Location: 115 East Carson St. 28202
Hereford: At the height of the Christmas season, just before the two of us left town to see our families, we did our last review of 2010. We decided we wanted to go to a real diner, and when Angus Googled “diner” and “Charlotte,” the Midnight Diner popped up. So that’s where we went.
Angus: The Midnight Diner is a stainless steel, retro-1950’s style diner. According to the article we read in the lobby, it was originally constructed in King’s Mountain, but was relocated in Charlotte this summer. I can only assume it had a similar theme when it was in Cleveland County. To move it, they just packed it up on a truck and drove it over. You can see pictures of it moving here: http://cltblog.com/6717. I would have been pretty pissed to get behind that on I-85.
Hereford: I don’t know if that beautiful neon sign came from King’s Mountain too, but we were very impressed with it. It looked awesome against the Charlotte skyline. Of course, we realized we made a huge mistake after we got there—we didn’t come at midnight! We showed up before 9:00 pm on a Friday, and it was slow. We could have waited or come back at midnight, but at that point we were starving.
Angus: The longer we stayed the more people showed up. I get the feeling it might get pretty busy in the early hours. People probably stream in after a long night at the uptown bars (or the Uptown Caberet, which is right around the corner). And who knows what the atmosphere is like then. I can imagine it being kind of cool, but I can also imagine the people being a complete pain in the ass. But, of course, we don’t actually know.
Hereford: The theme of the restaurant is the 1950’s, and it’s interesting how nostalgic you get when you walk in. Even we felt nostalgic for the era of hoop skirts and cars with fins, and it was 30 years before we were born. What’s interesting to me is the concept of 1950’s nostalgia. Maybe we like to remember that time as idyllic because of we had just won WWII, or maybe it’s because of the advent of TV and the beginnings of rock and roll. Or maybe we’ve listened to Baby Boomers tell us how awesome it was enough that we’ve come to believe them. But, let’s not forget that if this actually was the 50’s that about a third of Charlotteans wouldn’t be allowed to sit down here and eat. The 1950’s were a time of great oppression for African-Americans, women, and really anyone else who wasn’t superficially normal. But even as I remind myself of that history, I get myself carried away with thinking how cool the style of the period is. I mean, the inside of the Midnight Diner looks awesome. It makes me want to buy a leather jacket and take up smoking.
Angus: I’m a big fan of spectacle, and I love how everything hits you when you walk in. The neon and the chrome and the counter give you a sense you’ve walked into the past. I kept thinking that maybe Biff Tannen would walk in, and I could get into a fight and invent skateboarding.
Hereford: The diner is one long thin dining room, with booths on either side. They have 50’s plastic counters and red plastic seats. They have a counter with a footrest, and a jukebox. Unfortunately, the jukebox is digital and not vintage. One thing that was vintage was the milkshake machine. The multi-mixer seemed ancient—possibly from the 60’s. So, we ordered milkshakes. Unfortunately, they came out a bit thin and lumpy, so maybe it’s time to replace them. They were still good, though—they were milkshakes. It’s hard to ruin a milkshake. On the wall they have a lot of records and other memorabilia. They don’t really stick to their specific time period though. While they have a Rat Pack framed picture with poker chips and cards, they also have a KISS Love Gun poster. Of the records I saw on the wall I didn’t see any in my section that were from the 50’s. Most were from the 70’s, and at least one was from the 80’s.
Angus: Also on the wall were some TVs, which had sports on. This seems like another place that is trying to have a semblance of a sports bar when it really isn’t necessary. I thought it would be cool if they showed films from the 50’s, or at least Grease. We were informed that the beer menu there was a work in progress. They had several bottles of beer—a lot of specialty Sam Adams—but we were told they were getting more in. I don’t think they’ll be getting any draft beers—they don’t’ have the room. But it is a good start. I’d also like to note that they have a “Burger & Brew Special,” in which you get a beer with your meal at no added cost. That wins me over. Another thing I liked was that they had plenty of napkins. That might seem trivial, but last week I was at the Wild Wings Café in the University Area and the server told me they didn’t have any napkins. Can you freakn’ believe that? At a wings place!?!
Hereford: You had to mention that, didn’t you?
Angus: Of course, I did. I was outraged. If only they were a burger place—I would have ripped them so bad.
Hereford: After looking over the beers I got up to jukebox and put on some Elvis—Return to Sender—and sat back down to order. Angus got the normal—the double cheeseburger. I asked our waiter what their specialty was and he indicated the Black & Bleu burger, which had crumbled Bleu cheese and Montreal seasoning. This type of burger is on the menu lots of places, but this was the first time it was recommended for me.
So, let’s get right down to the tale of the tape:
EXHIBIT A: BACON CHEESEBURGER
Official Weight: 12.6 ounces
Official Diameter: 5 inches
Official Height: 3 inches
Angus: We thought it was odd that they sliced the burger for you. I guess it’s kind of harmless, but it does change the normal burger eating process.
Hereford: Well, it does make you to basically eat the middle of the burger first, which is a disruption of the basic burger experience of starting from the outside in. The outside of a burger is different from the inside, and I’m accustomed to starting with the outside. But, as many burgers as we eat and write about, maybe we’re being nit-picky. If we didn’t, what would we write about?
Angus: The burger was on a buttered toasted bun, but maybe it was a little bit too buttered. The bun didn’t hold up as I ate—even with the paper reinforcements on the outside. As you can see from the pictures, the burger was kind of greasy—look at the paper it’s wrapped in. The bacon was crispy and the lettuce was shredded. The ground beef of the burger was not seasoned and you couldn’t really tell it was there at all. Overall I liked my burger, but I thought that it was exactly average. It seemed like what my minimum expectation for a burger is. Anything better than this I would recommend. Anything worse I would tell people to stay away. This is right there in the middle.
EXHIBIT B: BLACK AND BLEU BURGER
Official Weight: 13.4 ounces
Official Diameter: 5 inches
Official Height: 3 inches
Hereford: I liked the shredded lettuce on my burger—I’m always a big fan of shredded lettuce. The bleu cheese was good, but not necessarily spectacular. Its flavor was overpowering, as bleu cheese burgers always are. The bleu cheese was bunched in the middle, and some bites there were almost entirely bleu cheese. And since that was the first bites I had it probably colored my thoughts on how the burger was. I couldn’t taste any Montreal seasoning at all. I have to agree with Angus that my burger also seemed very average.
Angus: The fries were fairly good, and not too salty. They were a little thick for my taste, causing them to taste not crispy enough and too potato-y.
So, for the final analysis:
Food: 3— We liked our food, but we are wary of grade inflation with our reviews. Compared to the other places we’ve eaten, we felt that the Midnight Diner was average. It’s not bad, it’s just not great. But, if we had eaten it closer to midnight, especially if we were drunk and starving, we might have thought it was orgasmic. Again, we really chose the wrong time and circumstances to drop by.
Service: 4—It’s always hard to rate service when there’s so few people there, but our server was nice and attentive.
Theme: 4.5— They have a 50’s diner theme, and they’re in a restaurant that seems really authentic. But, they probably would have had a higher rating if they had found some Buddy Holly or Bill Haley records to put on the wall. They can throw the Love Gun poster away. Also, they could get a real jukebox, or at least have a few more options from the 1950’s. They didn’t have any Ray Charles!
Atmosphere: 4—Even though it was dead when we went in, it felt like a place that it would be fun to hang out. Sometimes you stop by a place that’s dead and it seems like you’re intruding, but the Midnight Diner seems like a cool place to walk into at 2:30 and stay until 5:30 as you sober up.
Beer Selection: N/A—We’ll have to stop back later and see how their beer menu shaped up, but we liked the start they had. Too bad they didn’t have any drafts.