Dinner in the Diner? Nothing Could Be Finer!

Authentic All-American Dining in the Heart of Derbyshire

As unlikely as it may sound, there is, at the very southern tip of Derbyshire, as authentic an American eating experience as you could get anywhere in the USA. In the former mining community of Church Gresley, near Swadlincote, and just a few miles from my home, stands The 50s American Diner, where customers are transported to another era.

It's an unlikely setting. This part of Derbyshire is not exactly known for its connections with the USA. And the surroundings - an unpromising combination of lorry parks and somewhat tatty large sheds and garages - don't do much to encourage. To be honest, if you didn't know it was there, you'd probably drive right on by none the wiser. But step inside what the owners call 'an original vintage American diner' and you'll realise what a mistake that would be.

Opened in the summer of 2005, The 50s American Diner has made quite a name for itself among those in the know. I'd seen it on our local news and been intrigued. Although, I have to admit, a little skeptical. I'd been in so-called 'American diners' in the UK before. They'd never quite (or frankly anything like) lived up to the proper diners I'd visited in the States. And so, cynically, I'd never quite made the effort to check out a restaurant that was almost on my doorstep. Then, a few weeks ago, I had to visit the diner to film an interview for our local BBC East Midlands Today programme about the Derbyshire man, Harry Stevens, who invented the hotdog. Yes, really! But more about that another time! I have to admit I was utterly transfixed. Everything seemed 'right'.


Every plate, glass & straw was precisely as you'd expect. The music, old familiar rock and roll tunes and some you've probably never heard before, hit the right note.And even the memorabilia that decorates the walls is genuine. High on a wall, just beside the door is an old high school jacket. It was donated by one of a group of former high school students who visited the diner to relive the memories of their youth. And they brought a few other things too, including a licence plate 'taken' from a car parked outside one Murphy's Diner in Massachusetts during their teenage years. They chose to donate these items to Jeff Laight & Trish Whitehouse who run the diner, because the diner that now stands in a car park in South Derbyshire is the very same Murphy's Diner, that opened at 2525 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA in March 1952.

 

You really wouldn't believe this is Derbyshire, would you?

We all ate burgers & fries, but just had to leave room for some delicious dessert!

When you look at the pristine and shiny interior you'll probably not believe the diner's checkered history. Closed in 1968, having been the location of countless first dates for those teens from Matignon High School's Class of '57, it was moved several times, and suffered several abortive attempts to re-open it before it eventually all but rotting away in a field in another part of Massachusetts. In a bizarre twist, the entire diner was shipped to the UK by a Derby-based classic car sales company. After extensive restoration, the diner was installed it on its car lot as the 'Motown Diner'. But it never really caught on and, in 1997 the business closed and the diner was left, once more, to deteriorate. But that was before Jeff & Trisha stepped in and bought it, believe it or not, on Ebay. They moved it to the unlikely setting of Church Gresley and fixed it up, and have since made a enormous success of it. 

 

At the weekends it attracts diners from right across the UK.And, although the ambiance, the history and the escapism are doubtless the primary attraction, the food at The '50s American Diner really hits the spot. We skipped appetisers, since we'd seen the mountains of fries accompanying the burgers to another table. Opting in instead for hand-made cream sodas and lemon squash. There's no alcohol on offer, but that really would spoil the whole point, this is Happy Days, not Boardwalk Empire. We all had burgers with fries. Our carnivorous friend (and something of an expert when it comes to meat) noted the 'Cary Grant' - burger with cheese - was 'excellent'. The rest of us had the 'Frank Sinatra' - a spicy beanburger - and this, too, was very tasty and moist. 

The caramel apple pie with ice cream was an excellet choice for dessert.

You might have guessed the burgers are all named for famous Americans of the era. The haddock fillet - the 'Bobby Darrin' ('Under the Sea' anyone?) did tempt, but we decided to save that for next time. Because, even half-way through our burgers, we were already planning a return trip. And there's plenty of choice on the extensive menu. As well as a plethora of burgers, they serve four types of hotdog, three further fish dishes, ribs, wings, chicken & both meaty and veggie chilli as well as salads and steaks.

At the end of a satisfying meal & a fun evening out.

As for dessert, well, there are ice cream sundaes and pies galore. Each of the four of us had something different. A knickerbocker glory was 'great', the pancakes with maple syrup 'delicious', the peach sundae 'really lovely' and the caramel apple pie with ice cream (my choice) utterly gorgeous. We left replete, happy and so pleased we'd made the effort. The prices, while not exactly budget are reasonable, given the size of the portions and the privilege of eating in a genuine piece of cultural history, and it's certainly a place, were is a little nearer to home, or at least on a bus route, that we'd come back to often.

We visited mid-week and shortly after opening, but the diner soon filled up with a birthday party, so it's advisable to phone first to make sure they can accommodate you. Everything is cooked fresh, so you'll have plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere. The staff are friendly, helpful and efficient and you'll soon be making plans for a second visit. I might well see you there! The 50s American Diner is on John Street, Church Gresley, Swadlincote, Derby. It opens Wednesday & Thursday from 5pm to 8.30pm. On Friday from 5pm to 9.30. On Saturday from Noon to 9.30 and Sunday from Noon to 7.30 (with last orders 30 minutes prior to closing). For further information go to The 50s American Diner website.