A new, very American-looking diner had just popped up around the corner the JR Utsunomiya station a couple months ago, and I’d passed by it several times and always made a mental note to try it when I was feeling like a burger (which, to be honest, like a desire to drink coffee, doesn’t happen all that much. I’m a bad patriot). Nevertheless, it seemed like a perfect place to go with the Western friend I was with yesterday, and so we went to give it a try.
At about 8 pm on a Thursday night, we were the only people in the small diner. It was like Steak n’ Shake met Red Robin (and was shrunk to only about 7 or so tables), with the 50’s furniture and tiling theme clashed with the pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Coca Cola dotting the walls. Also, being Utsunomiya, the front bar seating is just that–a cocktail bar.
While the menu does have some level of variety, it’s almost all burgers. Plain, cheese, fish, teriyaki chicken, etc. My friend and I decided to split the bacon cheese avocado burger, which came as a set with a “salad” and fries.
Once we ordered, the waitress came over with a small bowl of popcorn (which was refillable for free) and some lemon water. I had thought of this the other day, but you really don’t get lemon in your water at all in Japan, so it was a nice American touch that made me happy. Clearly Ken (whoever he may be) had spent some time in the States to pick up on these little bits of dining culture.
After a bit, our main dish came. The burger was a good size, but the 2 side dishes left much to be desired. While the fries tasted good, we could essentially count the amount with our fingers, and while I had thought that the salad was cole slaw (another rarity here), it turns out to have just been a mayo-noodle pasta salad.
The burger itself was good. As promised, it had cheese and avocado, although the bacon was definitely Japanese-style–more like a slice of ham than real bacon, which was a disappointment. They had dressed the burger with BBQ sauce, which, although I don’t really care for it all that much in general, was a bit refreshing to have after being away from the States for a while.
In general, it was good. As we were finishing up our meal, our Mickey-eared waitress came over and asked if she could take a Polariod picture of us because we were so “cute.” We shrugged and took the picture, and the waitress left to let it develop, never showing it to us again. (“If this were anywhere else, everyone would say she had some brain disorder or was socially awkward or something. In Japan, it’s cute,” my friend joked dryly.) I was mostly off-put by the fact that she didn’t show us the picture–I’d been in several restaurants back home that occasionally took pictures of customers, let them decorate the photo, and put them on the wall. Since this was a new restaurant, it was probable that they just didn’t have enough photos on the walls to notice yet. But as a rule, you at least show the customer their picture.
However, as suspected, when we went up to the register to pay, I found our Polariod stuck among about 5 others on the column right next to the register. Every single photo on there, also as suspected, were of foreigners who came to the restaurant, or otherwise of the restaurant staff. It gives the feel that they’re trying to prove something–trying both too hard and too half-assed, honestly.
The other main downside to the place was what we found out at the register. On the menu, our burger only cost 1000 yen–fairly reasonable. We were both taken aback to find our total cost for the night (despite not having ordered anything else) was over 1700 yen. I assume that “unlimited popcorn” (which we never got a refill of) may have been the culprit, especially since the diner is technically also a bar. Therefore, unless you’re really craving plain popcorn, my recommendation is to try it out for lunch.
Therefore, here is my bottom line:
The American restaurant makes a good effort, but is still very much Japanese.