Lunch at the Cranky Diner
Don and I were excited when we read some reviews for Harold's Diner.
Road Side Diner
I liked the looks of the place when we pulled up. It shared a parking lot with the gas station next door. It had a big old shade tree. It also had a welcoming OPEN sign. Just above the 4, orange letters, I read the words, Sorry We're, in small print. So sassy.
Like a Train Car
We made sure to arrive early, while things were still calm. We entered one of the 2 doors and found ourselves in a space, that felt like a cozy train car. There were 13 counter stools and 4 tiny tables beneath the windows. Later when it got crowded, there wasn't much room to walk between.
Behind the counter there were 3 people, swiftly gearing up for the expected lunch crowd. The woman with the ponytail, greeted us. She was all business, but she wasn't scary.
Stools and Rules
We bravely chose 2 stools at the counter, instead of a "safer" window-facing table. As soon as we were seated, the woman reminded Don to grab two order forms from the holder, near the door.
Don grabbed 2 sheets and I hopped up to take a couple quick cell phone pics... while the place was mostly empty. I made sure to photograph the Diner Rules, but didn't study them until later. The rules reminded us, that No Sissies were allowed... and to Leave when we were done!
It was very clear that Harold's had a system for everything. I felt like I was taking a test when I checked the box for Grilled Cheese.
I was afraid I might get reprimanded for ordering less than $5. worth of food. So I added bacon for $2.25. Don whispered to me. "Don't forget to write your name at the bottom." Whew. I almost missed that. I am not the best test taker.
Guy at the Grill
The youngish guy at the griddle seemed focused on his cooking. Surely he wasn't one of the rude people mentioned in reviews. I liked his efficient technique, tossing the round balls of beef onto the griddle and flattening them. But when he suddenly turned and faced me spoke, I gulped. Was he the mean guy? He spoke fast and I couldn't hear over all the sizzling. I didn't want to risk it by asking, "What did you say?" So I just said, "I'll have some water please." He said nothing, but promptly brought me my drink.
"Eat Here or We Both Starve"
It was clear very quickly, which of the 3 was the grumpy owner that I'd read about. I didn't get a photo of him, because his constant frown was intimidating. However, he probably saw me in the mirror when I took this photo of the important words, "Eat Here or we both starve." Luckily I think he was in an extra bad mood and couldn't be bothered by acknowledging diners. We had read that "hurling insults" is his claim to fame... but he wasn't in a good enough mood for that.
Harold ... Chuck
Harold Smalls opened the diner in 1974. I have no idea a bout his character or how he ran the place, but Chuck is the owner, now. Chuck is the one with the reputation. He wasn't exactly pleasant during our visit, but at least he had a efficient system.
The 3 seemed to have their moves choreographed behind the counter. There was a lot of tossing, reaching, lifting, bending and dodging going on back there. At one moment Chuck darted over and dropped the cage of raw potatoes into the bubbling vat. Suddenly the diner was filled with smoke and sizzle and a high pitched sound came from somewhere. Don and I looked at each other, but everyone else ignored the screeching alarm. The sound disappeared, after the air cleared.
Since I was seated right next to the line up of baskets, I should have been prepared to have my name shouted. But I was caught off guard and about fell off my stool when my name was hollered. I raised my hand like I was in school and I remembered to say thank you.
My grilled cheese with bacon was decent, but it did have the taste of a million foods cooked on the griddle. Don's burger was good, but the fries looked like they'd been heavily peppered. Maybe it was time for some fresh oil in the vat.
Lots to Read
Don and I ate our meal quietly. That seemed to be what everyone else was doing, since most were single workmen eating lunch. Chuck and his workers didn't converse either. It was odd. But there was lots to read. The snarky bumper stickers plastered all over the mirror, were pretty lame and dated. I didn't dare roll my eyes.
I'm sure I could provoke a reaction, though. "Hey Chuck, would you mind posing in a photo with me?" Yikes. That's a scary thought.
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.