It just wasn’t my day. And the last straw came at dinner time. My original plan for a throwback meal at Fort Gordon’s Godfather’s Pizza fell through when we found out it closed at 7 p.m. Then, Sean remembered a new tapas restaurant out in Evans, which, when we arrived, wasn’t open that evening.
Hungry and in need of a little comfort, I spied a glow from the nearby Evans Diner. I hadn’t been there in years – in fact, not since it had first opened back in the late 1990s. It was one of the first, if not the first, restaurant to locate in that area, and I still remember how long the drive used to seem, and how the diner was set apart amid trees and fields.
Then, too, the diner was shiny and new and different, from the colorful vintage cars parked out front to the tabletop jukebox machines. The meatloaf was terrific, served with a rich gravy; the milkshakes were thick, and an active and lively vibe was in the air.
Today, much is different.
The surrounding area is bustling, and while the dining car looks the same, the old cars are gone and the jukeboxes are marked “Display Only.” But just inside, a statue of a gyrating Elvis welcomed us, alongside with a display of ’50s toys and a statue of a perky waitress. In the restaurant, which was fragrant with the scent of cooking waffles, we were warmly greeted by Kelly, who invited us to sit wherever we liked.
Near the restrooms was another sign of the aging restaurant – a bucket to catch a ceiling leak and yellow caution signs. But the old girl was holding her own. The pressed tin ceiling and mirrored walls picked up the light from the ’50s-style glass fixtures, the bar was all polished metal accented with vinyl “cowhide” bar seats, and the cushioned booths were shiny, glittery red-and-tan vinyl – all coordinating with the spotless black, white and red floor tiles.
In ordering, I was disappointed again to learn the meatloaf I’d wanted wasn’t available as a blue plate special on Wednesday (available Thursdays only). So, eschewing the spaghetti and pork chop choices, I chose beef tips with gravy, with a side of mac and cheese, and green beans. Other side options were potato salad, mashed potatoes, fried okra, fried squash, stewed tomatoes and okra, and cabbage – and roll, biscuit or corn bread.
The broad menu also includes appetizer, salad and soup/chili options, breakfast (served all day!), burgers and sandwiches. Sean wavered over the fried bologna sandwich, but wondered aloud if he should try the patty melt.
Kelly, wiping the table in the next booth over, gave a determined nod.
“The patty melt is excellent,” she said – and his decision was made.
While we were waiting, we watched some of The Andy Griffith Show on one TV in the corner, and Jeopardy! on the screen above the bar.
When my blue plate special arrived, it made me smile that it came on a beige melamine divided plate, just like the ones my aunt used to serve me dinners on as a little girl. The mac and cheese reminded me of her recipe, too – eggy with clumps of sharp cheddar – and the Italian green beans were appropriately Southern, with bits of ham. The sides seemed a bit tired, though, like they’d been hanging around for just a tad too long.
The beef tips in gravy were tender and had that salty savoriness that made it almost impossible to want to stop eating it, despite the fact that the bed of rice it came on was a bit firm.
Sean’s patty melt came with a hearty serving of fries – hand-cut, home-fried or seasoned. He’d opted for hand-cut, and they were the George Hamilton of french fries – dark tan and greasy. But Kelly was right: The patty melt was outstanding, a flavorful meat patty with caramelized onions and melted white cheese on toast. (Try it dipped in ketchup!)
We’d planned our dessert even before ordering our entrees – but Kelly sorrowfully said that they were out of malt, so I settled for a chocolate milkshake and Sean chose a banana split.
The shake that Kelly mixed up in a Coke glass was the largest milkshake I’d ever seen (and only $3!) – at least a pint and a half of creamy richness streaked with chocolate syrup. After sucking blissfully on the straw for a few moments, I declared, “This is the best milkshake I’ve ever had,” and with a smile and almost a wink, Kelly shared her secret, “I put some extra chocolate syrup in it.”
Sean’s banana split was perfectly simple, a very ripe banana topped with scoops of real ice cream – vanilla, chocolate and strawberry – whipped cream, nuts and three cherries.
Maybe it hadn’t been my day. But sitting there with my shake and stealing spoonfuls of ice cream from Sean, I felt as though the restaurant were an old friend – not perfect, but full of comfort. Then and there, all the troubles of the day just seemed to melt away.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: Evans Diner, 4429 Washington Road
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday-Tuesday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday
SECOND HELPING: (706) 210-9636