Downtown may be where it’s happening these days, what with the openings of such new places as MTO Café, Pizza Rock and the Downtown Grand, but the fringes of the Downtown area are beginning to vibrate on a similar frequency.
The Huntridge Theater is struggling to re-open, and driving by, it’s clear that this dreary, down-at-the-heels stretch of East Charleston Boulevard at Maryland Parkway could use a boost. Approached from east or west, the street is lined with taco trucks, coin laundries and tire centers. The glamour of Downtown feels several miles away.
Adjacent to the still-moribund theater building is the Soda Fountain at Huntridge Pharmacy, home to one of the stranger dining experiences the city has to offer. What makes it strange? Well, for starters, it’s as retro as the law allows, as if one of those British Rock-era diners such as Ruby’s or the Café 50’s had suddenly materialized for real through a time warp.
The menu, furthermore, is kosher, mostly vegetarian and reliant on the restaurant’s original freezer, which has been there since 1962, when Thrifty Ice Cream, advertised on a decal still stuck to the sheet metal, was 10 cents a scoop. (They sell this brand, by the way, for their many milk shakes and sundaes.)
Food here isn’t bad, in a soda fountain sort of way, but what you will eat at Huntridge Pharmacy is as far from a gourmet experience as this column strays, with fare such as tuna melts, veggie burgers and puffy pancakes. Still, if you’re a fan of nostalgia, and long for a true early Las Vegas encounter, this place beats the Peppermill all to pieces, at least from where I sit.
And where I sit is on a red leatherette booth, staring at a wall plastered with album covers that I remember fondly from the ’60s, featuring artists such as the Smothers Brothers, Johnny Mathis and Otis Redding. There is a polished black-and-white check floor and white Formica tabletops adorned with upside-down bottles of a popular brand of ketchup. Drinks are served in 20-ounce plastic tumblers embossed with a “Coca-Cola” logo, the sort you’d find at a Lonnie Hammargren garage sale. Is the food here beside the point? Sure it is—although occasionally, you’ll get a surprise or two.
Your food is being cooked by a genial giant from Seattle named Jason Schmilski, and because he is not Jewish, and the dietary laws are followed here to the letter, he’s not able to bake bread, hence the par-baked crust on your cheese pizza. The good news is that this pizza is topped with a homemade sauce and kosher whole-milk mozzarella. All cheese here, in fact, is kosher, made by Natural & Kosher. Have the Mexican blend on your tuna melt, a filling sandwich browned to perfection on toasty rye bread.
The best thing I ate here, hands down, would be the pancakes bananas Foster, which are made from a mix (Krusteaz—one I use at home myself), and topped with hot banana and caramel laced with pecans. Coming in a close second is the chef’s tomato soup, which he makes on occasion.
The veggie burgers come from Morningstar Farms, and are tasty enough, although rather high in sodium. This is also one of the few places in the city where you’ll find a Fluffernutter sandwich on the menu. For the uninitiated, that’s Marshmallow Fluff and peanut butter.
Even your red leatherette booth doesn’t get more retro than that.
The Soda Fountain at Huntridge Pharmacy
1144 E. Charleston Blvd., 382-7373. Open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon-Thu, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Fri and Sun. Closed Saturday. Lunch for two, $13-$23.