Everything I know about American diners I learned from the movies. I am thus equipped with the knowledge that you can’t have a tab unless you order something; if you sit by the window, you can check your lunch date wasn’t tailed; and that a balloon whisk makes an appropriate substitute for a microphone. Most importantly, however, I know that if you’re at a diner and you’re not eating a burger and a milkshake, you’re not doing it properly. So, forgive me if my expectations for the brand new 05 Diner in Mainz were too high, or if my judgement on a restaurant that’s been open less than a week is harsh: I just found my visit a little disappointing.
The pair behind this brand new Mainz 05-themed establishment are the legendary ex-Mainz 05 goalie Dimo Wache and Dirk Zylla, a local restauranteur who owns other two bars and the Mole beergarden on the Rhine. An American diner is certainly an appealing concept in a city whose restaurant scene is desperately in need of a bit of innovation, and the duo have aimed to make the experience “as American as possible“, with a focus on quality and authenticity (as well as sport). Encouraged by these claims, I found myself there on Friday night with the ever enthusiastic P, the two of us feeling faintly hopeful that we might be about to enjoy a juicy, meaty, burgery treat.
The positives first. The 05 Diner obviously has an experienced team behind it; the concept has clearly been carefully thought out. I like their attention to detail. It may not be shown in the English menu (I’m referring to the “pouched eggs”, “tomatoe” soup and burger “paddy”: it’s hardly the end of the world but honestly, you’d think someone might have checked), but it’s definitely apparent at the venue itself, from the cute little ketchup salt and pepper cellars and the miniature Heinz condiments (though my inner eco warrier does worry a bit about the waste) to the flowers in the toilets. A lot of thought has also gone into the choice of food, which includes American classics such as Philli Cheese Steak, Mac n’ Cheese and the (to me) ever unappealing-sounding Sloppy Joe. They’ve even gone to the trouble of sticking a couple of classic American beers on the menu, though why sane person would choose a bottle of Bud (2,00€ for 0,33l) over a good tall, cold glass of Hefeweizen (3,50€ for 0,5l) is beyond me.
The service was excellent. Our waiter was extremely friendly and cheerful, and unintrusive without us having to ever wonder where he was when we were after another drink or the bill. My embarrassed request to have my cheeseburger (8,90€) without its bun and accompanying onion rings was accommodated without complaint, even if our waiter found it hilarious that I essentially just wanted to order a plate of meat.
Sitting by the window, our table had lots of natural (albeit fading) light and a good view of what was going on on the street (mainly Dirk Zylla chatting with his colleagues: it’s always encouraging to see a restaurant owner being hands on, though you’d of course expect it during an opening week). P and I had less of an idea, however, about what was happening inside, since the diner’s split in two by a huge, steel grey staircase. Nosing around, however, there are flatscreen televisions just about everywhere you look (13, apparently: US sports to be shown during the week and football, obviously, at the weekend); comfy-looking booths lining the walls; and a bar with high stools winding down the length of the diner between them. I expected to find further seating upstairs but fell instead upon the toilets, a coatrack and a Mainz 05 fanshop.
Despite a slight lack of atmosphere, perhaps because we were cut off from the other customers by the staircase – not that it was terribly busy, I was in great company and feeling pretty cheerful and excited about filling my belly with a good burger. All that changed, however, when this turned up:
Oh dear, I thought to myself, that’s not a big fat juicy homemade burger. I’m pretty sure that’s not even a homemade burger overenthusiastically burger-pressed within a inch of its life. That looks very much like the frozen burgers we were subjected to at school, I thought, and I suspect it’s going to taste like cardboard. I nervously carved off a small piece. It had been carefully grilled so that it was still pink in the middle (medium as ordered), but if I’m quite honest, a burger that thin and depressing-looking looks even more unappealing when it’s only half-done. Admittedly, when I had a cautious nibble, it turned out not to be dry or entirely devoid of taste, so I can’t be absolutely certain it came out of a freezer but then not being able to tell whether a burger has come out of the freezer or not is really not a very good thing. I don’t think we need to talk about that square of cheese.
So, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, and in fact I’m upset that the thought even crossed my mind, but I’ve had a better cheeseburger at McDonalds – for a fraction of the price. I’m sorry, 05 Diner, because it’s obvious you’re trying. I know you’re trying because your staff are hard working, your owner is hands on and a member of your team emailed me to ask for feedback after seeing a negative comment I wrote on Facebook. And also because what came with the burger was pretty good. The chips – no, they were definitely not fries – were the best I’ve had in ages. I don’t know if they came out of a freezer, but I don’t care if they did: they were thick cut, slightly curled and cooked to perfection. The salad was fresh and the coleslaw was tasty, though it had the limp, watery appearance of something that’d been spooned out of a jar. P and I were briefly confused about her missing onion rings until I noticed a slither of red onion poking out from beneath her bun. We concluded that “fresh onion rings” at the 05 Diner aren’t the staple burger side dish of deep-fried bits of battered onion, but slices of raw onion tucked in along with the salad instead. I was a bit sad to have missed out.
Anyway, this is what my burger would have looked like had I not had stupid dietary requirements:
P found her bun untoasted and, as from my experience tends to be the case here, a little dry and dense; and as you can see from the burger cross section provided below, there was only marginally more bun than patty. And that’s not a good thing.
Still, I’m not going to lie: I was ravenous, and I polished off everything on my plate, though for the rest of the evening I did feel a little bit dirty. P, being considerably more of a lady than I, only managed half of hers, and we both stared awkwardly at the table as our lovely waiter came to take my plate (and P’s basket) away.
In the very nice email, the 05 Diner requested my feedback and emphasised that the 05 Diner is only in its first week and they’re very keen to smooth out any wrinkles that might have unexpectedly appeared. But here’s the thing: there weren’t any mishaps on Friday night. My issue with the 05 Diner is that they’ve claimed to focus on quality and authenticity and yet they’ve totally messed up what is, as far as I’m concerned, the most quintessentially American dinery element of an American diner: the burger. Which is particularly embarrassing for an establishment that announced it wants to stand apart from other burger chains. I’ve heard reports that the Sloppy Joe and the BBQ ribs are good, but even if that’s true, and even if the steaks are top notch (as you’d hope, being sourced from a local butcher and priced upwards of 17,90€) and the milkshakes are knockout and the breakfasts flawless, the 05 Diner really, really needs to do something about its burger. I’m not saying it needs to be a Big Kahuna burger. I’m just saying it needs to be good.
Website: 05 Diner (in German and English)
Address: Römerpassage 1, Mainz