"I was just thinking of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe and how young they were when they died. I would like to be a pop icon who survives. I would like to be a living icon." John TravoltaIn New York, I had a friend named Mike. He was a larger-than-life character with wildly improbable stories to tell.
Some of them were even true. One weekend, he spontaneously decided we should fire up his Honda Gold Wing and tour the diners of New England. So we did.
A required early stop on our way to Vermont was the Miss Worcester Diner in Massachusetts. This claustrophobic classic was built in 1948 by the Worcester Lunch Car Company and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
In other words, diner Mecca.
I love diner style and, more often than not, their generous portions of well-prepared American classics. So when I saw the diner-themed James Dean restaurant opened up earlier this month near Old Town Square, I was eager to try it out.
Fragola Project restaurant and club.
Like James Dean himself, the restaurant is eye-catching. The booths and big cushy chairs are wrapped in bright red and white vinyl.
In other words, diner Disneyland.
But it's not just for kids.
A motorcycle hangs from the ceiling.
On almost every visit, the place was full. That includes weekday and weekend nights. The seats at the bar were always taken, often by good-looking women. James Dean takes reservations, and many booths were booked ahead. It seemed like the place to be for the moment and they were turning people away.
Not only was it crowded, it was smoky. Smoking was allowed in most of the restaurant. There was a small non-smoking section, but it was not separated from the smoking section. It was not pleasant for this non-smoker.
On my first visit, I scored a small booth and ordered the bacon cheddar burger (195 CZK) along with a chocolate shake (80 CZK). The waitress looked at me like I was crazy.
"Those don't go together," she said, making a funny face.
"It's a pretty common combination in America," I replied.
"Oh, I see," she smiled, seeming like she had learned something. "OK!"
This burger could have been great.
By my standards, the meat was all wrong. The menu says "200 grams ground beef burger." This is not right. There was pork in there. There's a school of thought that says beef/pork mixes are OK. I say it's not OK. I'm a 100% ground beef person. Just add salt.
Whether it was the pork or a lower quality of beef, the texture of the patty was too dense and rubbery. It didn't necessarily taste bad, just wrong.
The James Dean bacon cheddar burger came with fries, but I was told later by a friend that fries would no longer be included. Either way, they were very greasy and not very many.
The chocolate shake was one of the worst I've had in Prague.
Despite the caloric H-bomb I'd just consumed, I had room for one more thing: the blueberry waffle (95 CZK).
The waffle, made with a relatively sweet batter, was hot, crisp and enjoyable. The blueberries from a jar and the whipped cream from a can were not so enjoyable.
The visit set me back 370 CZK.
James Dean does breakfast, which any self-respecting diner would do. It is served from 9 a.m. until noon. I got there right after opening and within an hour, the place was filling up.
In other words, diners beware.
I had three scrambled eggs (85 CZK), bacon (35 CZK), and hash brown (20 CZK).
I also got an order of sausage (35 CZK), which came out later.
The breakfast came with free bread and a bottomless cup of American coffee.
This morning meal, which I did not find very substantial, cost me 241 CZK. It's a better deal to order the slightly smaller American breakfast for 160 CZK.
I went back for more evening fare. I sat at the bar and had a beer, a .4 liter glass of Krušovice (55 CZK).
I had the 400 gram portion of pork ribs baked in black beer and chili sauce (185 CZK).
I got a side order of coleslaw (40 CZK). I often think American-style slaw is too sweet. This version wasn't. Instead, I found it oddly salty.
I also had their onion rings (35 CZK).
Their chicken wings were offered either baked or fried. I asked for a fried order of eight (155 CZK).
The wings came with the requisite raw carrots, celery, and an extra thick, very blue cheesy dip.
Looking for something to love, I went again and tried their club sandwich (195 CZK). This was closer to what I was hoping for.
I also had a glass of the homemade mint iced tea (55 CZK).
Finally, I had a chocolate cake for dessert.
One way to burn off all the calories is to hit the dance club downstairs. I thought they might go with a 1950s theme, but they went a different way completely.
Harley's Bar, which is just a few steps down the road.
There were a few differences. James Dean has $1 bills papering the wall and a scantily clad cage dancer.
Overall, James Dean doesn't win any awards in my book. I've heard there is at least one American involved, but it seems to me that a decision was made to cater to Czech or non-American tastes.
Who am I to argue? The early heavy traffic indicates the style and perhaps the substance were pulling people in.
I went for five solo visits, but I'm not in a big hurry to go back. If I crave American-style burgers, ribs, and shakes, I'd rather go to the Hard Rock Cafe or even TGI Friday's. If I want a real American breakfast, I'll go to Bohemia Bagel in Holešovice. Like them or not, they all do a better job with the food.
Naming a restaurant after a Hollywood icon and plastering it with his photos immediately communicates what the place wants to be. I just think, given the quality of the food, it would more fitting if they called it John Travolta.
V Kolkovně 1
Prague 1 - Old Town
Tel. (+420) 606 979 797