By Wynter Holden
Photo by Kimberly Carrillo
After 20 years, family-owned retro eatery Chase’s Diner still feels fresh and new.
Walking into Chase’s Diner is like stepping out of a DeLorean outfitted with a flux capacitor, or some other kind of time machine. Every square inch of the place mimics a vintage Silk City Diner, from the black-and-white checkered flooring to boomerang patterned Formica tables and glittery red vinyl chairs. The curved ceiling is stainless, and there’s a Seeburg 100 Wall-O-Matic tabletop jukebox at every booth. All that’s missing is George McFly in his starched shirt and Buddy Holly glasses.
Look closer and you’ll spot the anachronisms. An autographed image of white-haired Johnny Cash sits behind glass. A poster from The Outsiders (circa 1983) hangs by the restrooms. Beside the cash register, a framed photo of three children playing inside the building’s wooden skeleton during construction confirms that Chase’s Diner is modern. Founded in 1997 by longtime Valley residents Skip and Nancy Chase, the eatery celebrated its 20th anniversary in October with free buttermilk pancakes and a charity day for Maricopa County Animal Care.
That sense of community and hospitality is part of Chase’s magic. Have a 15-minute wait? One of the Chase children will personally apologize for any delay. Craving French toast for dinner? Sure thing, Daddy-o! Head chef Andre James, who has worked at Chase’s since the 1997 opening, won’t judge. His full breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are available anytime.
Chef James’ French toast is a solid place to start. Inch-high Texas toast is dipped in custard batter that offers the perfect balance of egginess and sweet cinnamon spice. Lightly griddled, it’s satisfying and buttery enough to make syrup an afterthought. The accompanying bacon is meaty and crisp, each fat slice snapping at the touch of a finger. Fork-beaten scrambled eggs are surprisingly light and airy, with a creamy texture that’s closer to quiche.
In contrast, the Country Skillet is a monstrous pile of home fries, chicken fried steak and sawmill gravy topped with two perfect over-medium eggs. It’s a heart attack on a plate (well, technically in a cast iron pan). Chase’s chicken-fried steak is succulent and tender, a stark textural opposite of crisp deep-fried potatoes. It’s a shame the peppercorn crust separates when the steak is chopped, resulting in random pieces of cornflake-like skin floating in a sea of thick sausage gravy. The soul of the dish melts away with those crunchy bits.
Served on a yeasty hoagie roll, the Messy Meatball Bomber is a dead ringer for the hearty Italian sammies my mom and her best friend dished up at holiday potluck dinners in my childhood. The beef meatballs are as dense and juicy as Mom’s, redolent with the scent of oregano and basil (her secret was flavored Progresso bread crumbs). They’re even better, though, thanks to Chase’s bright and mild red sauce. It’s a refreshing deviation from the murky, overcooked marinara found at most roadside diners.
Besides dessert (hang on, we’ll get there!), Chef James’ green chili pork is one of the diner’s best-kept secrets. Served in a burrito, on a skillet or atop the cleverly named “It’s a Dry Heat” burger, it boasts a delectable earthy flavor. One word of caution: The menu’s crimson, ALL-CAPS warning about heat is no joke. One minute after biting into the burger, my tongue felt like it had been stung by a scorpion. Those who can stand the Scoville units will happily polish off the pork like a kid with a bowl of Lucky Charms.
If not, Chase’s desserts are a quick fix for burning mouths. Calm the capsaicin with a giant slice of homemade carrot cake or warm, comforting bread pudding. The latter is spongy and compact, with a heady cinnamon scent and strong nutmeg undertone. It’s a tad dry without crème anglaise, but enjoyable when heated and slathered with vanilla bean ice cream. The decadent cream cheese frosting of the carrot cake needs no such extras. The cake layers have a delicate vegetable taste with the perfect balance of raisin sweetness and spice. Stop by early in the day for a slice or you’re likely to miss out on this house specialty.
Two decades after opening, Chase’s still looks like it opened yesterday. The stainless steel is spotless, the vinyl is pristine, and members of the Chase family are around to greet guests – though some relatives who helped out have since passed on. The food is consistent, reliable, and just as tasty as it was when Chef James plated his first order on opening day.
It’s like time has stood still inside Chase’s Diner. For those of us who crave the simplicity of an era before cell phones and reality TV, that’s a very attractive quality.
2040 N. Alma School Road, Chandler