Spring break

Photo/Allison Young

Water Springs Diner & Bar is open Sunday and Monday, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Tuesday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
A large order of pastrami sandwiches at Water Springs Diner & Bar.

In a busy shopping center at the edge of Spanish Springs lies a stand-alone building that has been home to more than one failed “casual dining” restaurant. Capitalizing on a prominent location with a heck of a view, the recently opened Water Springs Diner & Bar has recently risen to the challenge.

With both a dining room and a lounge area, there’s seating for at least 150. The lounge can be closed off for private events. On our evening visit, the place was more than half full, with karaoke taking place in the lounge. Signage indicates there’s occasional live music as well, fairly uncommon for a family diner.

Service was friendly and prompt throughout our experience. An order of coconut shrimp got things started, served with a wedge of lemon and sweet and spicy orange marmalade sauce ($9.99). The tender shrimp were on the large side, their deep-fried coconut coating providing a nice, golden brown crunch.

Following tradition, entrees are served with a choice of soup or salad. Further following tradition, Friday clam chowder was a no-brainer. I do love a good cup of "chowdah." This cup was actually a small bowl filled with plenty of thick and creamy housemade soup, sporting big chunks of potato and plenty of chopped clam. My only criticism would be that the seasoning—with a lot more salt and pepper than I normally expect for chowder—overpowered the clam flavor a bit. This nitpick didn’t stop me from finishing every drop.

My entree was cooked to order—medium rare—though possibly the thinnest cut of ribeye steak I’ve been served ($19.99). About half an inch by 10 inches, it was still a full 12 ounces of very tender and perfectly-seasoned beef. I’ve paid more for worse steaks at actual steakhouses. Steamed asparagus on the side was just a tad overcooked, but a big pile of mashed potatoes was above average. Topped with a peppered chicken gravy, several inch-sized chunks of spud made me feel right at home.

My wife’s dinner salad was a simple, small pile of chopped romaine lettuce with just a touch of diced tomato and grated cheese, dressing on the side. In contrast, her lobster ravioli entree was about as rich as a dish of pasta can be ($15.99). Fresh basil cream sauce topped with plenty of grated parmesan supported a combination of spinach, onion and shellfish in al dente envelopes of pasta. As with my soup and gravy, a noticeable-yet-acceptable note of black pepper was present in the seasoning.

My buddy’s mushroom Swiss burger featured a half-pound of ground Angus chuck, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle, house sauce, and plenty of sliced, sauteed mushrooms embedded in the melted cheese. Though ordered with onion rings, the plate came instead with fries. Our server realized the error without being told and quickly returned with a side of huge, beer-battered rings to enjoy along with the crispy, salt-and-peppered fries.

Deep-fried ice cream ($5.25) and housemade flan ($4.75) were ordered and shared; both were quite good. The ice cream was still so frozen it was a bit tough to dig in a spoon. The flan was just a tad lumpy in texture, akin to smooth tapioca, with a very good caramel sauce.

My order of apple pie was less successful ($5.25). The filling was tasty, but the crust was ruined by a run-in with microwaves. For me, a pie with top crust should always be either re-heated conventionally or served at room temperature. Microwaving turns a flaky crust into mush. I would have gladly waited a few extra minutes for a just-warmed, flaky slice of all-American indulgence.

This friendly little diner is still new and finding its way, but we all agreed it was a meal we’d repeat. With an extensive menu of breakfast, lunch, American and Mexican options, Water Springs is working hard to become a neighborhood favorite.