Stepping into Jazz City Diner is like stepping back in time. The small space (seats 24) is fitted out with metal-lined tables, diner stools and a black-and-white tiled counter top. We’re seated in one of the booths (love booth seating) and the miniature TV screen plays old footage of jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Myles Davis, whose posters also hang on the walls. Our 50s inspired waitress – complete with pink tunic, apron and hat – is polishing the silver serving trays and re-applying her lipstick in the reflection.
This is a working lunch with one of my most fashionable friends (he has better handbags, better shoes and better make-up than me). Watch this space – he’s about to take the fashion world by storm!
I feel that by the time I come to dine at Jazz City Diner its menu has undergone a lot of changes – altered to meet the customer demands for more home-style Southern American food than owner and chef, Dan McGuirt’s, original molecular approach to the cuisine. I’ve read half a dozen reviews on it, and each one (over the course of the last 8 months) has a different interpretation of the same menu items – everything looked more like a science experiment compared to the simple tasty comfort food we enjoy today.
I’m so excited when I spot the words ‘fried green tomato’ – I have always dreamed of trying these! (preferably at the Whistle Stop Cafe), so we must have the Fried Green Tomato Salad (fried green tomato with mixed greens and herbs dressed in a buttermilk, green goddess or blue cheese dressing – $16). Unfortunately our waitress informs us that there are no fried green tomatoes today. I’m gutted. Apparently not a lot of people harvest un-ripe tomatoes – they’re hard to come by, Dan tells me.
A fellow foodie has recommended the Shrimp Corn Dogs (four large jumbo shrimp on skewers coated with a cornmeal batter. Served with a South Carolina BBQ sauce and a shrimp cocktail sauce, green salad and salmon roe vinaigrette – $25). We have to try a burger in these surrounds an go with the Pork Belly Burger (grilled sliced pork belly with Boston baked beans, pickled cucumber, tomato and caramelised onions and lettuce – $18). Even though our burger comes with sweet potato fries – we need onion rings too ($3) – if you’re going to do it, do it properly!
The shrimp corn dogs are the first to arrive… and I’m a little scared by what look like Dagwood Dogs stabbed into stone. Thankfully looks are deceiving – the prawns are juicy and perfectly cooked, the cornmeal batter is light and tasty and the spicy tangy sauce accompaniments blow away any images I had of the Easter Show.
The burger is served in a tacky black plastic basket – but we’re in a diner right? The bun is soft and fresh but I’m left thinking we should have gone with something more traditional and flavoursome – our waitresses did recommend the Texas Chili Cheese Burger (Texas style spicy beef chili, cheese, lettuce, mayo, pickle relish – $17)… next time! The sweet potato fries are definitely a highlight – salty, sweet and delicious… we hoover these.
I’m pleased to see the onion rings aren’t cocooned in a thick oily batter (American-style) – they’re light and crunchy with a sweet red onion centre. Nothing amazing, but my friend has never tried onion rings before, so this is a good introduction for him.
I’ll admit that I did select the dessert before anything else – Pecan Pie with Butter Pecan Ice Cream ($10), and as we’re celebrating somewhat today – we order the Strawberry Shortcake ($9.50) too.
I love that the pie really tastes homemade (don’t love the decorative caramel drizzle all over the plate). The butter pecan ice cream is a-mazing! I could happily eat a whole bowl of this. My friend goes outside to take a phone call; it’s a hot day and the ice cream looks like it might melt off the stone slab it’s been delivered on… I decide to eat it all before it goes to waste. I may have suggested to Dan when he comes back to visit our table, that I might like the pecan pie recipe.
A strawberry shortcake conjures childish fun images for me… and this dessert doesn’t fall short of them. The marinated strawberries are sweet and tart and sit between whipped cream and light sponge pancakes – stacked and dressed with the strawberry marinade. Lovely flavours, but a little bit soggy overall.
Dan mentions he’s currently on the lookout for a new space to introduce more of the South American flavours to us Sydneysiders – the concepts sound simple and tasty.
Jazz City Diner is definitely worth a look. With its welcoming kitsch surrounds, it’s great for a fast, cheap meal… or if you’re just in the mood for some traditional diner classics.
Score: 7 plates (out of 10)
Jazz City Diner – 238 Crown Street, Surry Hills – 02 9332 2903