DEAN’s Diner is the glossy new kid on the Port Solent block.
This brash, bright nostalgia diner opened its doors in May, reflecting a keenness in this country to emulate all things American – even a time in the 1950s when bobby-socked and slick-haired teens gathered around juke boxes to sip a milk shake.
Since diners became a part of the American landscape more than 100 years ago – they were originally old railroad wagons – the culture has been affected in many ways. The diner influences have touched almost every aspect of North American life including cooking, dining out, popular culture, design, fashion and more. For North America, now read Britain.
Dean’s Diner, part of a chain formerly known as Frankie’s Easy Diner, tries hard to recreate the era with its neon, stainless steel, red, black and white bold colours and booths. The juke box pumps out crooners from the ‘50’s to the ‘70’s, with the likes of Adam Faith and the Beatles added to the seductive nostalgic mix.
Walls are covered with a variety of images, from South Pacific star Mitzi Gaynor and Babe Ruth the baseball player to a perfect housewife with pinny and gleaming chrome-heavy cars.
And the menu? Much as you’d expect. There are classic NY hotdogs; classic hamburgers; American pancakes with griddled eggs. And of course there are fries, Coke and ice cream milk shakes.
But people expect more in 2011, so the Richoux group of companies which owns the brand has added tortilla wraps; salads; tortilla chips; nachos; chilli con carne; cajun chicken and even a veggie burger which certainly wouldn’t have had a look-in 60 years ago. Sundaes, brownies and pancakes are the desserts.
The only nod to a Britain of the Wimpy Bar era is evoked here: squeezy ketchup and yellow mustard on the tables. Prices run from £4.95 for a hamburger to All Day Brunch at £8.50.
I had to try one of the ice cream milk shakes, the oreo cookie one possibly. Or would it be a nutella, coffee, mint, chocolate, banana, vanilla or strawberry? Oreo, ‘America’s favourite cookie,’ it had to be. And it was excellent, the maltiness of the cookie bringing me back to my North American roots.
To remind myself of that time, a classic plain and simple hamburger was my choice. The meat was good, the tomato and lettuce far better than at other burger joints, the sesame bun too of a higher order. The fries, however, were the big letdown and unable to shake off poor provenance despite copious ketchup.
To get the whole feel of Dean’s Diner, sit inside rather than out and mop up the nostalgia. Service is excellent and well-informed and I think this diner provides a challenge to other eateries thanks to its slick look and undoubted appeal. My bill came to just under £11 including sparkling water.
Dean’s Diner, 30 Boardwalk, Port Solent (023) 9238 1765.
Open: from 11am–10pm during the week and 11am–11pm at weekends
Food: Four (out of five)
Disabled access: Fine
How to get there: From the city centre, follow the A27 going west towards Fareham. Turn left to Port Solent and park in the main car park. Dean’s Diner is on the lower level.