Food Feature: Galaxy quest

Friendliness trumps foodstuffs at Galaxy Diner

?The design, or more precisely, the lack of design of Galaxy Diner may be its most appealing quality. The family-owned Embry Hills diner stands apart in a time when restaurant chains, from chi-chi expense-account steakhouses to the cheapest fast-food outlets, proliferate across the country and adhere to uniform decorating standards.
If you've been only once to, say, a Houston's or a Johnny Rockets, you could nevertheless be blindfolded and sit down in any other restaurant in the franchise, and still be able to get your bearings, find your way around and even reproduce the menu without uncovering your eyes. In contrast, Galaxy Diner's decor bears the influence of no focus groups or marketing strategies.?
?Instead, the restaurant seems to have been cobbled together with whatever furnishings were handy. The gray booths of the dining room and baby blue trim of the walls resemble a Morrison's knock-off, while the use of glass bricks, vertical blinds and columns with vaguely art deco tile suggest a suburban bank branch. An artificial apple the size of a disco ball dangles incongruously from the dining room ceiling. Why? The only possible answer is "Why not?"?
?Galaxy Diner wasn't terribly crowded on any of my three visits, but it clearly has a loyal following of neighborhood regulars, who are no doubt attracted by the genuinely friendly atmosphere. At one dinner, our server, a fellow with a short ponytail and a huge, bushy mustache, was attentive and quick with a quip: "You need anything, just call. But not too loud — they'll think I'm married again!"?
?The sheer hospitality of Galaxy Diner must explain the draw, because the food itself proved frequently marginal. The menu includes a staggering quantity of options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I'd be willing to order only a few of them again. ?
?Noting Galaxy Diner's Greek ownership and the plentiful Greek items on the menu, I frequently leaned in that direction. Ordering a $5.99 gyro sandwich lunch special, I was pleased that a cup of lemon chicken soup with rice was an option. On ordering it, I found that the lemon taste was overwhelmed by saltiness, and the soup itself was so thick and opaque, it was nearly the consistency and color of banana pudding. ?
?The gyro itself wasn't very big, with decent bread surrounding plain gyro meat and an overabundance of bland, white sauce. The french fries had an unusual flavor, faintly like seafood, as if they'd been cooked alongside the fried fish or shrimp menu items. A chicken gyro salad ($6.99) proved surprisingly stingy with the moist chicken meat and the ordinary vinaigrette dressing did little to enliven it.?
?On a suppertime visit, I ordered pork chops, which tasted fine and weren't too dry, but had no trace of pizzazz or personality and even at $9.95, were small and thin. It's a sad commentary that they were no better than pork chops I could have cooked myself — and I can barely make my way through the instructions on a box of Pop-Tarts. The mashed potatoes had an institutional quality and were coated with gravy the same shade of brown as a football. I also ordered green beans, and to my dismay, they arrived drowned in a tart, tomato-based sauce like a mixture of water and ketchup. Pitiful. ?
?I did find two saving graces at Galaxy Diner. For dessert, the baklava ($1.99) is nicely done. The traditional dense pastry can easily be made overly sweet and gooey, but the "Galactic" baklava isn't too rich, allowing you to actually distinguish the tastes of cinnamon and pecan. ?
?The diner's own challah bread was the other standout. It was chewy, flavorful and served in big slices. And at breakfast, it makes for simple but terrific french toast ($4.99), thick enough to absorb butter and syrup without turning spongy. Two slices of ham came with it, which were hot but as thin as cold cuts and essentially flavorless. I was happy to discover that the fruit cup ($1.99) was a generous helping of cantaloupe and other melon in big, fresh pieces (at this point, I was fully prepared for generic, syrupy fruit cocktail).?
?I considered "The Big Eight Special" ($3.99 until 11 a.m., $4.99 afterward), which features two eggs, two pancakes, two link sausages and two strips of bacon. Not ready to deal with that much meat, I opted for the smoked sausage and two eggs ($5.29), the latter of which was indifferently scrambled and nondescript. The sausage was juicy and nicely seared, but the biscuit was oppressive and dry, and chomping into it resulted in a mouthful of digestion-resistant dough. I could only manage a few bites. ?
?Galaxy Diner's personal touch must be what provides the repeat business. Snapshots of customers are taped behind the cash register, which is surrounded by the business cards of local entrepreneurs. It's far friendlier than the crankiness you usually find at the corner Waffle House, but for a quick, diner-style meal, I'd opt for the latter.

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