Monday, April 25, 2011

Fine Diner. Giggle.

City Diner
3116 I-10 Service Road East
Old Metairie

Before starting for New Orleans this week, I spent some time poring over the list of the top restaurants in the city, hoping to pick maybe half a dozen places to try. I ended up with 19 on my list, including this place, which I found nestled into the parking lot of my hotel.

The customer comments that got this place onto my list mentioned things like crawfish and andouille sausage, blackened chicken sandwich, duck and sausage gumbo ... things you'd find in a diner only in South Louisiana. Having now been here, my first take on the place isn't particularly favourable. 

I went around 8pm; the place was all but empty when I arrived at this converted Denny's. (I assume it was a Denny's, because it's in a La Quinta parking lot; and everybody knows "La Quinta" is Spanish for "Next to Denny's.") The place is clean, and simply decorated. The seats are in good repair, always a concern at places like this, where maintenance tends to get put off when money gets short, and the walls have a few good, nicely framed photos of typically Orleanian subjects, to make City Diner feel a little more like New Orleans and less like ... well, Denny's. (There's also an LED sign at the far end of the dining room, advertising specials and features, and occasionally flashing blindingly and disturbingly bright.)

There were two people in the kitchen and two on the floor when I arrived. Since I was the only person there you'd think I could have gotten quick, attentive service. I did, until another guy walked in and ordered toast and milk to go. I kid you not. This episode absorbed all the attention of the wait staff. Fortunately, the interchange with this new customer was sufficiently entertaining to keep me amused, and only then did the waitress bring my drink.  ("Do you have sweet rolls? How about muffins? No, not English muffins. Cake? No, not ice-cream cake." I finally called out to the waitress that she should sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar on buttered toast for the guy. He settled for plain buttered wheat toast.) And a couple of other groups came in later, to keep me company.

I went for the evening's special: red beans and rice with sausage. It was exactly the same order I'd had back home, at the Big Easy Café, three days ago, so I thought it'd be an excellent opportunity to compare New Orleans' signature dish in Old Metairie with what I'd gotten from a family of Katrina refugees. The dish at the City Diner comes with sausage or pork chop. When I asked the waitress (who is from New Jersey and has only been here two months) if it was andouille sausage, she didn't know. It was smoked sausage, or I could have spicy sausage patties, or the grilled pork chop. I took my chances with the smoked sausage, and yes, it was andouille, and moderately good andouille at that. (She also didn't know what swamp water was, but mixed up a pretty good one when I told her how.)

Louisiana restaurant inspections have been
removed from the State's web site
for "technical reasons."
While I was waiting for my order, I had the chance to listen to the repartee going on between the employees. Without going into detail, I will say that it reminded me of why I moved away from New Orleans after only a few months, last time I came to live here.

You know how everybody thinks New Yorkers are rude? They're actually not, they're regular people, but their ways grate on my Southern sensibilities, and after a little while I grow uncomfortable in their continued company. This little group of Orleanians impressed me the same way. From their reactions, I could tell that they were all perfectly at ease with each other; but the words that come to my mind to describe their way of dealing are "attitude" and "lip." It was exactly that way when I lived here, as an adult, back in the mid-80s, and I thank God I had the good fortune to move away as a child, in time to learn a less sarcastic and caustic way of dealing, even if I don't always use it. These restaurant employees were all perfectly polite in dealing with me and the other customers, but if I'd've worked there I'd've popped somebody in the mouth before too long. Probably that smart-ass blond guy in the kitchen.

Once I was finished with the red beans and rice (which, by the way, was better than at The Big Easy Cafe -- much more like what I remember from my youth, with a creamy thick sauce), I decided to try the bananas Foster ice cream cake that had been offered to the guy with the toast. A sign on the diner's door advertises Blue Bell Ice Cream, so I expected it to be pretty good. There was banana ice cream and pecan chunks topped with whipped cream and served over a sliver of generic cake and what appeared to be pie crust. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as good as it looked, nor was it as good as I'd hoped.

To be entirely fair, the City Diner seems to have built its reputation as a top restaurant largely on the strength of its breakfast fare. So maybe I'll come back one morning before I leave, and check that out.

Accustomed as I am to prices back home, I expect that the prices at City Diner are considered low by the locals. They're not bad. Maybe they're good enough to get excited about, if you live in a place like Metairie.

City Diner on Urbanspoon


  1. Well, so much for breakfast at the City Diner. This morning I had their Eggs Benedict. I might give it three and a half chili peppers, though the Hollandaise sauce was uninspired and slopped on like the spigot jammed open on the barrel.

    And the service was still only so-so.

  2. AnonymousJuly 11, 2011

    I went to City Diner twice and both times the service sucked. I was out of drink for a long time until I could catch the waitress to ask for more on my 1st visit. She didn't check on us & when she was at the table behind us walked right past us instead of pausing for 1 second just to see if we were ok. The 2nd time, I had to wait for the waiter to stop his personal conversation with the cook to ask him for more drink & napkins. I felt like I was bothering him out of his busy Personal talk with other workers. There was nobody else around me but 1 other table both times. Why can't the waitresses/waiters check on tables better? Why do I have to flag you down for refills or other things? Can't you see we're out of drinks when you walk by ignoring us??

  3. Treated BadlyJuly 13, 2011

    I came with my family. When we were seated the booth was dirty. I told the waitress the seating was dirty and she wiped the crumbs away with her hand. There was a sealed hot sauce that I picked up to open and got sauce on my hand. I was mad that my hand was dirty from the dirty bottle & thought they should clean their stuff. I got a napkin & wiped the top. I couldn't get the seal off as it didn't have the dotted line thing so I got my butter knife to cut it & finally got the seal off. It ended up splashing sauce all over my shirt. The outside of the cap was full of the sauce & I was just mad that this happened. I don't even know if this was hotsauce under the seal, it could have been marinera or ketchup that spilled on the bottle & wasn't cleaned & just put out on the table dirty. I told the waitress what happened & she brought another sealed hot sauce. As she tried to take the seal off of this sauce she asked me if I had nails. I was like what? She said nevermind & finally got it open. After when we got our bill I asked if my meal isn't free after my shirt was ruined from the dirty sauce & she said "why? I didn't do it" I called the manager Julie the next day & she told me she wasn't there so she doesn't know what happened & there's nothing she can do. She said she was sorry & she would speak to the staff. How can she say she wasn't there & didn' t know what happened when I just told her. She said they comp meals if the order is messed up but there's nothing she can do for me dealing with a dirty bottle that splashed on me. She said she was the general manager & there is no one else I can speak to about it. How petty is this place that they couldn't of even offered a measly 10% off atleast for ruining my shirt? Why do they put sealed bottles at the table for customers to have to figure out how to open? Why not make sure they are clean 1st? Now I have a ruined shirt & they don't care. To tell a customer screw you cause we didn't do it basically? Well, yes, you did do it because you put out a dirty sealed sauce for customers to deal with & then don't want to take responsibility!
    I left this review on City Diner's Urban Spoon website and they had it removed. Just think how many other negative reviews they have removed?? Instead of making things right, they try to erase the situation. Clearly they are not taking responsibility for their mistakes and sweep things under the rug. What horrible management. They will mistreat customers over $10 wow! Must be owned by a greedy, petty, and heartless owner. Lets see if they remove my review from everyone's Facebook page??


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