I’m always on the hunt for a good diner – that hidden gem, that little hole-in-the-wall like something you’d find on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. With a population of over 1.2 million, the metro area of Edmonton is sadly lacking in the diner department, so when I spotted Rockin’ Robyn’s Diner in the city’s west end, hope flickered anew.
Rockin’ Robyn’s opened June 2012 when they took over the space formerly occupied by Mexico Lindo to the north of the Mayfield Inn. The space underwent a complete transformation. Gone is the island décor, and instead of posters of tranquil beach scenes, pictures of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe hang on the walls. You can sit on stools at a long counter, at 1950s chrome-accented tables and chairs, or in one of the flashy red vinyl booths – and yes there is a jukebox in the corner, albeit one with Eminem’s CDs in it.
The menu is fairly standard for a diner. The all-day breakfast includes pancakes, waffles, and eggs a variety of ways. Lunch features burgers, soups and salads, and sandwiches aplenty, including the Knuckle Sandwich with a description that states, “Whatever we tell you its gonna be, and you’re gonna like it.” Wise guys, eh?
I first went on a Saturday when Blueberry Pancakes were the special du jour. To let you know how impressive these pancakes looked, I actually went up to the receiving customer and talked to her about them. From a distance, they looked absolutely incredible. Up close, they looked even better: three outrageously fluffy flapjacks loaded with big, juicy blueberries.
Surely the Rueben sandwich I ordered would look and taste just as good. It’s description sold me: “Rye bread piled high with smoked meat, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Dijon mustard. Pickles are to be eaten in the sandwich, not separate. (Be warned, you may be charged extra if you do this!)”
It was good but didn’t live up to the hype – scant on the “pile” of ingredients, namely cheese, and the sauerkraut which I couldn’t even find, and the pickles that got forgotten entirely. The corn chowder and potato soup that came with it was so droll that I gave up after two bites. I should’ve gone with the pancakes.
The Rockin’ Burger, on the other hand, was a thing of beauty. Loaded to the hilt with cheddar, bacon, mushrooms, an onion ring, tomato and lettuce, this one was a handful. The burger patty looked and tasted homemade, and for $10, that burger with its bushel of fries, was a very satisfying lunch.
I needed a slice of pie to make me feel better about my lacklustre Reuben but the dessert cupboard was bare. Saturday at a diner, and nary a pie, cake or cookie in sight? Gee willikers.
I didn’t want to give up on this nifty joint so soon, so two days later I returned and was happy to see some cakes and a lovely looking apple crumble pie in the display case. But…I should’ve ordered dessert first because by the time I finished my breakfast, the pie had disappeared.
And after a ho-hum corned beef hash, I really wished I had ordered dessert first.
Like the reuben, the corned beef hash was good, but again, no wow factor. Nothing that said, “Man, I’m coming back for this again!” Nothing that would make Guy Fieri rumble up in his red Camaro, or John Catucci say, “You gotta eat here!”
My beef with the menu is this: if you’re going to go through all the effort to make a diner look and feel like a diner, then make the food something special. Make people want to drive a half hour to get there (like I did) and then wait just as long in line to get a seat. I want to be able to say, “You gotta eat here!”
Diners speak to our past; they put us in a good place, a place where pompadours and poodle skirts were peachy keen. T-Birds, roller skates, slicked back hair; you get the picture.
Rockin’ Robyn’s has potential, but it has a ways to go before line-ups form outside the door. If anyone tries those blueberry pancakes, please let me know how they were.
You can listen to my CBC Edmonton radio review here.