The Black Bear Diner almost made me start lecturing about portion sizes.
Portion sizes — that is, overinflated, supersized portions — are a big contributor to the obesity problem in this country because we’re conditioned to think that enough food to fuel a longshoreman is also the right amount for a cube farmer. But I’ll admit there’s something to be said for a big breakfast, at least once in a while. It sure gets the old metabolism going, and can be enough to keep you from getting hungry for pretty much the rest of the day, which is what our breakfasts at the Black Bear Diner did for us.
I ordered the chicken-fried steak and eggs ($9.99) partly because the menu says it’s their No. 1-selling breakfast, partly because I wanted to see if this outlet of a smallish western chain could master this not-so-easy-to-execute Southern classic. (And, yeah, I liked that they honored the historic name and didn’t wuss out and use “country-fried,” like a lot of Yankee places.)
Anyway, the food arrived and I actually felt my eyes grow wide, verging on bugging out. This wasn’t a plate, it was a platter, and it was covered with food.
First, the chicken-fried steak, which, as it turned out, shouldn’t have been a concern because it was perfection itself, way bigger than I expected, the meat on the tough side in the finest tradition, the breading puffy and slightly crisp, the gravy creamy and oh, so nice. The two eggs were overeasy as we’d asked, the hash browns (fried red potatoes were the other option) delightfully brown and crisp in spots, slightly soft in others, and in great profusion. But wait! There was more, in the form of a house-baked biscuit, which was just about the biggest biscuit I’ve ever seen. Size didn’t matter, though, because it was fluffy and buttery.
We’re fans of corned-beef hash ($8.99), which is seeing something of a renaissance lately. Good versions are popping up all over, many of the restaurants proclaiming, as the Black Bear Diner does, that no cans were injured in the making of the product. Many of the local versions we’ve tried are cut in large pieces, others so finely minced as to seem nearly ground. Black Bear splits the difference by shredding its corned beef, a particularly handy way of divvying up a brisket. It was well seasoned, well-cooked and, especially mixed with the diced fried potatoes, onion and green pepper, very satisfying. Again, the eggs were cooked just right (Mama Bear would approve), the toast toast.
We could tell not only from the biscuit but also from the pies in the case by the front door that baking is a Black Bear forte, so we decided to try the classic bear claw ($4.49). Again, huge — about the size of an actual bear’s paw, I swear — and quite nice, with a flaky upper layer cloaking a dense cinnamon one.
Service throughout was fine, with food arriving promptly, beverages refilled regularly. The decor, as you might imagine, runs heavily to bear kitsch — including a shelf around the entire place, stacked high with bears of every description — but it’s actually kind of charming.
We were tempted by the fresh orange juice but figured it would just take us over the top when we already were nearly there. But that’s the good thing about a big breakfast: We just skipped lunch and dinner.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at firstname.lastname@example.org or 383-0474.