Second Helpings

November 19, 2010 

I should have known better than to go to Rick's Diner at 11 a.m. on a Saturday. I was fully aware that, in the 12 years since the restaurant opened, its Southern-accented menu of traditional American diner fare had earned a loyal following. I also knew that breakfast, which is served all day, is especially popular during weekend brunch hours.

But I was curious about how the restaurant was faring since its relocation in June to the recently refurbished Hope Valley Square. And I may have engaged in a little wishful thinking that the new place would be sufficiently larger to thin the crowds a bit.

No such luck. My wife and I arrived just in time to snag the last table in a dining room awash in a perfect storm of customers - some lingering over Belgian waffles, country ham biscuits and fried bologna and cheddar omelets, others putting in the first orders of the day for meatloaf, fried chicken, patty melt and onion rings.

The packed room, more than five months after the move, was eloquent testament to Rick's enduring popularity. Owner Debbie Lynch has done a fine job of preserving the atmosphere of that room, too, from the distinctive corrugated metal wainscoting and vintage black and white photos on the walls to the rich coffee aroma in the air.

But the kitchen was obviously overwhelmed by the crowd when we arrived, and our waiter was, as they say in the trade, "in the weeds." Our meal took over half an hour to arrive, and when it did it was lukewarm. That's a shame, because my wife's over-easy eggs appeared to have been cooked just right, and the sausage gravy on her split biscuit would have been tasty if it hadn't begun to congeal.

My fried catfish sandwich fared marginally better. The fish was moist and the light cornmeal breading still reasonably crisp, though the single small filet was dwarfed by the oversize bun. A smaller bun - or, in light of the $8.25 price, a second filet - was most definitely called for.

On the bright side, my onion rings (the price of the sandwich includes a side of your choice) hadn't been long out of the fryer. They weren't quite as crunchy and golden as I recall, but they were good enough that I'm encouraged to pay the new Rick's another visit. Just not on a Saturday at 11 a.m.

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