Al and I go way back. Not as far back as some people in Fall River, of course, and I couldnâ€™t be considered a regular, but Iâ€™ve enjoyed occasionally dropping in to Al Macâ€™s Diner for breakfast for a couple decades. I felt a brief pang when it closed recently, because itâ€™s a Fall River institution â€œjustly famous since 1910,â€ and as a good citizen Iâ€™d hate to see its iconic neon sign go dark for goodÂ â€” followed by a sense of relief when it was quickly bought, spruced up, and the sign on the door flipped to â€œopenâ€ again.
My wife, daughter and I stopped by for breakfast to see what the new owners have done with the joint. As we found a table, I said what we always say when we visit Al Macâ€™s.
â€œI miss the jukebox,â€ I said.
My wife and I both have fond memories of breakfasts gone by, flipping through the tabletop jukebox selectors and wasting a stack of quarters. Theyâ€™ve been gone a long time, and I know nothing about the technical limitations or expense that would be involved in bringing them backÂ â€” just saying, I like Elvis and I have quarters ready to go if they want them.
Jukebox aside, not much else inside the old railcar-style diner has changed â€” itâ€™s cleaner but still stocked with chrome, decorated in mod orange and green, with several tables, booths and counter seating. There are perhaps a few more pictures of political muckety-mucks hobnobbing at the counter, pretending to be the type of Regular Humans Who Eat At Diners, Just Like You.
The three of us sipped on hot coffee and apple juice ($2 each), and checked out the menu. Egg combos range from just over $3 to $5 or omelets made with your choice of mix-ins from $7 to $8.50. Pancakes are just over $2 to $6 depending on how many and what extras youâ€™d like, and the same for waffles, French toast, or grilled sweet bread.
I always gravitate toward the specials, which are nothing fancy like at the Modern Diner but still well worth it. The Councilor is their version of steak and eggs, featuring a 5-ounce ribeye ($11), the South End is fried chicken and waffles ($9), and they seem to have cribbed the Battleship sandwich, starring all the breakfast meats and egg on a Portuguese bolo levedo ($9), from the old 609 Locust diner, name and all.
My wife went for the Mayor breakfast special ($8), corned beef hash with eggs, beans and toast, while I picked the Granite City ($8), a basic combo, with two eggs, sausage, and French toast. My kid, being 6, wanted a pancake with Oreos mixed in, so being the best dad ever I ordered three ($6).
Our friendly and enthusiastic server kept us full of hot coffee during the short wait. When everything arrived, almost the entire table surface was covered in delicious breakfast goodies. The Oreo pancakes were for sharing (breakfast pro tip: always order pancakes for the table), so we all helped ourselves. They were a tad overdone on one side, but still thick and fluffy, and chock full of cookies â€” no skimping. My kid couldnâ€™t cram them into her mouth fast enough.
My wifeâ€™s hash was a hefty portion, not too salty, tender and savory with crunchy bits too, complemented by the sweet baked beans. I prefer my eggs over medium, and they were pretty spot on, with yolks just runny enough to dip in my home fries and sausage. The potatoes had a pleasant spicy seasoning and just greasy enough, with some crunch on the outside showing that they were finished nicely on the griddle. The french toast was lighter than I was expecting, not very eggy, but sweet and fluffy in a way that melted in my mouth. Between that and the Oreo pancake, I was pretty well carbo-loaded, and we finished breakfast quite satisfied and only $28 lighter before tax and tip.
But weâ€™re not done here. Iâ€™d taken a peek at the lunch options on the flip side of the menu, and thought that a proper, thorough review should examine those as well. (I read the words â€œcaÃ§oila grilled cheeseâ€ and lay awake nights staring at the ceiling, vowing that I would one day make it mine.)
So a few days later, the three of us hit Al Macâ€™s again, this time after 11:30 a.m., when the kitchen offers lunch. We found the same booth, and I found myself staring at the napkin holder.
â€œI miss the jukebox,â€ I said.
But one welcome change from the old days of Al Macâ€™s, for me, anyway, is that theyâ€™ve modernized their lunch offerings. Growing up, lunch at Al Macâ€™s meant old-timey diner stuff favored by the 1950s â€” liver and onions, meatloaf, Thanksgiving sandwiches â€” which is why I always ordered second breakfast instead.
Now, their lunch is focused on burgers and sandwiches, with an extensive selection of grilled cheeses. The Hilltopper plate features two burgers with fries ($8), thereâ€™s hot dogs and beans ($7.50), the Cougar turkey club ($8), and assorted grilled cheese sandwiches like tuna ($7) or the Monte Cristo with turkey, ham and cheddar ($9). You can even build your own, starting at $6.
My wife picked the Reuben grilled cheese, with corned beef, Swiss, sauerkraut and Russian dressing ($9), and I almost shouted the words â€œcaÃ§oila grilled cheese,â€ made with Portuguese shredded pork and cheddar ($7). Our kid, ever a creature of habit, wanted two Oreo pancakes ($4.79) and a side of bacon ($2.50).
We had the same server, still happy to be there and quick with the coffee refills, and soon he brought over another array of scrumptious delights. I didnâ€™t share any pancakes this time, but they werenâ€™t overdone this time, and still packed with cookies.
The sandwiches were well toasted and buttery, and stuffed with fillings. The slices of corned beef draped outside my wifeâ€™s Reuben, and as she bit into it she pulled away gooey ribbons of cheese. The caÃ§oila grilled cheese was more caÃ§oila than cheese, with strings of meat tumbling out of the sandwich and leaving greasy droplets. It was just spicy enough for me, focused more on flavor than on making me sweat. It was a messy sandwich, in a good way, although I think itâ€™d benefit from more cheese to bind it together â€” load that thing up with cheddar, son, I can handle it.
Both sandwiches came with a decent portion of fries, which were nothing special. Stepping up their fry game would be highly advisable â€” work on increasing the crispness, and season them. Hell, throw cheese on them for an extra buck. Offering some different varieties of seasoned fries, too, might help Al Macâ€™s become a place where youâ€™d purposely want to seek out lunch, rather than it being just another option.
Soon we were full again, but my daughter wasnâ€™t too full for a pretty decent chocolate milkshake to go ($4), and again being her favorite dad I obliged. We paid $33 before tax and tip, and left with plans to drop in again sometime â€” sooner if they bring back the jukebox.
Al Macâ€™s Diner
Address: 135 President Ave., Fall River
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., every day except Tuesday
Handicapped access: yes
Credit cards: yes
food: 4 stars
Service: 4 stars
Atmosphere: 4.5 stars
Cleanliness: 4 stars
Price/Value: 4 stars
Dine Out’s reviewer visits restaurants unannounced and at his or her discretion. The newspaper pays for the meals reviewed. The reviews merely reflect one diner’s experience. Ratings range from 1 to 5 stars.