|I didn't take this picture, it's from their Facebook page. I just wanted out.|
I was trying desperately to keep an open mind in spite of every instinct I have sounding warning bells, but I still decided I'd rather get this joint out of the way at the start of the trip so I could get on with enjoying myself. Nothing on the menu grabbed me at all. I'm all for people doing delicious things with fruits and vegetables, but much like the vegetarian fare you find in the freezer section at the grocery store, everything at Vertical Diner is focused not on making the best food possible, but on replicating meat, cheese, eggs, etc. The problem with food that apes other food is that if you're familiar with the dish being copied, you can't help but compare. And the fake almost always loses. Maybe it works on people who haven't had meat or dairy in a few years, or for those whose moral leanings allow them to bridge the gap psychologically, but I don't fit into either of those categories. I can say I dug the vintage diner aesthetic when we pulled up. I enjoyed it less once we were actually inside.
The interior was lit either poorly or glaringly depending on where you sat. The floors were sticky. The tables weren't exactly spotless either. The furniture was much more about function than comfort, and had seen better days. Old diners can be charming, but there are different types of old diners. This wasn't the good kind.
|The artwork is slightly out of place for the theme as well.|
While we waited for service, I perused the beverage/dessert menu.
Kombucha. Micro-brewed sodas. Juice. Rice milk. Flavored soy milks. I played it safe with a San Pelligrino when the waiter showed up to bring the food menus. That's when we found out that the dish my friend had been raving about to me for weeks, which she had called a pot pie but which the menu describes as a Chicken Biscuit Pie ("a savory biscuit stuffed with a garden vegetable chicken stew") had been removed from their options at some point. It was still on the menu, it had just been crossed off with a marker. And yeah, they use the terms like chicken and cheese on the menu even though they serve neither. Still, I've had decent luck with fake chicken in the past. It probably helps that I don't really care all that much for chicken. When I learned we were both about to choose the American Diner meal, I changed my order to...well, I don't know what it's called. The website doesn't show it any more, so maybe they've gotten rid of it. Then again, the website still shows the Chicken Biscuit Pie. Whatever.
The American Diner is your choice of fries, hashbrowns, or mashed potatoes, topped with fried "chicken" and smothered in gravy. The mashed potatoes were about as good as can be expected considering they lacked cream or butter, and the gravy was surprisingly effective though not at all convincing. The fake chicken was horrible. I don't know what to tell you about it, I can't put my finger on the problem, all I know is it's the worst fake chicken I've ever had. Yard House has the good sense to use Gardein, these guys should consider following suit.
My House Salad was my favorite part of the meal. Everything on the plate was what it was supposed to be, and the balsamic dressing was even good.
If memory serves, and that's a sketchy proposition as I rapidly approach middle age, I got the Barbacoa Platter or something to that effect. My mashed potatoes and gravy reaffirmed that my issue with my companion's dinner was the fake chicken, because this was much less offensive. The slaw was even decent, though the dairy component was obviously fake. The "cheese" sauce on the broccoli was surprisingly effective, though it became rapidly less so as it cooled and congealed. But the reason I chose this plate was the "barbacoa" itself. In my research I'd come across several examples of this dish at different restaurants, and all substituted jackfruit for the shredded beef or pork. Now I'd seen jackfruit before, but I'd never actually tried it. In all honesty, it's a terrific substitute for shredded meat. The texture isn't perfect but it's close enough, and with a really good barbecue sauce you could be on to something decent here. This was not a good barbecue sauce. It was all tang and sweet with no smoke or heat. Regardless, I ate as much as I could stand and finally gave up, wanting to head to the hotel and already hoping for better stuff the next day. And no, it's not just my cynical self that was disappointed, my friend wasn't thrilled either.
Food: Fake, and obviously so. This could be overlooked if it actually tasted good. It doesn't.
Value: Can terrible food ever be cheap enough?
Service: This was the only other bright point of the meal aside from the salad.
Atmosphere: Dirty, inconsistent lighting, crappy music.
Final Grade: D-