Every region of America has cheap-eats specialties it can be proud of. On this score, Boston boasts great range in traditional cuisines from all over the world. It's not hard to find terrific family-run places serving fine Salvadoran, Portuguese, Tibetan, Haitian, and Taiwanese fare, made mostly by ex-pats for fellow ex-pats, and hence not dumbed-down too much for American palates. But for some reason, New Jersey seems to have gotten all the great diners. The diner — that hallowed bastion of old-time Americana, the predecessor to modern fast-food joints — is simply not one of our long suits. In this relatively weak field, Robinwood Café & Grille, a Jamaica Plain diner, executes solidly on the standbys.
Take a classic breakfast plate like the Centre Street ($8.95): two eggs, ham, bacon or sausage, home fries, toast, and two pancakes. The eggs are properly cooked, the ham well-grilled if a bit on the deli-thin side, the potatoes copious if not particularly crisp or well-seasoned, the pancakes plate-size and dense. (You can request pure maple syrup, which is recommended.) It's workmanlike, substantial. Breakfast sandwiches — like sausage, egg, and cheese ($3.49) on an oversize grilled bagel — are tasty, fast, and portable, with a welcome bit of grease. At lunch, the Robinwood Burger ($7.99, plus 50 cents for cheese) tops a good bun with eight ounces of beef cooked to the proper internal temperature, plus lettuce, tomato, and onion; a bit of cole slaw flanks a big pile of fries with a crisp sprayed-on coating. Sandwiches ($4.99–$5.99) include well-stuffed if unremarkable subs, wraps, and panini, from chicken salad to eggplant parm. Entrées include meatloaf ($12.95), a generous slab accompanied by suspiciously smooth mashed potatoes and previously frozen broccoli, though the meat is dry enough to need the accompanying gloopy brown gravy. Sirloin tips ($11.95) are more successful: a sweet-marinated fistful of grilled flap steak chunks with sautéed onions and green peppers, plus mounds of rice and fries. The deep fryer turns out heart-straining platters like the Robinwood Sampler ($9.99): chicken wings, chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks, fries, and onion rings.
Beverages include good filter coffee ($1.79), fountain sodas ($1.99), fruit juices ($2.50), and frappes (listed as "milk shakes," $3.99) made on an old-timey spindle mixer. The room is modern, spacious, bright, and spotlessly clean, with somewhat leisurely and unfailingly friendly service — there's a genuine-seeming sweetness when a server calls you "honey." Occupying a middle stratum between our crummier greasy spoons and pricier, gourmet pseudo-diners, the Robinwood does what it does: hoe the well-worn Greek-American diner furrow with adequate skill and respectable value. In these parts, that's about as much as a diner patron can ask for.
The Robinwood Café & Grille, located at 536 Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, is open daily from 6 am–10 pm. Call 617.524.7575