On the recommendation of a couple of friends, while in New York we went to dinner at Ellen’s Stardust Diner which is on Broadway and close to all the venues where music theatre is performed.
We arrived at around 6.30pm and the first thing I noticed is that the building is covered in scaffolding. New York and scaffolding is the subject of an upcoming post so I’ll move on to the second thing I noticed and that is the long and winding queue that wrapped around the building.
Arabella said, ‘Mum, do we have to do this?’ because she’s no fan of standing in line. But I had no back-up plan for the evening and so we joined the queue. There was a couple in front of us with their two teenage daughters and the woman encouraged us by saying that the queue moves quickly and that they had dined there the night before and loved it so much they were back again for their last night in New York before heading home to Amsterdam.
It was only moments later when a man from the diner was yelling out, ‘Two, we have seating for two’, and as Arabella and I were the only party of two, we jumped 50mtrs to the front of the the line-up and were shown into the diner.
The diner is on two levels and isn’t a huge space yet they manage to squeeze just under 300 into the venue. The tables are tiny as is the space you’re given and you sit cheek-by-jowl with the people on either side of you, but there’s a happy and exuberant vibe in the diner and people seem keen to be social and not have an exclusive experience.
With so many squeezed into such a tight space, the diner is noisy but not so loud Arabella and I had to scream at each other.
The menu was brought to us by a high-on-life waiter wearing a name badge, ‘Short-Cake’. He was all smiles and keenly welcoming. He took our drink orders and left us to peruse the menu. The menu is covered in plastic and so large it was almost the size of the table. It has all the predictable diner options including burgers, nachos, fish and chips, steak, lasagne and pasta.
Arabella ordered the Crispy Wings from the appetiser menu. They are deep fried, wings tossed in a selection of sauces and Arabella chose buffalo. The generous serving of wings arrived within seconds of being ordered and while coated in a robust sauce, we thought the wings were a tad dry.
I ordered the Mighty Mo Burger that was a double cheese burger with lettuce, tomato, American cheese and special 1953 secret recipe sauce. It seemed the burger instantly appeared and I was totally underwhelmed by the presentation. It didn’t look at all appetising and was what I would call a ‘deconstructed burger’ however burgers presented where you have to construct it yourself seemed to be fairly common throughout New York. I wasn’t able to eat the burger. The bun was soft like a McDonalds bun with no texture and seemed rather highly-processed. The cheese had a shine to it giving it a plastic appearance and even though it was placed on top of a heated meat pattie, it didn’t seem to have the capacity to melt. I don’t know what happened to the ‘special 1953 secret recipe sauce’ as my burger contained no sauce. The token vegetables served on the side were bland and tasteless. There were some potato-type things also on the plate that didn’t resemble any type of food in its natural state and they were flavourless and mushy. As I didn’t eat anything on the plate, the waiter asked if I would like to take it home!
I thought I’d try again and ordered the Empanada Sampler from the Appetiser menu which was the house-made classic Peruvian style beef empanadas and chicken empanadas, served with mild and spicy dipping sauces. While these were marginally better in taste than the burger, they were filled with two different varieties of indescribable mush. I couldn’t eat these either.
We bravely ventured on to the dessert menu and ordered The 50’s Remembrance Banana Split which was three scoops of ice cream with three sauces, bananas, wet walnuts, whipped cream, strawberries and sprinkles. It definitely had a 1950’s appearance to it but the whipped cream looked like it had been sprayed from a can and with all the sauces, it was definitely a sweet dessert. We thought it was a complete over-indulgence but a well-executed banana split would definitely be a diner-appropriate item to order.
But it’s not the quality of the food that draws the lengthy queues outside the restaurant. What causes the diner to be packed to the rafters night after night is the wait-staff. All have had (or are having) careers on Broadway and while you dine, these incredibly talented individuals go from waitering to entertaining and seeing and hearing them perform after they have shown you to your seat and brought you the menu and your drinks seems surreal.
Within the tight confines of the space, the wait-staff/entertainers move around the diner, ducking and weaving between the tables then climbing onto narrow beams that they walk along as they perform.
We heard Bohemian Rhapsody belted out as I thought only Freddie Mercury could do, My Way where if you shut your eyes you would swear Frank himself was on the microphone, Copacabana that sounded so much like Barry Manilow that you’d think the performer was miming.
We also heard songs from musicals like Annie and Wicked and theme songs from movies like Frozen. From time to time a bucket is passed around for you to donate to the waitstaff and you’re advised that this will help them to continue with their singing and dancing classes that they need to keep up for their next round of auditions.
This is not a restaurant where they would like you to linger so your dining experience seems rushed along. Fair enough because as we paid the bill, I noticed the length of the queue outside the diner was no shorter than when we arrived.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a restaurant where right in front of you, you are privileged to experience Broadway performers showcasing their incredible talent. I think it is a disrespectful to that talent, that the food served falls well beneath the quality of the performers.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner: 1650 Broadway, New York 10019
Ph: (212) 956-5151