Attempting to eat a reasonably healthy diet is a lot easier when you’ve got Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Watching Guy Fieri sample dish after dish from America’s most reliable home-cooking restaurants is almost as good as eating them yourself–without the eventual need for triple bypass surgery. When he profiled downtown L.A.’s Nickel Diner, though, with its famous bacon maple donut and luscious-looking dishes like catfish with corn cakes and pecan sauce, I had a feeling that a vicarious experience wasn’t going to be enough.
As fate would have it, on Friday night I found myself downtown at the Library Bar for early drinks with some friends, one of whom mentioned that she’d recently checked out the Nickel Diner. After filling up on $5 margaritas, edamame, cheese fries, smoked salmon, and skewered pork belly, we still managed to find room for Nickel Diner’s tempting dessert tray, which said friend hadn’t had a chance to sample before. And it was only a few blocks away. Case closed.
Nickel Diner is a lot smaller than it looks on TV (this must be true of everything, and everyone, that appears on TV). It was reasonably quiet when we arrived, and the friendly waiter quickly brought out the dessert tray. The hardest part was choosing–peanut butter, chocolate, and potato chip cake (not making this up)? Creme brulee with fruit? Homemade ring ding? PB and J pop tart? The Cher cupcake (the server said she couldn’t explain it)?
In the end we went with the s’more cake and the red velvet cake with cream cheese icing mixed with tiny malted milk balls. The server brought out our s’more cake and scorched the thick marshmallow topping right at our table, turning it a lovely golden brown. And…wow. The mix of light marshmallow, crunchy graham cracker, dark and somewhat salty chocolate, and a slight hint of cinnamon made for an awesome flavor combination. We made short (if messy) work of the s’more cake. The red velvet was no disappointment either–moist & flavorful, and the malted milk balls added a nice little surprise crunch to every bite.
I don’t normally gorge on sweets–one or two bites of chocolate or cake of any kind tends to be plenty. But with Nickel Diner’s desserts I have a feeling I could finish off a whole slice of cake with no problems. Which means that it’s probably a good thing the place is located fairly far from my usual haunts. Still, I’m sure I’ll be back for lunch or dinner–those catfish with corn cakes look too good to pass up.