The Man Who Came to Diner

The kitchen also needs to pay a bit more attention to its side dishes. Mashed potatoes are uncomfortably thick and heavy, and on one visit our French fries were lukewarm and limp.

Winger's touts its Asphalt Pie dessert, and with reason. It's not very subtle: mint chocolate ice cream in an Oreo crust, heaped with caramel sauce and whipped cream. But it's got basic sweet-tooth appeal. The Chocolate Avalanche, however, doesn't. It's a partnership of third-rate chocolate cake and second-rate vanilla ice cream. The ring of almond-studded whipped cream covers up the inferior ingredients, but can't hide them.

Winger's doesn't always soar. But it does get off the ground often enough to make it a movie-night stop.

Chase's, 2040 North Alma School, Chandler, 855-3663. Hours: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to midnight.

Chase's looks just great--gleaming, sleek and shiny, in an art deco-meets-the-1950s way. I love the bright red vinyl booths; the dinette tables with faux Formica tops and cute dinette chairs; the nostalgic, two-for-a-quarter jukebox music, spinning everything from Hank Williams Sr. to Jan & Dean; the sparkling black-and-white tile floors; the signed celebrity photos of Jayne Mansfield, Monroe, Sinatra and James Dean; the Venetian blinds; the old-fashioned counter; and the front page of a 1958 Iowa newspaper announcing the crash of Buddy Holly's airplane.

If the food had kept pace with the decor, I might have been after Chase's proprietors myself to get on a franchise list. Unfortunately, they seem to have spent a little too much time developing the look, and not enough time developing the kitchen.

The menu says the operators are from Buffalo, but you'd never know that from the wings. They're generic, with no distinguishing features. The potato skins are even less appealing. They're nothing like Winger's, just some old-looking, hollowed-out skins stingily filled with a smidgeon of cheese and bacon.

Most of the main dishes have that same kind of institutional flair. The turkey platter reminds me of what you'd find in the employee cafeteria the day after Thanksgiving. The meat doesn't look or taste like it was recently carved off a turkey. And the way-too-salty stuffing had an unmistakable right-out-of-the-box quality.

I couldn't get too terribly excited about the chicken-fried steak, either. An Oklahoma buddy once told me that the only utensil you needed for good chicken-fried steak was a fork. Well, Chase's model not only requires a knife, it requires a rather sharp one. And the dull country gravy didn't provide any back-up support. If it weren't for the buttermilk biscuit, I might have left this platter untouched.

Meat loaf provided no relief. The menu says it's "Shirley's recipe." Well, Shirley needs to work on both texture and taste. The hunk I had wasn't coarse enough, and didn't have sufficient beefy flavor. The side of lackluster mashed potatoes didn't help.

Some day, an enterprising chef is going to jazz up the traditional chef salad and find a flock of ladies-who-lunch fans. However, Chase's chef isn't up to the task. This pile of greenery was a snooze, the usual strips of turkey and ham over lettuce, tomato, cucumber and hard-boiled egg.

Two dishes worked. The pizza burger is a delight, in all its gooey, gloppy, high-cholesterol glory. It's a third of a pound of juicy beef, dripping with mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce, teamed with hot, crispy French fries. The Philly cheesesteak also pushed the right buttons. It's a mass of thin-sliced beef and melted cheese, heaped with onions and peppers on a grilled hoagie roll. The side of sizzling onion rings further brightened my mood.

What's almost as bad as a diner that doesn't offer malts and shakes? It's a diner that makes less-than-stellar malts and shakes. I don't know how you make a warm chocolate peanut butter shake, but Chase's seems to have mastered this dubious process.

The banana split is a better dessert option: three scoops of ice cream, three kinds of sauces, lots of banana and a mess of whipped cream. Boring homemade bread pudding, in contrast, isn't worth the calorie hit.

With its great design and perky, energetic young staff, Chase's has solved two-thirds of the restaurant equation. Now it needs to work out the food part of the formula.

Buffalo wings (one pound)
Veggie fajitas
Blackened catfish
Asphalt pie

Potato skins
Philly cheesesteak
Meat loaf
Banana split

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