A few friends had raved to me about the Boulder Pit Stop in Boulder City, but as I walked into the place, I had to wonder if they had lost their senses. I didn't expect it to be fancy, but it doesn't even have as much charm as the average diner.
It's a seat-yourself proposition, although there were no signs advising that, so we sort of stood around awkwardly for a few minutes, near some other people who were standing around awkwardly, for takeout orders, as it turned out. The prevailing scent in the air was that of a couple of overworked fryers.
Gamely, we ordered. Yes, it would be heavy on the fried stuff -- mushrooms ($2.75) for a shared starter, fish and chips ($7.95) because it was touted on signs outside. And a Double Pit Burger ($5.55), because I'd been told the Pit Stop served one of the best burgers around, although my doubts were growing by the second.
The mushrooms were fine. We could trace their origins to Clarence Birdseye more clearly than to Auguste Escoffier, but that was OK; the breading was crunchy and not greasy, and the button mushrooms within were hot and very juicy, those juices creating pockets of scalding steam, as fried mushrooms tend to do. With the ranch dressing from the plastic squeeze bottle delivered by our waitress, these were classic diner/bar food.
When the entrees arrived, our eyes bugged out a little. The burger, with its two third-pound patties, defined the word "overstuffed," and the fish was in two huge, vaguely triangular fillets sharing a plastic basket with the Mount Everest of fries.
The fish was mine, but just before I could sink my fork into it, an offer came across the table to try a bit of the burger. Sure, I said, out of duty above anything else, and I bit.
And -- revelation! I don't know what they did to make this burger so special, but while I wouldn't go so far as to call it the best burger in the state, I'd rank it really, really high.
Why? The flavor of the meat, without a doubt. We ordered it nearly unadorned with just some tomato and Swiss cheese, and the meat was the predominant flavor. And it was big, beefy goodness. My assumption is that they use a grind with a relatively high (maybe 80/20) proportion of fat and that they cook the burgers on an old-fashioned and very well-seasoned flat iron grill, both of which would do much to augment the flavor component. At any rate, I admit I found it difficult to quit at one bite.
Not that the fish paled by comparison. It was cod -- the quintessential whitefish, mildly flavored -- cloaked in a golden crust that shattered when touched with fork and knife, yielding moist fish within. Our waitress offered malt vinegar (bonus points for that) and we tried some of the garden-variety tartar sauce that came in accompanying little plastic cups, but this fish had plenty of flavor on its own. A cup of coleslaw on the side was crunchy and creamy, if a little bland.
The fries were fries but golden-crisp and fresh. About the only disappointment was that the fry sauce in an accompanying bottle was too thin to stick to the fries. But that's a minor quibble.
And let's go back to the prices -- $7.95 for more fish and fries than one person should eat at a seating? And $5.55 for a burger this huge and meaty? This is recession relief.
While we ate, I periodically glanced out the window at a guy on the treadmill in a fitness club in the same shopping center. He was there when we arrived, there when we left. I also considered the two teenage servers, each about 12 inches wide, and figured they definitely must not eat there.
There's nothing fancy about the plastic-basket-and-flatware Boulder Pit Stop, but there's nothing pretentious about it, either. It knows what it does well, which is simple, straightforward American diner food.
And it got us back on the treadmill.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.