It’s official, I hate Guy Fieri. I hate his pinky rings, his “look-I’m-wearing-my-glasses-behind-my-head” douchebag personality and, most of all, what he is doing to the American diner. His Food Network show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” allows this bleach-haired living troll-doll to visit a restaurant, eat something, make a face at the camera and say “Money!” I’m sure that does wonders for the precious 22-36 male car-buying demographic they court, but he leaves the impression that every restaurant with a burger on its menu and a token sassy employee is a diner. Wrong again, Ed Hardy.
A diner is no place for a flame-print bowling shirt. A diner is a place for Nighthawks and a leather jacket, for Uma Thurman and Link Wray’s “Rumble” playing in the background. It’s a place where you can sit through the long silences and let the symphony of plates, forks and blue-collar brogues embrace you like a warm blanket. A diner is where you go for comfort, whether you’re looking for a home-style meal with family and friends or just a place to get away from your family and friends.
But where can we Chattanoogan’s go to for our own Edward Hopper moment, for our own slice of Americana? Roy’s Grill at 116 Chickamauga Ave., just a block across the Georgia line will have you singing Tom Waits lyrics under your breath while your heart quietly smiles at the classically restored décor and glowing red neon.
I grew up down the road from Roy’s and have seen it struggle through several owners and a costly restoration. The newest owner, John T. (Arnold), learned about comfort food from his momma and granny, then got plenty of practice in the kitchens of Southern Star, Merv’s and other fine area establishments. The food at Roy’s speaks of his commitment to fresh ingredients prepared with a genuine respect for the diner tradition and a real love of the food we all crave in the depths of our hearts.
The printed menu is not a sprawling catalogue. It’s simple and to the point, as it should be. Want a burger? They have all you need in a burger. Hereford beef, hand pressed into patties and cooked on a well-seasoned flat-top grill. Put that on a soft bun and serve with fresh cut, cooked-to-order fries and it tastes exactly like a good diner burger should. No aioli’s, caramelized veggies or imported Siberian yak cheese on this one, please. Sometimes you just want a good burger.
Along with the printed menu there is the whiteboard of daily specials. All of your favorite meat-and-three’s are represented, but because John and his staff are making most of this food fresh it tasted like I was sitting at momma’s formica dinette set waiting on “Get Smart” to come on the TV. The meatloaf was the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant. It wasn’t greasy or dense and had that perfectly sweet tomatoey sauce on top. The variety of side dishes allows you to pick fresh veggies or shamelessly get into a little carb-on-carb action.
Not only is the food delicious, but the décor is incredible. The radiant glow of the neon and the clean Art Deco lines of the building shine like a beacon of optimism on an otherwise bleak stretch of Rossville Boulevard. The long red counter, the sleek chromed cabinetry and the retro metal signs gave me the feeling Ron Howard was about to appear at any moment. Not the “Happy Days” Ron Howard, but the “American Graffiti” Ron Howard. John T. told me that people regularly come by just to photograph the restaurant and scenes from the 2009 movie “Side Order” were filmed at the big red counter.
Roy’s Grill represents a specific time in American history where rosy optimism sat next to grizzled introspection; Ron Howard sits next to Tom Waits and is served the same black coffee by the same hair-netted waitress. These are icons of American history that a corporate shill with a fake Italian name should just leave alone (did I mention Guy’s real name is Ferry?). Mr. Fieri, please keep hosting game shows and keep away from our diners.
America will thank you.
Hot off the griddle
- Meo Mio’s Cajun Spirits opened on New Year’s Eve at 4119 Cummings Hwy. New Orleans-style Cajun and Creole food to warm your cold bones.
- Famous Nater’s food truck (the one with the killer sandwiches) took second-place honors in the “2011 Food Truck Rookie of the Year” atMobile-Cuisine.com. “This just proves that Chattanooga has a great up-and-coming street food scene,” owner Nathan Flynt told Nooga.com. The winner? A food truck from Boston.
- Matthew L. Pinner, executive chef at The Chattanoogan was selected to compete in the IACC USA Chef of the Year competition. Congrats Chef Pinner!
- Food Lions are closing around a dozen Chattanooga-area stores. Help folks with transportation issues get out of the food deserts this will inevitably create so they can get fresh, local food. Let’s turn this into an opportunity for education and support.
- Slow Food Chattanooga & Gaining Ground hosted a live-streaming TEDxManhatten event called “Changing the Way We Eat.” Speakers include Mitchell Davis of the James Beard Foundation, chef Jamie Oliver, and 11-year-old organiz food advocate Birke Baehr of Knoxville.
Mike McJunkin is a Chattanooga foodie and chef. Email him at email@example.com.