We first stumbled upon the spray-painted Burger Theory takeaway van by accident a few months ago: it was parked on Light Square in Adelaide's West End, venting an irresistible plume of hot-grill burger scent into the air. There were a dozen dudes inside (give or take a few) rigorously constructing compact, zesty burgers whilst trying not to fatally elbow each other. Their hard work has paid off: Pearl's Diner has arrived!
On a nondescript street in suburban Felixstow, a 10-minute drive north of downtown Adelaide, Pearl's has muscled in on an old chicken deli shopfront from mid-last century. Sticking to a successful formula, diners were first cooked up in 1920s America – traditionally prefabs with casual atmosphere and counters, selling food round-the-clock. This version is light, bright and unpretentious, with a simple, quick-fire menu of burgers, omelettes, chilli, chicken wings and waffles.
There are just two burgers on offer: both arrive with crunchy, salty, yellow fries. Bun #1 is a perfectly peppy gap-filler. Under a doughy, shiny lid is a neat filling of medium-cooked meat, thick-cut tomato, iceberg lettuce, 'American' cheese and 'truck sauce' (secret ingredients). And we've still got room for a dense vanilla milkshake in a tall glass – mostly ice-cream specked with vanilla bean – or a maple syrup-soaked waffle (a bit like the bottom of a pecan pie: solid, sweet and naughty). The coffee ain't the strongest, but that's how they like it Stateside.
Pearl's owners are firing-up the skillet in the back room. They're joined by upbeat front-of-housers, including a Belgian waffle specialist whose four grills dominate one corner of the room. Someone's iPod is rotating Tom Waits, Angus and Julia Stone and jazz, and it's plenty busy at 10.30am – never too early for a steaming bowl Texas-style chilli (face-meltingly spicy, with heaven-tender beef chunks) served with a solid wedge of cornbread.
The diner is awash in energetic morning light from floor-to-ceiling '50s windows, and everyone here looks pleasantly surprised (for the staff, maybe that's just because of the elbow room). The interior is like the menu: functional, not fancy. OK, so their version of prefab is lightweight IKEA tables, but the panels on the front counter are painted super-bright mandarin, banana, duck-egg blue and ivory – retro hues to match the giant, winking wall mural of 'Pearl', who seems chuffed. She knows she's onto a winner.