Under $15: Auntie B's

Old-time diner atmosphere, extraordinary food
By MC SLIM JB  |  January 14, 2009

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Diners have been a cheap-eats staple for a hundred years, the precursor to modern fast-food restaurants. They're an iconic symbol of American informality, efficiency, and egalitarianism. Problem is, many of them aren't very good. Some are mediocre casual-dining chains using wan Happy Days nostalgia as their dopey theme. Others are genuine survivors whose owners glumly serve canned hash, pale home fries, and toasted Wonder Bread smeared with oleo: inarguably bargain-priced but grim. A very few, like Watertown's Deluxe Town Diner, manage to plate high-craft cuisine in the diner idiom in authentic old settings. This last category is the one into which Auntie B's, an 11-seat, six-booth diner in downtown West Roxbury, also happily falls.

House-made roast-beef hash with two eggs, home fries, and toast ($11.95) exemplifies the general excellence here: the hash is wonderful, the Red Bliss potatoes are grilled crunchy, and the toasted peasant bread is from Roslindale's Fornax Bread Company, whose exceptional artisanal breads and rolls elevate many of the dishes. Steak and eggs ($11.95) boasts a half-pound, thick-cut Angus sirloin, maybe the best diner steak I've ever eaten. The Finer Diner ($9.95) — egg, tomato, red onion, grilled prosciutto, and smoked Gouda in grilled brioche — could make a McMuffin eater weep with regret. Tahitian French toast ($9.95) is original and delicious: coconut-crusted brioche, chunks of fresh mango, real maple syrup, plus two eggs. Healthier options include steel-cut oatmeal ($3.50) and the Club Med ($9.95), eggs alongside yogurt, fresh fruit, and granola.

The lunch menu offers a fine half-pound cheeseburger ($6.50); the Rings of Saturn sandwich ($6.75), a fried chicken cutlet layered with an onion ring, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and ranch dressing; and an excellent, fresh-tasting chicken-salad sandwich ($5.50). Sides include above-average house-made potato salad, coleslaw, onion rings, and fries. Beverage-wise, there's tea, soft drinks, milk, and good filter coffee (all $1.25). The two servers are models of hustling equanimity, smilingly waiting tables and endlessly refilling the tiny under-counter dishwasher. The owners have gone an extra mile with retro dûcor touches (old comics-back-pages ads on the menu, vintage movie stills on the walls), presumably to reassure old-timers that they can still get ham and eggs or deli-style sandwiches. With its quality ingredients and extraordinary care in preparation, Auntie B's will surely satisfy those traditionalists and seekers of fresher, more creative diner fare alike.

Auntie B's, located at 1881 Centre Street, in West Roxbury, is open Monday through Friday, from 5:30 am to 2 pm, on Saturday, from 7 am to 2 pm, and on Sunday, from 7 am to 1 pm. Call 617.327.1909.

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