Sookie La La

The interior features three generous booths and a broad bar for sipping sodas with sweethearts.
The interior features three generous booths and a broad bar for sipping sodas with sweethearts. Photo: Ken Irwin

593 High Street Northcote, Victoria 3070

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Opening hours Monday and Wednesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm
Features Cheap Eats, Vegetarian friendly
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Phone 03 9486 5417

Authenticity is all very well, but it's not always a clincher when it comes to eating out. Sookie La La calls itself a diner, and its logo is a silhouette of a squat glass coffee pot. Luckily, Sookie La La hasn't bolted itself to the American dream, so it serves fresh filter coffee (a bottomless cup, if you like), good espresso and tweaked versions of American dishes. Authenticity plays second fiddle to awesomeness, and that's just as it should be.

The diner is small, handsome and air-conditioned with an old-fashioned mom-and-pop mood, and tunes from antique crooners on the stereo. Three generous timber booths take up most of the room; there's a broad bar for sipping sodas with sweethearts.

The menu plucks from the New York diner repertoire, along with Tex-Mex dishes and Southern favourites. There's a tendency to the rich, carb-loaded and filling, expressed eloquently in the cornmeal hoe cakes. These pert, springy pancakes come with whipped cream and maple syrup, but it's the glorious smoked apple butter that turns them into one of the more intense breakfasts you'll ever have.

Coconut sorbet sundae.
Coconut sorbet sundae. Photo: Ken Irwin

Bagels come with toppings both classic (smoked salmon, peanut butter and jam) and cool (jalapeno with cheese), and the sandwiches are fabulous. The Rachel (pastrami on rye with sauerkraut and a creamy dressing) is as easy to love as free tickets to a Broadway show, while the cheese steak elevates a Philadelphia staple from squidgy to sophisticated by stuffing a crusty baguette with roasted peppers plus the compulsory sliced steak, onions and provolone cheese.

Nostalgia kicks in big time with the drinks and sweets. Ice-cream spiders are made with Mexican soft drinks and shake flavours include zesty lime slice and cherry ripe. Sundaes are built to swoon over - the chocolate royale is topped with salty butter popcorn, and a vegan extravaganza layers silky coconut sorbet and berry-lime sauce in a chunky glass. The team features savvy ex-Small Block crew, though busy times can see service slip. Even so, Sookie La La is quaint and eminently likeable.

Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five).