There’s something that’s oddly charming about a dive bar. The history, the décor, the clientele and the variety that you find can sometimes have your head spinning for days. While some might avoid the quintessential “dive bar” with a reputation of being dirty and catering to questionable characters, I tend to gravitate towards them. It is only in this atmosphere that you can have a melting pot of so many different individuals who come together from different walks of life, co-mingling shoulder to shoulder, having a great time, conversing and sharing a cold one. Ralph’s Diner is no exception. According the Ralph’s website, the diner was built in 1930 by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, and is actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was moved to its current location on Grove Street and connected to a 19th century-two story brick building that was originally a fire station.
While one doesn’t typically associate food with dive bars, it is amazing to find that Ralph’s grills up one of the best no-frills burgers in Worcester. We headed to Ralph’s one evening to catch some live music and we figured – Why not have a bite at the diner? Sitting at one of the counter top stools in the dining car is a throwback to simpler times in it’s own right. Touches of chrome trim, worn and carved wood and linoleum surfaces show the age and history of the dining car. While it is dimly lit, a counter spot gives you a front row seat to see your burger’s preparation. For $8, you get a massive hand-made, hand-formed burger cooked on a gas grill no bigger than a place mat. The burger is served with American cheese, lettuce, onion, tomato (but not for me), pickles and a bag of Lay’s potato chips. The chef/bartender/jack-of-all-trades will even plop down a condiment cart with everything from standard ketchup and mustard, to mayo, BBQ sauce, and Sriracha.
What amazed me was that the cook was able to prep the burger and place it on the grill and leave for 6-8 minutes while she was off pouring drinks and taking additional orders, only to come back to flip the burger and prep the plate with the veggies. Normally, I would’ve been skeptical of the cook time; thinking that the burger would be over done or just overall poor in quality. That was not the case as all. After a quick toast of the bun over an open flame, the burger sat before me, ready for my first bite. The burger was cooked perfectly medium on the interior. The meat was seasoned nicely and had great texture. When I say that this burger is no-frills, I truly mean it. This was one of the best “plain” burgers I have had since the beginning of my Mass Foodies journey. It is “plain” in the sense that it consists simply of a bun, a burger patty, lettuce, onion, pickles and some BBQ sauce. It was basic…and it was wonderful! Sometimes too many ingredients can get in the way of each other and essentially ruin a burger. You should be able to taste the flavor of the meat and to compliment basic ingredients, which this burger readily accomplished.
Maybe it was the ‘Gansett on tap or good company, but it seemed like this venture on the path-less-taken was just what the doctor ordered. The live music was quality and people-watching never gets old in places like this. The eclectic decorations and well travelled floors ooze character that you can’t find or replicate without seeming phony nowadays. A dive bar scene is alive and well in Worcester and Ralph’s is a testament to the city’s rich history, it’s staying power, and how something as simple as a great cheeseburger will continue to keep the crowd coming back for more. If you have a favorite burger spot that you want me to check out, tweet me at @EDioufUC5 and maybe your suggestion will become my next burger destination. Until next time…