local LOVE diner : Liberty Elm

RER 8.25.12

JAR 8.25.12
Guy Fieri, the host of Diners Drive-Ins and Drives, went, so of course I had to.

After being lost in an area of Providence I was hardly aware of, even after living there for four years of college, we finally found it, the Liberty Elm Diner. Apparently it is legendary for its breakfast fare and uniqueness. We were expecting a wait, cause of its size and fame. But I think we missed the Saturday morning breakfast rush, because we were seated instantly, starving and excited.

Basically, the diner is like a trailer with a room in back, on a lot. Small, quirky, friendly and fun. The d├ęcor is very striking, as it is a mixture of past and present as well as out of the ordinary and extraordinary. It is a creative mish mosh and pish posh. There are found objects and loud colors, painted tables and chairs, and art of children hanging on the wall. The trailer part at the front is fitted with just a few booths and a lunch counter with stools and everything. The whole place smelled of breakfast and bacon, even though the menu has quite a few vegetarian dishes. 

We were directed to a tiny booth and looked at the paper menus while waiting. It seemed like so many options jammed onto a small piece of paper. The one side of the piece of paper had lunch and breakfast items, sides, juices and extras. It looked like a mouthful. I was stuck on breakfast. But lunch items also had a lot to offer.

I ordered a glass of fresh orange juice which was particularly amazing. It was fresh squeezed, hearty and almost chewable. This made me really excited for what was going to come next. The purity, taste and fragrance, secured the freshness of the ingredients.

We started out with Johnny Cakes, which we ordered before our whole party arrived, because the menu gives fair warning that 12 minutes must be allowed for an order. I was excited because I had no clue what Johnny Cakes were, and also Mr. Fieri tried them on his adventure to the Liberty Elm. To my surprise 12 minutes later when our Johnny Cakes came hot to the table, they were not sweet at all, but grainy, shaped and fried up grit cakes. They were crunchy and browned on the outside but kind of like wet cement, lumpy and chewy. Kind of sandy, and woody. Kind of like when you let your cream of wheat get cold and lumpy in the bowl—its that feeling. They were not sweet, but not really savory. The maple syrup and the butter really helped to make these unique cakes more edible. I can say that I have experienced Johnny Cakes, but I am not sure I really need to experience them again.

I ordered the Monte Cristo Sandwich and added a fried egg on that bad boy. Basically, this was a heavy-duty breakfast sandwich, made on french toast with swiss cheese and ham, accompanied by syrup. I can not say I was fully impressed with the sandwich, but the idea was so tempting. How could you go wrong with basically a ham grilled cheese sandwich on french toast with an extra dose of fried egg protein? Unfortunately, I found out. The french toast was kind of dry. I am not a fan of really eggy french toast, but these thick slices could have soaked a bit more in the egg mixture, allowing the bread to soften into something sweet and almost custardy. The large french toast outside also was coated with too much cinnamon. The cinnamon without any sugar or anything produced a powdery texture, and added no sweetness to what I thought was going to be a sweet element. There was plenty of swiss cheese to add moisture, which was lacking in the dry and powdery french toast. It was extra melty and soft, and held the sandwich together the best it could. The sharpness of the swiss would have contrasted and created something more delicious had the french toast been sweeter. However the combination of the syrup and the swiss cheese was delicious and different. When I first ordered the Monte Cristo, I almost wished the ham was bacon. The ham added saltiness and more savory elements, and the fried egg was hard cooked and I almost wished it was runnier for moisture. The ham was chewy and stuck to the cheese, but almost too close to the texture of the cheese. And by the time I finished the Monte Cristo, and was looking back on it, I wished the ham was bacon again. I think that the crunch of well cooked bacon would be welcomed, along with the higher salt content.

We also ordered a Liberty Burger, but added cheese and bacon (because bacon makes everything better, even our waitress agreed). The ciabiatta roll definitely overwhelmed the burger, as did the lettuce and tomato, but each ingredient was really fresh and present. The actual meat of the burger was delicious. The quality and the locality of the meat sourced was tasteable. It was so fresh and so delicious, with many flavors that are not always apparent when getting the run of the mill burger. Our waitress explained Liberty’s use of really fresh and local meat, and told us that the farm was really close (though most everything in Rhode Island is close). Despite the deliciousness of all the elements, we longed for a larger burger.

The staff was so super friendly and open, with the customers as well as their colleagues. It felt like a place of sharing, where everyone worked hard together, and were very comfortable. The waitresses were expressive and interacted a lot with their customers, getting to know them and their back stories, which made the Liberty Elm feel like home. We even got advice on what to do in the city that day. The food was kind of classic but not quite the experience I was longing for. Liberty Elm is a great neighborhood spot, local and friendly, and its service and ingredients stand out from the crowd. Simple ideas, and simple dishes, but all featuring fresh ingredients and friendliness. 
JAR 8.25.12

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