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Rock City Café keeps diner food fresh and delicious

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Even Rock City Café's heavy menu items don't land greasy. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Even Rock City Café's heavy menu items don't land greasy.

Ricky Meggison and Angel Sanfilippo don't seem like a power couple. But what comes out of their kitchen and into their clean, humbly decorated dining room at Dominion and Academy says otherwise. They're the owners — and, currently, sole employees — of Rock City Café, both veterans of venerated downtown diner King's Chef.

Their restaurant has a short but busy history, so here's a quick recap: Local radio personality Aaron "Goose" Seller started Rock City Sliders and Coneys as a love letter to Detroit in a shopping center at Union and Boulder at the end of 2014. In fall of 2015, he sold the spot to Meggison and Sanfilippo, who kept the sliders and coneys but introduced a full breakfast and lunch menu, changing the name to Rock City Café. The next year, in September, they closed the 15-seat café, and the shopping center was demolished to make way for a Starbucks.

On April 11, Meggison and Sanfilippo reopened Rock City Café in its current spot, expanding to 35 seats. And in terms of quality, they haven't missed a beat.

Let's talk french fries. Theirs are cut fresh in-house, seasoned with salt and pepper. There's no grease taste or mouthfeel — diners can still tell that the fries came from a potato. The texture's perfect, a little chew, a little tender, and an occasional crunch. And they're cooked uniformly, too. Fingerling potatoes dream of becoming fries like this when they grow up.

Fresh continues throughout most of what we sample from the menu. The Rock City peppers, a signature from the always-available breakfast menu, consist of a halved bell pepper stuffed with cubed potatoes, scrambled eggs, cheese and choice of ham, bacon or sausage, smothered in house-made green chile. What should be a paralytic gut bomb isn't — the pepper's just cooked through, the potatoes come fresh as the fries and again, it's not at all greasy. That chile adds a pleasant level of spice and tomato brightness, too, and the heat doesn't build up, so it's accessible. For a more East Coast option, the corned beef hash sees fresh potatoes and peppers mixed with bits of lunchmeat-thin corned beef, under two eggs. Either satisfies with a cup of diner-done-right coffee from Elevation Coffee Traders.

Per the menu, all burgers come cooked through, but my beach bum burger has enough fat that it's at least not dry. Avocado, bacon, Swiss cheese and ranch play well with the half-pound patty. Staggeringly, it's pretty light for the sheer amount of meat and fat in play — such a dish would usually have me thinking naptime, but not so here.

Hot dogs also satisfy. We go for the Reuben dog, topped with Swiss, kraut and Thousand Island dressing. The sausage lacks snap, but the almost-creamy texture satisfies in its own way. But for old-incarnation holdovers, it's all about the sliders, meaty and delicious with black pepper, grilled onions and nothing else. Cheese is genuinely optional.

There's cheaper in town — most plates here land around $10, though it's easy to fill up on dogs or sliders for less — but most of it isn't this good. And it's hard to find diner food that goes down this lightly. If Meggison and Sanfilippo take any shortcuts, they're hard to find. For those who still wonder why big-name chefs enjoy simple meals made with fresh ingredients, prepared with precision, drop by. You'll understand.

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