Eat Rite Diner
622 Chouteau, St. Louis MO 63102 (map); 314-621-9621
Cooking Method: Griddled.
Short Order: Budget prices, priceless experience.
Want Fries With That? No idea—I haven't had the fries there in 10 years.
Price: Six sliders with cheese, $6
When planning a recent trip to St. Louis with Nick Solares's review of 11 different New Jersey slider emporiums on my mind, I hatched a crafty plan. I would not call my friends to come pick me up until long enough after my Megabus got into Union Station that I would have time to make my first trip to Eat Rite Diner in about eight years. And since I spent that particular visit at this 24/7/365 joint sleeping (yes, we'll call it sleeping) with my head on the counter, joining the legions of people before and since then who have done the same, this would be my first time actually eating at Eat Rite in 10 years.
Located on Route 66, Eat Rite has remained virtually unchanged since it opened more than 60 years ago even as its surroundings have shifted from a major transcontinental highway to Busch Stadium (two blocks away) and the Purina world headquarters (across the street). The small shop has 13 stools with dark green vinyl seats in various states of disrepair. The countertop is worn down and the tile floors and walls appear to have been around as long as Eat Rite itself. There are two pinball games (one old, one new) and a jukebox—that's it. This place is as bare bones as it gets.
When I walked into Eat Rite at about 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon, there was just one other person seated at the counter. The friendly woman in charge asked what I wanted and there was really only one option: six sliders with cheese for $6. I watched as she opened the residential-quality refrigerator that stands right next to the stove and pulled out six raw patties and then put them on the oiled griddle topped with some fresh onions. After a couple of minutes, she flipped the burgers, putting the onions underneath the patties, and returned to the fridge for a plastic-wrapped stack of American cheese that may or may not have come from the same company that supplies public schools. The final cooking touch was to spoon out some melted butter onto the griddle and then put the buns face down in the pool for less than a minute.
When the burgers were taken off the griddle and a couple of pickle slices were added, I knew I was in for a treat. The beef itself is not particularly flavorful, but it's texturally outstanding. The onions and pickles, along with the watered-down yellow mustard I added, were the predominate flavors, though the taste from the meat definitely came through.
Texturally, the patties were cooked well done and came with a beautifully crisp edge that made each bite a pleasure to chew. The patties have enough heft to make the bun to meat ratio work, but by the time I got down to my last two, I put two patties on one bun and was very pleased with the result.
Also in the burger family at Eat Rite is their Slinger. The Slinger is a St. Louis diner and chili house tradition that is made of hamburger patties topped with fried eggs, hash browns, and chili, and then finished off with a whole lot of cheese and onions. I was tempted by the ever-present large pot of chili sitting on the stove, but I opted to stick with just the sliders on this particular visit. I regret that decision.