Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Review: Dizzy's Diner

Dizzy's Diner

9th Street, corner of 8th Avenue

F to 7th Avenue; B69, B75

Reviewed by Jessa

Recently, my coworker came into work holding a coffee cup -- not from the local Starbucks, nor was it from the bodega down the block. No, this white paper cup was emblazoned with a colorful logo for "Dizzy's: The Finer Diner." I had seen the Dizzy's exterior many times in the past few years, and while I'd wanted to eat there, I had never gotten around to it. "So, how is it?" I asked, gesturing towards the cup. "Bad," she replied, scrunching her nose while willing herself to swallow another sip. Apparently, she had only gone to Dizzy's because it was close to her house and she was running late. The Finer Diner can't even get the morning cup of coffee right? Ruh roh. I had to check it out for myself.

The Order:

Portobello mushroom burger, served with a side salad and fries; coffee.

The Food:

Dizzy's menu is exciting: it's diner food, but classier. The Reuben is spiced up with "jalapeno 1000 island dressing" and pepper jack; their special oatmeal comes with different toppings daily (today, it's poached pears), and they tout a grilled Swiss cheese on Alsatian bread as one of their specials.

The breakfast sandwiches, however, are another story, with classic egg sandwiches made ironic with names like Mr. Clean (egg on a roll), DiMaggio (egg and sausage), and Coltrane (DiMaggio mas queso). They don't have scrambled eggs here, they have "wrecked" eggs. And don't you ask for a bagel! Ask for your sandwich "hard." My inner 15-year-old really wants to like this place just so I can go back and order a hard, wrecked Coltrane. Heh.

Salacious breakfasts aside, I ultimately went with the portobello burger, which is comprised of a meaty portobello mushroom cap dressed with luscious green avocado and a thin layer of tangy goat cheese, sitting atop a vibrant sweet roasted red pepper, dressed in a sweet, tart balsamic vinaigrette, all stuffed in a pillowy brioche roll. At least, that's the way I had it planned out in my mind. It's the sandwich my sometimes-vegetarian foodie self adores: a healthier version of the burger, gussied up with all the classic components of fancy-shmancy dining for a health-conscious urban dweller. I should love this sandwich!

But...I don't. I barely even like it. The portobello mushroom is nice and hearty, but the avocado is absolutely flavorless. The red pepper seems thrown on as an afterthought, especially since it's haphazardly hanging out of the bun. While we're on the subject of the bun: wimpy. It doesn't hold up to the density of the mushroom, or the overabundance of (admittedly yummy) balsamic dressing that is soaking the delicate bread and completely obliterating any taste of goat cheese. It's sloppy mush that could easily be remedied by using a heartier bread, like ciabatta, and not being so stingy with the goat cheese. And for pete's sake, show some restraint with the vinegar.

Accompanying my slippery sandwich are shoestring fries, which is already a big plus in my book, as I am not a fan of the steak fry that the other diners I frequent seem to love (I'm looking at you, Carroll Gardens/St. Clair). The fries still have the skin on, which is just the way I like them, and behold! They are seasoned with what appears to be Old Bay seasoning! Huzzah! I eagerly pop one in my mouth and...nothing. Soggy. Bland. Oily, but not in that good-grease kind of way. I dejectedly sprinkle some salt and pepper onto them and give them a squirt of ketchup to make them passable.

There is also a side salad, with limp but edible greens, and the star of the plate, juicy wedges of tomato, the only part of the meal I ate with gusto. ["Which is rare enough at this time of year in NYC that I am tempted to check Dizzy's out just for the tomatoes. Pathetic, I know." -- ed.]

The Drinks:

Oy, the coffee. A little chalkboard sign beckoned from the counter: TRY OUR PUMPKIN PIE COFFEE! Well, okay, I will! Unfortunately, they're all out, with the exception of a "swallow" that the waitress generously gave me so I could try it. Oh, cruel waitress, why did you not let me hold on to the nutmeg-and-cinnamon-laced ideal in my head! What I got tasted like a dash of pumpkin pie filling mixed with instant coffee and sink water. Still, I wanted to give Dizzy's a fair chance. It was the end of the pot, after all.

Their regular coffee? Horrendous. Like the pumpkin pie coffee, without the pleasure of the hint of pumpkin. I sipped against my better judgment and got lost in thought, conjuring up several other places nearby that have better coffee than this place: Naidre's (their chocolate mint coffee will change your life), Sweet Melissa's Patisserie, Cocoa Bar, Ladybird Bakery, Dunkin Donuts, the bagel place near the Pavilion…hell, even Mickey D's makes better coffee than this place. I was soon greeted with a refill of steaming hot coffee that was still horrible, but at least didn't taste like dirty tap water. To my surprise, I spied two large bags of Barrie House coffee behind the counter. Barrie House makes some wonderful coffee, so I'm pretty sure it was just their complete lack of attention to the cleanliness/brewing. In other words, SKIP THE COFFEE.

The Service:

For the most part, the service was absolutely wonderful. The waitress was super friendly, attentive and accommodating. She had it down to a science: prompt without being pushy, friendly without being obnoxious, and she didn't rush me out the door. The busboy, on the other hand, took my plate while my head was turned. Mind you, my plate still had part of my sandwich and most of my fries left! He didn't even ask if I was done. I turned and caught him mid-snatch, too stunned to say anything. I wasn't going to miss my plate of soggy potatoes and mushy brioche, but jeez, ask before you clear someone's meal! The waitress, on the other hand, encouraged me to loiter with my blessed cup of ice water and my latest Freecycle acquisition, a huge canvas bag filled with magazines. This, dear reader, was the best part of my meal.

The Surroundings:

I wish Dizzy's worked on their food as hard as they work on their kitschy decor. The atmosphere is mellow and relaxed, with a cheery red, yellow, and lime-green color scheme that brightens and expands the cozy space. Jazz plays at a pleasant volume.

But, this being "the finer diner," they couldn't stop at that, no. Jumbo, multicolored lights adorned the vent pipe mounted on the ceiling, and vintage diner signs competed with artsy black-and-white framed prints of what appeared to be farm machinery, which competed with a huge wall clock flanked by framed pictures of kittens. Yes, really. This is what would happen if the diner from Happy Days mated with a truck-stop eatery while watching Terry Gilliam's Brazil. (Side note: am I the only cinephile that doesn't fellate this movie at any given opportunity? Is it really strange that, twelve years after viewing this film for a cinema class, I can't look at a vent pipe or duct without thinking about it? Should I really give it a second chance like my Gilliam-loving friend, Kid A, urged? I NEED YOUR GUIDANCE.)


They offer soy milk (a rarity in the diner circuit) for their beverages and homemade granola, which they sell by the pound. Rumor has it they will substitute tofu for eggs if you ask nicely. The salt and pepper shakers have huge holes: one shake coated my fries. The ketchup came in a classic red picnic squeeze bottle, which appealed to the nostalgia fiend inside me (nay, inside us all). Their sugar comes in packets, but you won't have to worry about that because you are never going to order their coffee. EVER. They even have the nerve to sell it by the pound. I mean, it's Barrie House, so I'm sure if you want to brew it at home, you'll be fine, but still...no. Just go to Naidre's or Ozzie's or Gorilla Coffee and get some great coffee for about the same price. All of them are located in the surrounding area, and the amazing elixir these beans create is so worth the travel! ["Note: get the beans at Ozzie's on 5th, NOT the brewed verzh. Tastes like ozone." -- ed.]

Dizzy's has a real-deal cappuccino machine, not the 7-11-esque dispenser so many diners have, but I do not trust these people to brew up a shot of espresso. I just don't.

Also, Dizzy's is hiring. Just thought I'd put that out there.

I really wanted to like this place. Dizzy's has all the ingredients that should make it great, but somehow, none of it works. None of the amenities or coziness matter because the food is just plain bad. I'll take my classic diner food done right, thanks. It's a shame; someone took a long time coming up with a fantastic menu full of potential. Someone's asleep at the flat top. And the counter. Those bus boys, on the other hand? Wide awake and ready to snatch your dreary meal out from under your nose.

Dizzy's, there are far finer diners than you. You get a D.

Dizzy's on Urbanspoon