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Diner 60 West in Clearwater mixes huge menu with unique decor

CLEARWATER

To get through the front door of Diner 60 West, you have to walk past a 6-foot statue of a rooster. It's never really clear why there is a giant rooster standing by the front door, but he has a somewhat menacing look on his face. And his glare is fixed firmly on the other side of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, at a Chick-fil-A.

The diner, which is in the spot formerly held by Bay Coast Coffee Market, has an extensive menu, so we decided to take a cue from that rooster: If he was giving the evil eye to a fast-food chicken sandwich place, maybe it is the chicken sandwich we should try here. It is inherently flawed logic, but it helped us whittle away at the 90-plus-item menu (and that's not including 40 or so breakfast options).

Chicken sandwiches? There are only six of those. We tried the BBQ blue chicken sandwich ($6.99), and it was the best thing we had. A chicken breast is deep fried and placed on a bun that isn't quite big enough to handle it, then topped with barbecue sauce and blue cheese crumbles. Both the toppings are assertive, but in different ways that play well together. The sweet sauce stands up to the pungent cheese, neither overwhelms the other, and the chicken stays juicy. There is nothing like this in the drive-through across the street.

The rest of the things we tried — and it was obviously a small percentage of that mammoth menu — were a little hit or miss.

An open-faced turkey sandwich ($7.59) had a round of sourdough topped with nicely roasted turkey, covered in gravy with sides of mashed potatoes that were just lumpy enough to suggest they were mashed in the kitchen, and a disc of stuffing. It was perfectly seasonal, even if it is always on the menu.

A chicken pot pie ($7.49) was disappointing, though. It showed up in a cute little cast iron pot. But taking off the lid, you see that what you have is basically a thickened soup with a biscuit floating on top. A pot pie should have a chunky filling brought together by a sauce. Here, sauce was largely what filled the pot. It was a good sauce, but it was soup, not pot pie.

The meat loaf ($8.99) was a nice rebound. Two large slices had an appealing crust (especially on an end piece … score!) and were covered in a rich Marsala-based mushroom gravy. The topping of fried onion added texture.

With the ground beef handled so well in the meat loaf, I had trouble understanding the burger. I tried the short-rib-topped option ($8.79), and the slow-cooked short ribs on top were tender and meaty, but the burger wasn't a good vehicle for them. The menu claims the burgers are a half-pound of hand-packed ground chuck, but the patty tasted like it had a sausage spicing to it, which was distracting, and it seemed to be two thin burgers that were fused at the edges. Maybe this aids in the cooking process, but for practical purposes, that space in the middle trapped steam, which was released when you bit. It was hot enough to hurt. Twice.

A display case shows off the dessert options. The pies and cakes ($2.49 to $3.99 per slice) aren't showpiece beautiful, but have a homey look and taste to them. And at that price, that's all they need to be. A generalization: As a rule, I liked the pies better than the cakes.

Service was friendly, if sometimes a little slow. The servers didn't always know specifics about particular dishes, but that can happen when there's an overflow of menu items to know about.

The decor of the room is hard to put a finger on. It is sort of country-contemporary-industrial, which is probably a combination found nowhere else. There's a concrete floor, exposed brick and bare blown-foam insulation ceiling, which would look better if it was black and more visually recessive. There are clean-lined fixtures and light furniture. And there are pigs and chickens in artwork all around, though none as large as the rooster at the entrance. The sound system features mostly second-tier hits from the '80s. I never watched the Sopranos, but when Journey's Don't Stop Believin' came on, sitting in a diner, I got nervous.

It was okay, though. I think the rooster was watching our backs.

Jim Webster can be reached at jwebster@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8746. He dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

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Diner 60 West

2525 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., Clearwater; (727) 437-0255;

no website

Cuisine: Breakfast, sandwiches, bakery

Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m., seven days. Breakfast until 3 p.m.; lunch from 11 a.m.; dinner entrees after 4 p.m.

Details: Amex, V, MC, Discover.

Prices: Entrees $6.49 to $15.99, breakfast $4.99-$8.99

Rating out of four stars: Food: ★★

Service: ★★

Atmosphere: ★★

Overall: ★★

Diner 60 West in Clearwater mixes huge menu with unique decor 11/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 3:30am]

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