Hot Rods 50's Diner
- Food: *** 1/2
- Service: ****
- Atmosphere: ****
- Overall: ****
- Address: 343 Hannum St., Alcoa
- Phone: 865-984-7171
- Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays.
- Seating: First come, first served
- Kids’ menu
- Beer service only
Many of you probably remember Bel Air Grill, a regional restaurant brand that was popular a few years back, sporting 1950s decor and a corresponding burger-and-shake menu. That chain all but disappeared, but now anyone in search of a nostalgia fix can get one again at the new Hot Rods 50’s diner in Alcoa.
There’s not much about its exterior that shows the restaurant’s anachronistic hand, but inside, they lay the 1950s theme on way thicker than Bel Air Grill ever dreamed. The counter and main dining area are all bathed in blue neon lighting, while the stamped-metal ceiling, black-and-white checkerboard floor tiles and the sparkling blue-green vinyl upholstery really set the scene.
When it comes to the wall decor and the ambient music, the theme strays a little. The music spans both the ‘50s and ‘60s, while many of the artifacts on the walls are actually modern-day pieces that nod fondly back 50 years. But Elvis records are prominently displayed alongside vintage license plates and period-appropriate signage to help keep things on track aesthetically.
Foodwise, the menu lays out what you would expect — lots of deep-fried goodies, burgers, sandwiches, etc. — as well as several items you might not expect, especially since Hot Rods recently started serving dinner in addition to lunch and an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.
For example, the dinner-style entrees include a couple of items that The Grub Spouse and The Grub Sprout decided to try out. The Spouse went with a Hot Rods signature dinner, slices of deep-fried turkey served with dressing and a choice of two sides — in this case, fried okra and cole slaw. The Sprout has been on a ribs kick lately and got the baby back ribs with slaw and rice pilaf. Meatloaf, liver and onions, pan-fried pork chops and shrimp and grits are among the other selections.
I decided to stick with the more traditional fare, which features burgers as well as a number of hot sandwiches (e.g., Reuben, open-faced roast beef, French dip, meatloaf sandwich, patty melt) and cold sandwiches/hoagies (e.g., turkey club, BLT, Italian hoagie, roast beef hoagie).
The burger section alone offers up familiar variations on Hot Rods’ basic 10-ounce patty, which is made from fresh ground beef and served on a grilled bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickle slices. Specialty burgers include a turkey burger, salmon burger and a 20-ounce double-decker called “The King.” You can even get several different kinds of veggie burgers.
I kept it simple with a Classic burger and chose onion rings as my side item. Other sides include cheese grits, mac and cheese, sweet potato fries and apple sauce. The burger was cooked more thoroughly than my medium-well request, but this old-school staple delivered with taste and freshness, and the hefty onion rings are outstanding because they’re batter-dipped, not breaded.
The dinners were fine, but I feel safer recommending the burgers and sandwiches. For example, there are any number of places around this area you could find better ribs, but I think Hot Rods is more on the mark with its drive-in-style items.
We were tempted to try one of their many varieties of hand-spun shakes, malts and floats, but we really threw caution to the wind by getting deep-fried Twinkie and Oreo sundaes. Served with ice cream and real whipped cream, these decadent treats were delish, but in order to consume them, I had to mentally transport myself to the 1950s, when HDL and LDL were just random sequences of letters. Those really must have been happy days.
© 2009, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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