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Get beyond the gimmicks, and Galaxy Diner may become a winner.

Beam Me Up Some Grub, Scotty

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First, let's all say a collective "Thank you" to the railroad industry, for without it our vocabulary and our stomachs would have been deprived of the uniquely American gastronomic experience that we've come to call the diner. Imagine: no Mel's (no Flo), no Walker's, no "Diner" the movie; and for Richmonders that would now mean no Galaxy. Only trouble is, Galaxy isn't really a diner. A diner is warm, welcoming and as easy on the senses as it is on your wallet. A place where the waitresses wear uniforms with little wings on the short sleeves, wear their hair "up," and call you "Hon," even if you're not in Baltimore. Not to mention the fact that diners are traditionally housed in decommissioned rail cars, or at least something that resembles one. By contrast, Galaxy Diner exudes so much fast-forward retro groove it's positively schizophrenic: gleaming neon accent lighting, small Naugahyde booths, reflective everything, and a confusion of '50s sci-fi schmaltz, clunky '60s furnishings, and what must be way-expensive blown-glass light fixtures. You might think it's unfair to focus so much up-front attention on the decoration, but, frankly, that's the theme, and if they hadn't paid so much attention to the gimmick themselves, I wouldn't have paid it so much notice. But beyond the over-the-top décor, you'll find the Galaxy menu is true to its diner roots and as vast as interstellar space with selections from pancakes, "Two Eggs With … " and hot open-face sandwiches to a handful of outlandish offerings consistent with the "outta this world" theme. For example, there's the "Knock Me Up Scotty" basket, which I sampled at lunch last week with two friends: $3.50 gets you four fried pickles, two deviled eggs, and a scoop of French vanilla ice cream. The fried pickles are tasty (Really. No kidding.), but the deviled eggs were bland and goopy. [image-1]Photo by Hilary BenasAnother signature entrée is the Nuclear Waste Dog ($7.25): a foot-long all-beef wiener with chili, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, slaw, relish and mayo. In the words of Keanu Reeves: "Whoa!" Worried about my own half-life, I steered clear of the dog and its China-syndrome partner the Nuclear Waste Burger, and ordered instead a basket of gravy fries ($5) and a chili cheeseburger with onion rings ($5). All arrived in a timely manner, cooked to order. I was surprised to find they use red onions for their hand-battered rings, a nice touch, I thought. It was during a previous dinner visit, however, when I tried that All-American diner specialty, the meatloaf platter ($7.75), that Galaxy secured future visits from me. The quality of the sides was impressive: creamy, redskin potatoes mashed with what tasted like sour cream, and fresh, chunky slaw with a perfect amount of dressing. But it was the homemade meatloaf that fired me up. Spicy, almost dry-cooked, granular in texture and vaguely Southwestern, this recipe was new to me and may, in fact, be unique. And the service scored perfect diner 10s: 10 minutes from entry to order, 10 minutes for the food, 10 minutes to eat, and regular refills on iced tea (which could use a little more strength, folks). Though my hot fudge sundae dessert was vanilla fudge soup by the time it got to me, and the bowl dwarfed the portion, the dinner was redeemed by my dining partner's clever decision to skip the traditional dessert and go straight for the homemade hot chocolate which is hands down the best we've ever had, proving that when it comes to the essence of "diner" — hearty, whatever you want whenever you want it, homemade food — Galaxy can deliver the goods after

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