Friday, December 24, 2010

Never Trust a Skinny Anybody!

The first time I visited Sparky’s Diner was a couple of weeks after it set shop, back in 2005. And since then, I’ve been back there more times than I can remember, but the record for most visits was probably set during my internship. That final year of medical college was largely spent at the portals of the hospital (rite of passage, I called it; you’re not a good intern without a vigorous twelvemonth stint there). Any socializing, if at all, was largely limited to Sparky’s Diner.
Two simple reasons why: 1) it served hot food all day long. A rarity, that. The timings of a lowly intern are limited to non-existent. And here you find food that fills your stomach (medical students won’t sneer at that), sticks to your ribs (the un-fun part) and tastes pretty-darn-good, most of the time. 2) Bottomless iced tea and the southern-style biscuits that comes with your pasta!
The place is conveniently located on Spurtank Road and would have almost gone unnoticed due to its basement location if not for a gorgeously garish sign that yells “Never Trust a Skinny Chef” in shades of neon pink and neon green. A loud, supersized American Diner? Sign me up!

And in case you don’t believe it, three facts get ingrained into you as you walk down the steps and into the diner: 1) it is All-American. Get it? Look some more. Get it? 2) The chef (Thom Petty) ain’t skinny. He will also do anything to ensure that you won’t remain skinny, either. 3) The portions of food are big (I’m saying that). Ask for your favourite booth (this poses a problem during their Barbeque buffet Fridays) and a menu, throw away any residual guilt about the gargantuan consumption of calories and get started!

I’ve tried experimenting there (on the days I’m not on post-duty and hence not raging with hunger) and I’ve stuck to re-ordering my favourites. What I’d suggest is to keep visiting the place and experimenting until you have favourites you could fall back on.
The iced tea makes its appearance along with your friendly waiter five minutes into your arrival. Until that time, you’d keep yourself entertained checking out various American memorabilia (licence plates, baseball cards, pennants ), personalized state-wise at your table or if you don’t mind looking sidey (do people still say that?), you could crane your neck around and gawk at Louis Armstrong, an old-fashioned telephone  and a Native American chieftain occupying places of pride on Sparky’s walls.

 The iced tea is like a moody teenager: tangy and cold on some days, diluted or too sweet on others. The waiters are apologetic when you bring it to their notice and rectify it, though. The chef and his staff are pretty chatty, people complain. Fear not, you do get privacy and laid-back-ness as part of the bargain. And the restroom is usable. Two up.
I’m going to review the things I’ve eaten the most.

Didn't have a photo of the taco salad, but these South-of-the-border Nachos are pretty close!

The taco salad: Tender, well seasoned minced chicken or beef, drenched with cheese sauce and refried beans, adorned with lettuce and tomatoes and encased in a deep-fried taco shell; ranch dressing on the side. This salad isn’t going to feature on any nutritionists’ books any time soon, but it is DELICIOUS. I’ve dreamt about it. Actual, Random-Eye-Movement (REM) sleep stage dream.

Chicken Parmesan: Enough chicken to feed a family for dinner is served in this dish. And yet, I can finish it all (with the help of W). Crumb-fried Chicken breast, sitting pretty on a bed of garlic spaghetti, and drenched with marinara sauce and melted mozzarella that scalds the roof of your palate. Salad (he always asks for the honey mustard dressing) and the biscuit (which plays the role of a bread roll so you don’t miss out on the remains of the marinara) come on the side. Mama Rita’s Lasagne, Pasta Napoli are all must-tries. They are more from the house of The Sopranos/Joey Tribbiani (read Italian-American) than what you’d find at Tuscana or Prego.
The wraps: On the days we want to pretend we’re eating healthy, we order these. The Hippie Special (vegetarians rejoice- breaded zucchini, herbed paneer, Italian dressing are stuffed into a soft tortilla) and The Breaded Chicken wrap are the top picks here. A side of fries are given, but ask for wedges. Those wedges alone can make my lunch. Crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. They do what they’re advertised for.  Or the mashed potatoes. You won’t regret this. 45 minutes on the treadmill is a fair exchange for a scoop of the mashed potatoes.
I’ve had things that have turned out mildly disastrous as well. Double deep-fried dishes. Oily pasta. Insipid rice. Especially on the days I’ve been on a health kick. But they are spaced far, far apart, and you can’t afford to be that picky, dining at places in Chennai, not at this price.

I will be posting on the Friday Barbeque Buffet another time, just so this blog doesn’t become a non-detailed story. If there’s one thing I will say about it is to MAKE RESERVATIONS. It doesn’t matter if you’ve given regular attendance there over the last five years. Make reservations.

Sparky’s Diner is one of the places I’m proud to say I’ve discovered and made my own.  It remains pretty special to me over the years (my 23-year-old palate and 18-year-old palate are poles apart), because this is where the aforementioned partner in Food Crime and I had our first date. And our fifth anniversary celebration (well, one of the five places we went).

P.S.  Oh, and split The New York Style cheesecake, even if you don’t have any space left. You can take the rest of it home, and eat it over the course of the night, a la Nigella Lawson. Mmm.

1 comment:

  1. I think, this is what everyone should ask when they get to Sparky's.

    Tom couldn't be more happy.