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First Bite: Al's Diner -- Patty Melts, Monte Cristos, And Heart Attacks

By Oct 14, 2015 Dining


There are at least three hard-to-find American sandwiches in Shanghai: the patty melt, the French dip, and the monte cristo. While the new Al's Diner on Xinle Lu doesn't have a French dip (your best bet is NYC Deli for that), they do make a killer patty melt and a fine Monte Cristo. In the post-Dixie Grill era, this is the new spot for high–calorie abandon and all-day breakfast in this neighborhood.

Al's Diner opened as Gracie's Ice Cream just a few months back. It's damn good ice cream, and the only Shanghai spot where I've seen cookie dough, mint chocolate chip, and pumpkin flavors, but they quickly realized that serving only ice cream might not prove so sustainable, especially in the colder months (don't worry, they still have all the ice cream). For re-branding, they brought in Sean Jorgenson (Maya, Liquid Laundry) and Anna Bautista (Coquille, Madera) to consult on the menu, which consists of classic American diner food with just the right amount of elegance and fusion-ness, like a fried rice with Chinese sausage that tastes like Chinese New Year.

The interplay between the guy who designed Liquid Laundry's American comfort food menu and a former chef de cuisine at a Michelin starred restaurant in Palo Alto becomes apparent when a real hench patty melt and fries comes paired with some cute pickled vegetables. You wouldn't want to make diner food too fancy, and they haven't. Look at this beast.

Then we have the monte cristo, the American cousin of the croque monsieur -- a real bastard of a sandwich involving ham, turkey, and cheddar singles pressed between bread fried in French toast batter then coated with powdered sugar and served with strawberry jam. Sounds weird, but works perfectly.

And their version of an Egg McMuffin, served with some house potatoes than proved way better than their fries.

This might become the new spot for post-work beer and fried chicken, as not only do they have perfectly crispy double-fried chicken with honey and Sriracha, they serve Kirin draft topped with frozen foam. It's like a mall ICEE for salarymen.

The menu has about twenty items, including pancakes that come with lemon ricotta and several other outfits. Can you eat healthy here? Yes, you could get an egg white omelet or some vegetarian option, but why would you? Make that shit at home. The only question is, when Sean and Anna move on to consult on another venue in a few months, can Al and Gracie keep up the quality? If so, this ice cream shop will prove more than sustainable. For just a little bit more than Mr Pancake House, you'll get a far better meal, and for a similar price as Egg, you get far more food. Really, the only criticism at this point is the added waistline. Welcome to the hood.

Mains from 35-85rmb, ice cream from 30rmb, drinks from 20rmb

Photos by Brandon McGhee



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  • 4 years ago handoogies

    I'm game for some high caloric food; I work out like a wolverine.

  • 4 years ago TSkillet

    The patty melt was legit. I'm not sure why I ordered it - I guess because I hadn't seen it on any menus in Shanghai?

    And I love love love gracie's. People complain it's expensive, but it's the same price as the far worse Haagen Daazs and much cheaper than the overly sweet Cold Stone.

  • 4 years ago jtf87

    I hope their prices are more reasonable for savory items than their sweet ones, 30rmb for a scoop of ice cream? They have the cheek to write "from only 30rmb a scoop". Jesus Christ an ice cream in a cone costs 40rmb, what kind of cows are they milking? Don't get me wrong the ice cream is excellent but as usual, way over priced laowai joint.

  • 4 years ago GawainMcQueen

    Sean and Anna congratulations...RIP Dixie Grill...

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