot fudge or chocolate, vanilla — and for the sundaes, caramel.
The one concern I see coming up is pricing; the previous owner sold the joint because food costs were high, and the prices on the menu now reflect those costs. Some will gripe. But compare them to what you’d pay at one of those chains, and I believe they’d be comparable.
You’ll find Starlite Diner at the corner of Military Road and MacArthur in North Little Rock. Just look for the silver and red prefab classic diner car on the corner. It’s open all the time now, but I bet they’d take a call-in order to (501) 353-0465 if you asked nicely.
UPDATE: Reader Pants Pockets points out over on Facebook something that could be a major issue. From Monday night:
"NO!!!! central ar does NOT have another 24/7 place. looking forward to trying this place went at 11 o clock tonight closed up tight"
So what's the deal? The MENU says Starlite Diiner's open 24/7...

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