Like most neighborhood diners, Robert's serves only breakfast and lunch. Like most neighborhood diners, there's a cool little counter, several booths, tiny tables, signs announcing the daily and weekly specials, a full pie case, posters featuring the owner's favorite city (in this case, Chicago) and waitresses hustling back and forth between the kitchen and customers, carrying plates of hot food. And, like at most other diners, breakfast is served all day. Unlike most neighborhood diners, all the breads and pies are homemade; the burgers are hand pressed; the orange juice is fresh-squeezed; and you don't walk away feeling like you just had a side of grease mixed with your meal.
We stopped by on a late Saturday morning. The place was practically packed, but we were able to snag a booth by the window. Neither of us are big breakfast eaters, so we decided to do lunch, and save breakfast for a later visit. We skipped the full meal choices--which included everything from meat loaf with liver and onions to a grilled New York steak--all of which come with a homemade roll, mashed potatoes, a vegetable and your choice of drink. Instead, we went with the basics: a club sandwich ($3.90) for John, a hamburger ($3.60) for me and an order of french fries ($1.55) to split. The waitress informed me that the burgers are served with mustard and lettuce. Going with what the house serves sounded like the best way to get a real test of Robert's burger, so I went with it. And since it's almost obligatory to order coffee ($1) in a diner, I did. John asked for lemonade ($1.25).
The staff at Robert's couldn't have been friendlier. They were really hopping, but each and every one of the waitresses took her time with each table. Each wore a Robert's T-shirt that proudly proclaimed that Robert's has been serving up good food for 25 years. In this town?! That's definitely something to brag about.
Our food arrived quickly. John's ham and cheese club (there are several other choices) was the good, old-fashioned type of club sandwich: three slices of homemade wheat toast piled high with layers of ham, American cheese and lettuce. And while some may think a sandwich is just a sandwich, the fact that the bread is homemade takes Robert's version of this golden oldie up a level or two.
Amazingly, the bun on my burger was also homemade! Soft and yeasty, it held up, not getting mushy or falling apart like the buns found in just about every other restaurant in America. The bun truly enhanced the burger, which by itself would have been most tasty. Hand-formed, the irregular edges were crispy and the inside moist and meaty. What a change from those machine formed, frozen patties found elsewhere.
And the fries? OK, so you might feel a bit guilty eating these diet busters, but don't. The fries at this eatery are just how fries are supposed to be: hot, slightly greasy and plentiful. They'd make a great meal loaded with ketchup and a cold soda. Sort of like you used to do at you favorite burger joint in high school.
Going to Robert's and not trying a piece of pie would've been practically sacrilegious. And there are plenty of pies to choose from: banana cream, lemon meringue, cherry, blueberry, key lime, chocolate cream, peach and several others. Of course, not every pie is available every day, but what do you expect? Perfection? My peach pie ($1.75) was just like Grandma used to make. Sweet, but not cloying, it was packed with peaches. The crust was lightly sprinkled with sugar and flaky. (Next time, I'm going to bring one home.)
Breakfast, on our next visit, was also great. Neither John nor I are fans of traditional breakfast; we're more the cold-pizza type. So when we do go out for eggs and such, we're pretty fussy. We want it good, hot and right now. Our breakfasts were just that. We both ordered breakfast specials: two eggs any way you like them, in this case over easy. These specials included breakfast meats and American fries. John got three strips of bacon, and I asked for the sausage patties. Both meals cost a mere $5.15. (Coffee or tea is included.)
Having watched the waitresses swing past the table with Robert's famous cinnamon buns ($1.85), I had to order one.
"Right out of the oven," the waitress proclaimed as she placed the cinnamon bun in front of me. The huge treat fairly dripped with cinnamon and sugar. Big enough for two to share, or have a little leftover to take home, this was one of the best cinnamon rolls in town--and believe me, I've had many of them. Like my pie, the roll was sweet but not too sweet. It's best to order them ahead of time, the waitress warned, because they go quickly. The breads are also available to take home.
One poke of the eggs with that delicious toast produced a golden, oozy, perfectly cooked yolk. Mmmmmm! I also thought the sausage patties were way better than what other diners put on a plate. Crispy, lightly spiced and not greasy ... what more could you ask of a sausage?
The crowd, on both visits, was a microcosm of Tucson. The tables were filled with families with young ones, single elderly folks, teenagers, girlfriends, boyfriends, couples like John and me: You name it. Casual dress is the key phrase.
Regrettably, or maybe it's a good thing for the hard-working staff at Robert's, the place closes down from mid-July to mid-August. Diners may be disappointed, but everyone working there gets a well-deserved rest.
Hours are limited at Robert's: They open at 6 a.m. and close at 2 p.m., and are closed on Sundays.
I know that plenty of people out there will argue that their neighborhood dinner is the perfect little place. Time to take a trip out of the 'hood and check out Robert's--I doubt you'll be sorry.