3811 Green Hills Village Dr., 777-0707
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thurs.; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri. & Sat.
Like all children of the suburbs, I witnessed “progress” plow over all remnants of previous generations. Where one day there had been a grand, elegant movie palace, the next day there stood a starkly designed multiplex that conformed precisely to other multiplexes all over the country. Where an independent pharmacy dispensed prescriptions, greeting cards, and fountain drinks one moment, a Walgreen’s conducted business-as-usual the next. And where a classic diner once served juicy burgers, crispy fries, and thick milk shakes to customers seated in comfy booths, a fast-food chain took its place, taking orders through a squawk box and thrusting the bag of food out a drive-through window to the waiting occupants of an idling car.
In the small town where my grandparents lived and where my parents grew up, a movie theater, a five-and-dime, and a couple of diners lingered on long enough for me to experience their unique charms through my teen years. One of the diners was across the road from my grandparents’ house, and for about a dollar, I could sit at the counter feeling very grown up and order a plate of fries and a Coke, with enough left over to tip the waitress and put a dime in the jukebox.
I haven’t been back to that town in years, but I have no doubt the diners are long gone. The only exposure my own children have to a diner is through reruns of Happy Days on Nick at Night. Alas, the Comet Grill, one of three new restaurants on the perimeter of the Regal Cinema 16 movieplex and FunScape entertainment center in Green Hills, will probably not evoke fond memories of happy days to a generation who knew the real thing. It is a concept born in a corporate board room, a pale imitator of a classic dinerwhich gives it something in common with its neighbors, Princeton’s Grill and the Cooker, which have fashioned themselves as replicas of the Nashville godfather of neighborhood fern bars, Houston’s.
I don’t know that I’d make Comet Grill my destination for dinner alone. But of the three, Comet Grill offers the best solution to the question of where to grab a good bite at a reasonable price and still be in your seat for the 7:30 feature.
The small, brightly lit restaurant, with its classic color scheme of red, white, and black, offers seating at a counter, at tables, or in booths. Our party of four children and three adults settled into two booths, which are always a popular choice among youngsters and an excellent means of segregating them from their adult neighbors.
A server brings menus and cutlery and then delivers your food, but otherwise Comet Grill is pretty much a do-it-yourself affair. At each table are pencils and order forms much like the ones you might find at a sushi bar, but instead of checking off yellowtail or spider roll, you’ll choose from burgers (including a meatless garden burger), sandwiches, salads, side orders, drinks, and dairy treats. The kids’ menu, for 10-and-unders, features a choice of five items with a drink and fries at $2.99 or $2.59.
Make your selections and take the order to the counter, where a server will enter it into the computer and take your money. You’ll get cups to pour your own drinks, with the exception of flavored colas, milk shakes, malts, and floats, which will be made for you.
If you are running late for the show, look for a red symbolunder a magnifying glass, I found it to be a movie cameranext to certain items, and Comet Grill promises you will have them in 15 minutes or less. These include almost everything on the menu, with the exception of the grilled chicken sandwich, the fancier burgers, and the entree salads.
We didn’t put them to that stringent of a time test, but even sampling most of the menu and desserts, we were in and out of Comet Grill in less than an hour, arriving at 6:30 and ready to go by 7:15. That was in spite of the fact that nearly every single stool, booth, and table was occupied, including a very large party celebrating an 80th birthday party. (Notice to my friends and familyif I should live that long, I certainly expect to have the milestone observed somewhere that offers more celebratory beverages than iced tea and lemonade.)
But can Comet Grill pass the taste test? With flying colors, at our tables of discerning diners. The selections from the kids’ menu were of a portion generous enough to satisfy the hungriest 10-year-old, and at a price less than Burger King is charging for their much-vaunted Big Kids meals. Better yet, they come without a crappy toy promoting the latest Disney movie.
The grown-ups really liked the big mushroom Swiss burger and the plump grilled-chicken sandwich. The chicken salad sandwich on toasted wheatberry bread consisted entirely of white meat, along with quality mayonnaise, and the chiliwhile it wouldn’t win any contestswas meaty and spicy, with a layer of melted cheddar on top. The grilled-chicken salad was better than the pre-packed versions found in fast food chains and airports, but not as good as, well, Houston’s. Still, it’s good to know that calorie counters can find a satisfactory alternative to burgers and chicken tenders, and then can even indulge in the excellent onion rings and good, crisp fries.
Or, if sweets are your thing, go for a sundae with hot fudge, caramel, or strawberry topping. Skip the banana split; instead, try a chocolate drift, which anyone old enough to have eaten at Candyland in downtown Nashville will remember fondly. If you skip dessert before the movie, on Friday and Saturday nights, when serving hours are extended to 11 p.m., moviegoers can follow up the feature with a root beer float.
The Comet Credo printed on the menu claims that the eatery is “preserving the best of our past.” Well, that depends on your definition of the best of the pastsome people were quite fond of the Reagan years, which I considered a national nightmarebut for the here and now, Comet Grill is just swell.