Belle's Hot Chicken

Belle's Diner peddles Americana with a twist.
Belle's Diner peddles Americana with a twist. Photo: Ken Irwin

150 Gertrude Street Fitzroy, Victoria 3065

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Opening hours Sun-Thu noon-10pm; Fri, Sat noon-11pm
Features Accepts bookings, Licensed
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9077 0788

Score: 3 out of five stars

Any notion that Belle's Diner is trying to be an authentic American eating place is hosed down by the short menu. The ''Dinerr Burger'' is a sneaky reference to the Double R Diner in the 1990s television series Twin Peaks and, right away, it's clear that Belle's is gesturing towards American tropes both real and imaginary rather than trying to import an experience from overseas. Dressing-room lights spelling out ''diner'' recall fantasy highways ruled by mile-long Chevrolets. The cool plywood booths (ex-Myer cafeteria) are as rickety as a film set, and the timber panelling is early Mad Men on a Brady Bunch budget. It's playful - and full points for that.

The chef is Catriona Freeman, previously at the Grace Darling on Smith Street. Her menu is simple and appealing, and the food is straightforward - not fancy or too serious.

Big flavours, such as those on the New York deli plate, are the stars of Belle's Diner.
Big flavours, such as those on the New York deli plate, are the stars of Belle's Diner. Photo: Ken Irwin

That Dinerr Burger is tall, with a small footprint. It features a fat pattie of Wagyu beef (how long until Four'n Twenty boasts about using the suddenly ubiquitous Wagyu?) cooked to medium, but not very juicy, with caramelised onion, melty cheese, and sliced pickle inside a sweet bun. It's good without evoking a burger epiphany.

There's a green-tomato burger for those with a beef beef, and plenty of other options for vegetarians. The burgers come with fries tossed with a house version of Old Bay seasoning, a vintage spice mix dominated by celery salt and paprika.

Fried chicken, a compulsory diner dish in the American south, is usually on the bone and therefore most easily eaten with the fingers (hence ''finger-licking good''). This version is filleted, a cutlery-promoting initiative, which I applaud. I can't condone the lack of crunch in the batter but I love the super-smoky barbecue sauce. On the side, a thick-grated carrot and beetroot coleslaw is colourful and crisp, but the dressing could do with more acid to help counter the fry factor.

Other dishes include a modish prawn cocktail in a jar and a New York deli plate that takes an A train past some of the Big Apple's fave flavours: pastrami, lox schmear (smoked fish and cream cheese) and rye toast.

The desserts are intense. A chocolate peanut-butter tart is as rich and ridiculous as it sounds. It made me dream of fluffernutter, a peanut butter and marshmallow spread that's simultaneously frightening and fabulous, just like the U S of A.

ALSO TRY

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Corn dogs, chilli fries, buffalo wings and jalapeno poppers are among the American classics on offer here. Soon to open in Gilbert Road, Reservoir, too.

Parlour Diner, 64 Chapel Street, Windsor, 9533 2006. Tues to Sun, lunch and dinner; Sat and Sun, breakfast.
Popular items at this small and welcoming diner include the baby back barbecue ribs, classic burgers, onion rings and the Asian pork slider.

Big Boy BBQ, 764 Glenhuntly Road, Caulfield South, 9523 7410. Daily, lunch and dinner.
Don't be afraid to get messy at this easygoing, kid-friendly barbecue restaurant, where the focus is on slow-cooked meats.

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