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Anything but standard
Thursday, 15 November 2012
ImageClassic meets modern at Standard Diner, where brie and gruyére fill your grilled cheese sandwich and Marble-beer syrup coats your waffle

By Denise Marquez
When I think of American diners I think hamburgers, malts and shakes, French fries and soda fountains. The American classics. What rarely comes to mind is gingered crab cakes or country-fried tuna. Standard Diner is a breath of fresh air, giving the traditional a modern twist.

I find the atmosphere at Standard Diner, which opened in 2006 in an old Central Avenue car dealership, to be pleasantly surprising. It has a touch of elegance and comfort and takes the idea of an old-fashioned diner and into the 21st century, fully revamped and primped. The outside gives a vibe of a classic Route 66 eatery, with its neon lights outlining the roof and metallic trimmings. Yet the inside is more upscale and distinguished than a typical diner. It is definitely a place where you can either kick back and chow down, or suit up and enjoy finer dining.

Standard Diner
320 Central SE, 505.243.1440
11a-9p, Mon.-Thu.; 11a-9:30p, Fri.; 10:30a-9:30p, Sat.; 10:30a-9p, Sun.

I think that’s what makes Standard Diner unique — the fact that the classics have been transformed into modern favorites. The zest added to many of the courses in recent months is thanks to new Executive Chef Saul Paniagua. An Albuquerque native, Paniagua has won prestigious awards and has spent years perfecting his culinary talents in New Mexico and around the world, as a cruise line chef and elsewhere.

ImageI highly recommend his Standard Chicken and Waffles ($14). I know it might not sound like an interesting choice, but trust me when I say there’s nothing ordinary about the dish. The waffles are made of blue corn and green chile, which makes them possibly the most New Mexican waffles in existence. The chicken is piñon-crusted. But the show stopper of the whole plate is the Marble-beer syrup. Drowning those waffles with a sweet and rich sauce enhances each flavor.

Another Southern favorite my dining companion and I couldn’t resist was the Bacon Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers ($10). Five jalapeños stuffed with smoked gouda, golden raisins and green chile, with piñon adding to the flavor, are beyond tasty. The golden raisins add a sweet pinch to the spice of the green chile and bite from the jalapeño. We commented on how we could probably eat 20 of them and not feel a single ounce of guilt.

ImageThe great thing about the menu is that the entrée options vary from plates like the chicken and waffles to more refined dishes like Seared Salmon ($19). The salmon was grilled to perfection and literally melted in my mouth. It came with a plate full of roasted vegetable couscous, which in my opinion was much more than a side dish, and perhaps the best item I tasted at Standard Diner.

There was one item that I underestimated. Only because I couldn’t think of a way to make an ordinary grilled cheese sandwich into something extraordinary. All I can say is definitely don’t overlook the Standard Grilled Cheese ($10). This daddy of all grilled cheese sandwiches is loaded with not one but three excellent cheeses: brie, gruyére and mozzarella — all melted between two slices of green chile brioche, along with balsamic syrup, green apples and heirloom tomato jam.

The Bread Pudding ($6) was our choice of desert. Topped with a scoop of ice cream on the warm bread, it satisfied our sweet-tooth cravings and warmed our tummies as much as it warmed our mouths, leaving us feeling sweetly satisfied and content.

Standard Diner, with it unexpected ingredients and modern take on traditional diner food, has become a culinary treasure in East Downtown. Mixing the old with the new pushes the standards expected from an American diner right out the door. Standard Diner keeps the old Route 66 memory alive, for a new generation, with its modern diner motif and menu.
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