Some people insist that diners are pre-fabricated structures with a long counter and stools that swivel and are bolted to the floor. Ditto the long tempting line of cakes and cream pies that beckon from under their plastic covers. Then there are others who expect lots of stainless steel inside and out. My favorite definition of a diner is: “If it doesn’t serve breakfast at any hour of the day, it’s not a diner.” (Nod supportively with me here).
Perhaps the common thread in all diners is in their serving food that is quick, affordable, and most of all, comfortingly delicious. Think pancakes, meat loaf and potatoes smothered in gravy, fried chicken, bracelet-sized onion rings; in other words, food that’s high in fat (yay!) and flavor and people who couldn’t give a hoot about the calorie count. (More power to their tribe, I say). Pretentiousness has no place here so things like steak au poivre, crÃ¨me brulee, and profiteroles are absent.Thank goodness for that.
While we have lots of food places in Manila that fit the definition of serving food that’s quick and affordable, we don’t have many diners. I can think of the now defunct Arnold’s Diner on Makati Avenue in the 90’s, Rosie’s Diner (defunct?) in Ermita somewhere, and presently, Butter Diner, Filling Station, and Gram’s Diner in Rockwell. (Could Cocorama and Heaven ”˜n Eggs be considered diners?) It’s only now that Manila is discovering the glories of breakfast and brunch, a nascent trend wherein I, big breakfast fan, fervently hope that brunch will become the new lunch. (Let’s do brunch!)
Back in 1995, former US Navy Sergeant Jeremy Hauser, set up Filling Station, his idea of a diner in Manila. Even the name of the restaurant itself is old fashioned as what we now know as gas stations were known as filling stations until oil companies in the 20’s branded them otherwise. Filling Station, the diner, pays idolatrous respect to the glory days of the 50’s and 60’s. It boasts one of the largest collections of memorabilia in Southeast Asia from that era.
Turning my neck to and fro, I catch sight of a 1968 jukebox made in honor of the King himself, Elvis Presley. A 1955 Bel-Air Chevy that’s been sawed in half has been attached to the ceiling, barely missing ol’ Spidey himself as he crawls down to inspect the pancakes I’m about to devour. Keeping me company in my little eating area are a number of vintage telephones, TV sets, radios, movie posters, vinyl records, and more. The checkered floors and staff uniforms add cute kitsch to the whimsy.
The diner menu is pure Americana but because it’s right smack in the Philippines after all, there are plenty of Pinoy faves for the diehards such as Arroz ala Cubana and tocino. I’m having brunch so I go for the flapjacks (aka pancakes) available in classic (P140), banana (P150), blueberry (P180). I add two fried eggs and a side of sausage (plus P100). My Bin professes an attraction to the Clubhouse (P260) which he orders: a classic three-tiered combination of chicken, bacon, egg, cheese, mayonnaise, ham, and the seemingly gratuitous leaf of lettuce, since you gotta get your greens in there, after all.
On a whim, we order the milkshake, and though I always, always order vanilla when it comes to milkshakes, we go for the chocolate. I must tell you now ”“ in fact, it behooves you to try the milkshake at the Filling station. At an off the wall expensive P190, one sip and you won’t care anymore. This is quite simply, the BEST milkshake in Manila I have to say. Served in the proper tall glass (run screaming for your life if you’re ever served a milkshake in a drinking glass), its excess comes in a metal silver shaker. So thick that my straw stands straight up, this milkshake is unbearably smooth and cool. Think of the best chocolate milk you’ve ever had and multiply it by ten. That’s how good this milkshake is. It’s so good that I’m uttering expletives for the next 30 seconds.
My Bin’s Clubhouse arrives, hefty and satisfactory. It’s the type of sandwich that’s so stuffed to proportions that every bite has the filling shooting out in the other direction. I giggle as a slap of mayonnaise squirts my place mat.
Halfway through his sandwich, my flapjacks still haven’t arrived. How long does it take to pour some batter onto a griddle, I’m thinking. But I’m working on the milkshake and am almost more than happy to slurp my breakfast today except that Bin’s making noises about wanting some of the drink for himself too. Get your own, man.
Two follow-ups and a wrong order of eggs later (they came scrambled, not fried), my flapjacks are worth the wait. Not as fluffy as the ones in Pancake House, they’ve got a bite to them that I find irresistible. Drenched in gleaming syrup and stained with the yolks of my this-side-of- over-fried eggs, and a bite of salty sausage, I’m ready to proclaim to all and yonder that this is bliss.
Now, while I heartily recommend the Filling Station for good eats, I will be remiss if I don’t tell you that its location is not so erm, savory. Dead on in the center of Manila/Makati’s red light district, it’s frequented by Caucasians with their Pinay hangers-on. I had my misgivings about eating here at first because of its location, but the restaurant itself is clean and bright. I don’t see anybody suspicious while I’m here and even those that look a little “iffy” leave me alone to my food. Give this place a chance. Come here with friends and enjoy a rousingly retro meal with plenty of conversation pieces to keep you busy. Order the super-sized nachos and chili fries which I hear are killer, and for the love of all that is breathtakingly delicious, don’t forget that milkshake.
P. Burgos street, Makati City. (Near Makati Avenue)
632. 8972053 to 57