Oct 21, 2014

A commoner reviews Charlie Parker’s Diner, Springfield, Ill.

Since it opened 1991, Charlie Parker’s Diner has become somewhat of an institution in my hometown.  It has built a reputation among foodies for its over-sized pancakes, breakfast horseshoes and old-school diner-style atmosphere, all wrapped inside a Quonset hut near the south end of Springfield.  For me (and I suspect many other regulars), it’s been those hearty breakfasts that have helped many a hangover over the years.

Entrance to Charlie Parker's ... yup, that's a Quonset hut.
Even before it got its reputation – along with some additional fame from being featured on an episode of the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” – Charlie Parker’s always seemed to be busy. 

That hasn't changed, as I found out on my most recent visit on a late Monday morning last summer with the girlfriend and the kiddo.  Although we didn't have to wait for a table, I was still impressed with the business they were drawing even during a down period.    

But I really shouldn't have been surprised.  That’s because they do a lot of things quite well.  The giant pancake (and the eating challenge associated with trying to finish four of them) may get them notoriety, but staples like omelettes, homemade hash, blueberry-stuffed French toast casserole (often a Sunday special) and other breakfast specials keep me coming back.  In fact, it’s a rarity for me to ever be disappointed by their breakfast here. 

Cowboy Breakfast 
Meet the rarity.  On this occasion, everything about the Cowboy Breakfast was great … except the beef brisket.  Maybe I was expecting it to be softer and juicier.  But I think they slapped the slices on the grill, making it tougher and chewier than I expected.       

Oh, well.  Life is like a menu.  You may know what you’re getting, but you may not know how it’s going to turn out. 

As for lunch … well, I can never get past the breakfast menu to try anything else.  But the girlfriend was very satisfied with her bacon cheeseburger.  I like to believe if the burger is teetering and upside-down, it’s a good indication of a big, juicy burger.   

Cozy seating along the Quonset hut wall
The décor inside of Charlie Parker’s is 1950s and 1960s nostalgia all the way, with a few more recent topical references thrown in.  Old album covers, 45 records and retro advertising cover the interior walls, which sometimes make for some curious angles if you’re interested in checking out the memorabilia. 

The Whiz ad, above the entryway toward the restrooms, is one of my favorites.   

If you’re dining solo, or if you really want the full diner experience, you can grab a stool at the front counter and watch the hustle and bustle of orders coming through the kitchen.    

As the reviews on several foodie websites indicate, Charlie Parker’s continues to draw out-of-town visitors who are looking for something a little different yet comforting and familiar.  You’ll even get the occasional celebrity sighting.  But the food is what keeps its regulars coming back, and it’s why I don’t let one less than superior experience deter me from returning. 

Besides, who doesn't love to dine inside a Quonset hut?

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