By Thomas C. Pavlik
Its hard to believe that in all the years Ive been doing restaurant reviews for Springfield Business Journal, Ive never reviewed Charlie Parkers Diner. Thanks to a group of friends who meet once a month for chili, this time has come.
The group has been meeting monthly since 1999, and I was invited three or four years ago, for which I am very appreciative. The ostensible leader of the group (an engineer who plays scribe and has almost 25 years of tasting notes) suggested Charlie Parkers Diner for this month.
Charlie Parkers Diner has been featured on Food Networks Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and in a slew of regional and national print publications. It also won the Hometown Breakfast Battle among 135 restaurants from across the country. So, I went with high expectations and was not disappointed.
We arrived on a cold and rainy day. Charlie Parkers Diners parking lot could use a little help what with some depressions and dips in the graveled lot. But its in keeping with the overall ambience of the place where else can you dine in a Quonset hut formerly used as a maintenance shack and a bait shop? And if that bothers you, maybe youre not in the right place.
We visited right at noon and the place was close to full. We were warmly greeted by our server, who made us feel right at home. Obviously, we each started with a bowl of chili. Opinions somewhat diverged but were overall positive:
Too many beans, crackers help, good size and good diner chili. I like the beans and consistency; good, its like my mom makes. Generous portion of Tabasco helps; good diner chili. I agree, representative of diner chili. too many beans.
Given that the portions were generous, we decided to split two lunch entrees among the four of us (one member was AWOL). We all appreciated that Charlie Parkers staff handled splitting the dishes up for us and serving them on separate plates. It was a nice touch.
The menu is, as you might expect, breakfast-forward. Offerings include giant pancakes, traditional egg dishes, omelets and breakfast sandwiches and shoes. Its available all day.
The lunch selections are smaller and exactly what you would expect from a Springfield diner, but with a few twists.
There are hot and cold sandwiches, burgers, horseshoes and salads. All items come with chips and can be had with a side (like tots, onion rings or fries) for an extra $1.50. Each item can also be paired with a soup or chili for an extra charge. Prices range from $7.59 to $13.99.
Our server engaged us over our initial selections but in a very friendly and not oppressive way. We were thankful for her insight. For example, two of us were initially going to order the smothered burrito ($12.99), but she strongly suggested the chili cheeseburger horseshoe ($13). We took her advice. Two others were leaning toward the Philly sandwich ($9.99) but, leveraging the proffered inside knowledge, ended up with the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich ($11.99).
The chili cheeseburger horseshoe was a hit. We were tempted to go with tots, but, again, our server steered us to French fries. It would have been too much for one of us but was perfect for sharing. There was a generous helping of chili which paired well with the cheese sauce. I had mine with some raw onion that I felt accentuated the combination of chili, cheese and meat. Tater tots would not have provided enough surface area to capture the cheese and chili. The fries themselves, despite being covered, managed to hold on to a reasonable amount of crunch. Im not a horseshoe fan in general, but this is something Id definitely order again.
My other two guests were very pleased with the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. Again, it was generously sized and nicely deep fried with some spice to give it some extra flavor. They were also fans of the tots, which were again nicely fried with plenty of nooks and crannies to hold on to some ketchup.
Charlie Parkers Diner isnt a fancy restaurant, nor is its food. But its fresh, made with quality ingredients, at reasonable prices and with generous portions. Couple it with some good service, and we understand why its won so many accolades.
Address: 700 North Street, Springfield Phone: 217-241-2104 Website: charlieparkersdiner.com Hours: Monday-Sunday 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.