You’ll roll over and bark for this retro diner’s franks

Restaurants | by David Sullivan

Pink Cadillacs Malt Shop and Diner
113 Willowgrove Square
3.5 out of 5

I love a classic ’50s diner. I don’t know why. I wasn’t born in the ’50s, so it’s nostalgia for something that I didn’t live through. There’s just something I dig about the Wolfman Jack, rock n’ roll greaser, American Graffiti car culture.

Pink Cadillacs Malt Shop and Diner is a ’50s-style joint doing a bang-up job (even though it’s inconveniently tucked away in the distant suburb of Willowgrove).

The restaurant commits to the bit in terms of atmosphere, with records on the wall (even the menus are shaped like records), the characteristic checkerboard floor, and hot rod red accents everywhere. The female servers look like extras from Grease, pink-neckerchiefed and dressed in black.

I’ve been to some retro diners in other cities and they make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time like Marty McFly. My only complaint about the ‘authentic’ Saskatoon ’50s diners, including the longstanding Broadway Café, is that some of the artwork ruins the illusion. 1950’s décor isn’t “1950s” décor — a diner in the ’50s didn’t have pictures of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean plastered all over the place. This would be like having a modern-day greasy spoon with pictures of Beyonce, James Franco, or The Rock adorning the walls. Pink Cadillacs plays fast and loose with the ’50s, too: I noticed an anachronistic picture of Muhammad Ali from 1965, a much later scene.

But hey, you couldn’t get burgers with jalapeno havarti or cherry bacon in the 1950s so who am I to complain about a few anachronisms? I’m being a real soda jerk. It’s supposed to be fun, so let’s not wander too far into Debbie Downer territory.

I’ve been to Pink Cadillacs a few times and I love that you can take children for a menu that speaks their language while simultaneously ordering mommy and daddy beverages. They’ve got a full bar, boozy milkshakes, and a creative cocktail list. The last time I was there with my wife and son, I deepened my voice, puffed out my chest, and ordered a Pink Lady ($15, includes side), a lively cocktail featuring vodka, melon liquor, and pink lemonade. I am very comfortable in my masculinity and can order such drinks.  I’m glad I did, because it was delicious.

I ordered a Mac N’ Cheese Dog ($12) with a side of onion rings. Hey, a food column doesn’t have to be all truffles and kale. This noodly wiener was as sublime as it sounds, a plump hotdog in a bun, smothered in a heart-stopping mountain of homemade macaroni and cheese. You need a fork and knife to eat it.

Pink Cadilliac has a large selection of burgers, sandwiches, and hot dogs, all with amusing ’50s-themed names and a variety of creative toppings. So it was funny when my wife, never adventurous, confused them by ordering a plain burger with mustard and ketchup. She had to explain it twice to the bewildered server. The burgers are excellent, not frozen processed hockey pucks, but real handmade burgers. My wife enjoyed hers, including crispy French fries on the side.

My three-year-old son is a grilled cheese aficionado, so he went that route.  He dug into his Lil Cheesy sandwich and fries ($7) with gusto. In the family friendly spirit, they brought him crayons and something to colour, as well a cookie for dessert (which I actually ate after he had gone to bed. Because I’m a horrible father. I’m okay with this).

We’ve been there a few times for dinner as a family, but I also recently went with a group of officemates for lunch. This experience was less consistent, in that it took an hour to get our food out and all the meals didn’t come at the same time. But to be fair, it was busy that day, so maybe they were in the weeds.

Having had the Mac n’ Cheese dog a few times, I ordered something different for this review, the Caddy Burger ($15). It’s topped with the magic that is jalapeño bacon, as well as buffalo tomato relish, cheese, lettuce and tomato, and finished with onion rings (on the burger). It was as filling as it was delicious. The fries were a bit cold and soggy this time around, owing to the length of time it took to get them to my mouth.

One of my workmates ordered the Lamb Bamba ($14), a lamb burger with pickled onions, fresh spinach, feta, and tzatziki sauce on ciabatta, a bit of a Greek spin on things. Another had The Greaser ($10), a juicy hotdog with pulled pork and bacon shards, served with a fennel slaw.

Fries temperature aside, everyone praised their meals. The groans of the full-stomached echoed through the office for the rest of the afternoon, with extra moans from those who ordered thick milkshakes ($5) with their already huge meals.

That one day aside, Pink Cadillacs is normally consistent. I love that they employ teenagers (I worked a similar restaurant job when I was that age). Anyone who says kids today are lazy or have poor attitudes can rest assured that the young staff at Pink Cadillacs are full of smiles and they pay attention to detail. Aside from my décor gripe, the only thing I really wish that would change about Pink Cadillacs is its distant, suburban location. Otherwise, it’s a friendly, fun, down-to-Earth burger joint that does an excellent job catering to young and old.

Pink Cadillacs Malt Shop and Diner is open 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.–11 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Sunday.