Photo | Yelp
Since 1996, Mobile’s Big Time Diner has been a magnet for those seeking blue-plate specials and meat and threes.
Big Time Diner • 4936 Cottage Hill Road, Mobile 36609 • 251-666-2141
Memories, oh how they linger. As for me, I’ve never been to the Big Time Diner on Cottage Hill. Shame on me after more than two decades in this old town, but let me stop you. I’m well aware I need to fight the West Mobile traffic more often and dine in the oh-eights and oh-nines. I’m trying to be less of a creature of habit. So what got me there this time?
Scarecrow and I were hanging out with our friend Priscilla Bell Jenkins, listening to memories of her dad, Tall Man, and how he once visited Big Time Diner a record 11 nights in a row when her mom was otherwise occupied. If I had a pickup truck full of money and more free time than sense, I don’t believe I could stomach a week of my favorite haunts, let alone the better part of a fortnight.
I was intrigued. Perhaps the time had come for three friends to see what is so special about Big Time Diner that Tall Man would turn his back on the rest of Mobile’s vast restaurant scene, only to make his way through an old diner menu.
Priscilla Bell was the only one of us with any experience at BTD. She knew the menu well and had already planned her meal. As our guide, she pointed out “Toy Story” characters hidden in the walls with a sparkle in her eye. There was a hint of excitement that smelled of memories and onion rings, pot liquor and gravy as we walked past the soda fountain-style bar to the dining room.
Scarecrow had a Barq’s ($2.25) over the good ice, Priscilla Bell had water and I had the small bottled Coke ($1.75) we all swear tastes better than the 12-ouncers. It wasn’t long before we were enjoying a plate of crab claws ($13.95). Served with requested tartar and cocktail sauces, these were flour-battered and plentiful enough to share, but only scratched the surface of the amount of food we were about to receive.
Priscilla Bell ordered a chicken tender salad with a side of macaroni and cheese ($9.74). “You’re kidding me, right? We come all this way to a diner your father used to revere and you’re getting a salad?”
She explained to us that this was no health food. It’s a hearty serving of fried tenders over mixed greens with tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese and bacon. She did manage to 86 the tomatoes. The best part was the homemade Thousand Island dressing (they sell it by the quart if you’re interested), which was great on a cracker or two.
The mac and cheese was stellar — not the topped with breadcrumb type but more of the extra cheesy style that screams “diner!”
Soup of the day was navy bean and I wasn’t that interested until our waitress mentioned they also had great gumbo and chili. I turned toward the gumbo ($4.50) and was pleasantly surprised. A West Mobile gumbo that competes with downtown’s is a bit shocking. I should expand my route. This cup had a light roux and a slightly sweet flavor served with a bottle of Louisiana red-dot hot sauce. Not loaded with seafood, but just enough.
Scarecrow wanted to try the oyster po’boy ($10.25) with fries. On a hoagie bun, it was still a good sandwich though she also 86’d the tomatoes. (What is wrong with these people? You think you know someone ….) Fries were good and the tartar sauce made the sandwich, despite being spelled differently on the menu.
I’d seen a neighboring table with a plateful of cornbread dressing and knew it would shape my order. There was no doubt the Blue Plate Special ($11.95) was coming my way. For a meat and three at dinner, I waffled back and forth between field peas, fried fish, beans or grilled chicken before settling on chopped steak, turnip greens, fried okra and cornbread dressing.
Would I like grilled onions and mushrooms on my steak? We just met, but you know me better than family. The steak was diner gold with 10 pounds of onions and mushrooms. The dressing was made from sweet cornbread, normally a sin in my book, but for some reason it worked today with light brown gravy. The fried okra was your normal reliable healthy side and the greens were perfect. I declined the offer of the other pepper sauce and stuck to the red dot.
The table across from us was already on the dessert round and had a table of four different ice cream dishes. Temptation was there but I had to bail. I couldn’t (and shouldn’t) finish what was in front of me, so we boxed it up and headed home.
Three people, a ton of food, appetizer and soup, including seafood items, and we leave with a bill under $60. That was almost as impressive as the dinner itself. We’ve discussed this and maybe Big Time Diner is West Mobile’s version of The Dew Drop Inn. They should be fine with that comparison. Different as they may be, there are some strong similarities.
It’s worth a short drive (or even a long one) to make a couple of memories. I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon. Tall Man, I hardly knew you, but I like your style.