Although the American diner has a simple formula, there are a multitude of variations in style and form. There's the gleaming chrome and tile, padded red stools and molded booths of the retro-future '50s diner, an icon of movies and pop art for the past 50 years. There's the corner restaurant that aims for more humble digs to match the homey food. Then there's places like Treasure Island's Foxy's Cafe.
You could call it a landmark, but only bacause anything that's been around for almost half a century has a certain psychic pull in the community around it. You'd never point to the humble strip mall space topped by a neon "Foxy's" and use it as a basis for directions — most people probably never even notice it on their way out to the beach — or even use the restaurant as a basis of comparison for other Treasure Island eateries. It's not a diner's role to stand out, for the most part. Think of Foxy's as the subconscious beach dining baseline and you've likely nailed it.
It's not on the beach, but sit at the pitted steel tables out in front of Foxy's and you'll hear the caw of the seagulls, smell the brine of the gulf on the ever-present breeze. Those tables are usually packed in the mornings with everyone from red-tinged vacationers to blue-collar workers, bathing-suited teens to stooped elderly locals who arrive on personal mobility scooters.
Those folks are there because of the cheap, simple and filling breakfasts that Foxy's serves, the usual suspects of eggs any way, griddled meat and fluffy flapjacks served in combinations that usually clock in below the $5 mark. The restaurant makes those straightforward dishes just as you'd expect, with no fuss and little embellishment. Sometimes you can detect the aroma of fried fish clinging to the hash browns, but a little wing sauce cuts through that in seconds.
That sauce is one of the things that brings people back in the afternoon and evening, since the owners have a serious link to Buffalo, NY's wing heritage. You won't have to pick between a dozen different sauces that reference Japanese teriyaki or Thai chili sauce; here the chicken comes with Buffalo sauce or no sauce, the way God intended. Bite into one of the crisp, plump drumettes and you'll be thankful for the simplicity: Foxy's cooks wings right, dressed in the bright and moderately spicy vinegar and butter sauce that made Buffalo famous for more than just blizzards and an under-performing football team.
There's also a northeast connection in the form of beef on weck — the Buffalo contribution to the roast beef sandwich — but the majority of the menu combines standard bar food with home-cooking diner classics: braised baby-back ribs slathered in a glaze of sticky-sweet sauce; grilled pork chops served plain or crusted in Cajun blackening seasoning; and moist slabs of meatloaf slathered in gravy or served on a substantial bun. It's all tasty enough, as long as you're looking for the kind of stick-to-your ribs fare that you remember from your childhood.
Burgers are extremely popular here, especially Foxy's cheeseburger wrap, an odd but satisfying combination of ground meat, gooey American cheese and rich seasoned sauce folded into a colorful tomato-basil tortilla. Interesting, but the burgers are best here when stacked inside two butter-slicked slices of rye bread with griddle onions and swiss cheese in a timeless diner patty melt.
Foxy's serves pizza that doesn't rival the better island pie specialists, but makes for a nice accompaniment for a pitcher of beer. By late morning, most of the crowd of locals moves indoors into a dark and cool dining room that serves as an air-conditioned antidote to the brutal summer heat. The long-wooden breakfast counter that runs along half the room turns from scrambled eggs and bacon to Bud and fries, complete with enough flat screen televisions to mimic a stripped-down sports bar.
Despite the dollar draughts of American macro-brews and fried appetizer specials, however, you'll never think of Foxy's as a bar, per se. Instead it does a yeoman's job of fulfilling the promise of a neighborhood diner, the American version of an Irish village pub or French bistro. Need to fill your belly with comfort food? Something to wet your whistle? A place where other diners call you by name when you open the door, and conversation between tables of strangers is the norm?
That's what a diner is all about. Foxy's gets it.