Let me tell you about the Specials had been approached on more than one occasion regarding a possible review of The Junction Diner in Forest Park. I have passed the place a hundred times and have even stopped to peer in the window. As it turns out, an opportunity presented itself recently and I steamed on over to The Junction Diner with toddler in tow!
Upon entering the space I was taken back by how uncluttered it actually was. I was, for some reason, imagining toys and trains everywhere along with screaming little engineers and conductors. The décor was almost sparse- not in a bad way at all. The space is wide and deep and it's anchored by a very larger lunch counter which curves out into the restaurant. There is a huge chalk board along the west wall, the kind you'd find in a college lecture hall… I instantly thought of the movie Good Will Hunting however instead of advanced algorithms and superstring theory this board contained scribble. The rest of the restaurant is rounded out by a play table, a little green train that kids can climb on as well as a model train set protected by a Plexiglas case (thank God).
Let me just say that my Daughter loved this place and parents will know what I mean when I say getting her to leave was, in a word, challenging. There's not a ton for kids to do here and the odd thing is that I think that actually works better. There's more room, they can draw on the chalk board, head over to the trains and play table etc. Like my friend Lauren said recently of the Junction Diner… "This place is Great, I can have a beer and my kids don't have to stay in their seat!" Agreed. Although I did find myself occasionally having to spring up from my counter stool to chase down my little engineer before she derailed. But yes, all in all, I agree with Lauren. This is a great place in that kids can pretty much have a greater degree of freedom than they may otherwise enjoy in a more restricted restaurant and parents can avail to a nice glass of beer or wine while the kids go about their business. I can't recall ever having been handed an ice cold Blue Moon at the Playground down the street… so, yeah, not a bad deal.
My favorite train in this place is the one which brings the food out. That's right. There's a motorized model train which runs the entire track of the counter top and delivers food to patrons right from the kitchen. Many times it delivers food to empty stools as parents may be hunting down their kids around time the train pulls into town.
The Menu is burger and sandwich heavy, I must say. This being a diner, I missed that there were no real diner dishes, no blue plate specials! They do offer homemade soup and I had the Chicken with Rice and it was outstanding, spiked with coarse hand cut chunks of celery and carrots, nice shreds of tender chicken in a wonderful broth. It was very good. The turkey burger tasted good, it was fresh and perfectly cooked but it wasn't anything to write home about. The sweet potato fries (which I find almost as annoying as pretzel buns) were on the soggy side. My Wife had the Buffalo Chicken Wrap which was fresh, spicy and delicious. Our Daughter had the Kids Mac and Cheese and she loved it.
But here's the thing…. If you're a "Diner" you have to have some signature diner dishes otherwise you're like "Toys-R-Us" with no toys! My advice for The Junction Diner is Get on board with stepping up your diner game. If you're laboring over homemade soups, which are delicious, then why not Chili also? Nothing says diner like a bowl of Chili or Chili-mac. Add it to the Menu, permanently. They would also do well to add some other diner favorites which fit easily in to their 'mise en place'. For instance, The Junction Diner has very good Mac and Cheese but it would be even better served along side a nice slice of meatloaf! It's not a stretch, they have the culinary foundations in place, they just need an injection of DINER in their Diner.
All in all, a great spot for kids and adults alike. However, the next time I am there I'd love to hear…. "all aboard, next stop MEATLOAF, TUNA MELTS, CHILI MAC, HOT TURKEY SANDWICHES WITH MASH POTATOES AND GRAVY!"
And until then….. Stick around and Let me tell you about the Specials.