But inside the humble clapboard building, the diner veers into something unexpected. Think David Lynch's "Twin Peaks," and you won't be far off the mark. Sure, there are diner-style booths fashioned from car seats, a guitar signed by Willie Nelson and other kitschy wall "art." But the diner feeling is undercut by something dark. Literally.
At seven o'clock on a Friday night, the dimly lit, low-ceilinged dining room is filled with families. And no wonder. The kids menu is traditional and surprisingly inexpensive, and the décor is funky enough to hold a toddler's attention through dinner. But the family-friendly food contradicts the room's dominant feature a bar wrapped in chain link where hip-looking regulars laugh and chain-smoke on 55-gallon drums serving as bar stools.
Bendheim's not staking out completely new ground. Long before the February opening of Diner 250, he cut his teeth at Grafiti Grille and Richmond's Stonewall Café. But this venture differs in everything from the floor plan to the kitchen staff. "Right now, it's me," he says, laughing. "And my partner, Tre Hall. We're doing the majority of the cooking."
Having driven a long way from our East End home, my wife (still pregnant
any day now) and I were starving, ready to sample Bendheim's take on comfort food. She opted for the ultimate roadside fare meatloaf, green beans and mashed potatoes. I also chose the tried and true, a bacon cheeseburger with the works and fries.
No fireworks, but no disappointment either. What you order is what you get. Diner 250 isn't chasing that passé bistro-disguised-as-diner trend. Nor is it limited to straight-up down-home comfort. Sure, you'll find a good New York strip and the usual bar-food appetizers, but the diner also serves a nice rendition of the classic Chesapeake Bay crab cake.
The night's special was a glazed duck "grilled out back." (Bendheim plans to add a grill when he updates the kitchen.) The regular menu offers brisket and baby back ribs with peanut-butter barbecue sauce. Bendheim dropped beef ribs from the menu, even though he loves them, because "people thought they would be fatty."
These entrees (which range from $11.95 for the meatloaf to $18.95 for the crab cakes) were well-articulated by our waiter, who seemed disappointed when we ordered soda; nearly as much of the menu is devoted to drinking options as food.
Change is afoot as Bendheim looks to refine his concept. There are plans to tweak the dinner menu and start serving lunch soon. In fact the entire venture is still very much a work in progress. But Bendheim's not rushing things. "I've got to figure out what I'm going to be when I grow up," he says.
In the end (the far, far, far West End), Diner 250 is worth swinging into for a hot meal and cold drink. Is it worth a trip from town? Maybe not. But if you're hauling yourself to Short Pump for a movie anyway, what's a few more minutes' drive for meatloaf and a sideshow? Beats the heck out of the familiar sights in a McBistro at the mall. SDiner 250
($)12859 West Broad St. (west of Short Pump)
Dinner: Tuesday Thursday: 5-9:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday: 5-10 p.m.
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