The jukebox at the Rockin’ Robin does not like quarters.
My breakfast buddy, Niko, discovered this the hard way after plugging in a few and getting no credits in return, just an ominous thud from somewhere inside the beastly machine. Fortunately, someone had already left behind a few credits, but in his attempt to conjure up Diana Ross and the Supremes a wrong button was punched, resulting in the unexpected harmonies of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.”
“Ugh! I hate the Beach Boys,” he groaned as he retreated back to our table. “Oh, I know, me too,” I agreed, and we began loudly discussing the various reasons why we just couldn’t stand the popular ‘60s group. I looked up across the cozy dining room and realized our conversation had earned us a purple death glare from a fiftysomething gentleman in a Hawaiian shirt. A short while later, a teenager who was seated with Mr. Aging Surfer Dude approached the jukebox and started dropping in shiny quarters. Ka-thunk. Ka-thunk. Niko piped up: “Um, that machine just ate my money; I think it only takes dollars.”
The kid ignored us until the waitress came over and handed him a buck, “Here honey, try this.” He punched in a handful of tunes and returned to his table. Moments later the machine whirred into action and what else but “Don’t Worry Baby” came clamoring out of the tinny speakers. When this was promptly followed by “Kokomo,” one of the most annoying songs possibly ever committed to magnetic tape by the Beach Boys or anyone else, I knew for sure we’d been sabotaged. We had to chuckle a bit as the Surfer family gave us a final dirty look from the front counter as they settled their tab and exited.
The jukebox is the centerpiece of the generic rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia displayed in every cranny of the Government Way restaurant. There are the obligatory framed portraits of Elvis and airbrushed posters of classic Cadillacs and Chevys. Then there’s the old 45 records tacked willy-nilly on pink walls, the life-size cardboard cut-out of James Dean lurking suspiciously by the back door, and a beat up guitar and lonely trombone hung above the dining counter. The overall effect is not so much a ‘50s theme exactly, it’s more of a ” ‘50s in the ‘80s” theme, the elements that defined the original era boiled down to their pop essence and then exaggerated through the plastic gaudiness of the neon years.
The ‘50s might seem a little fake at the Rockin’ Robin, but the chow certainly doesn’t. When our waitress came to take our order, I told her I’d heard the place had come under new ownership recently and wondered if any big changes were in the wind. “Not really,” she said. “We’re just working on the food for now, a little portion control, just trying to make it better.”
Make it better? It was already pretty darn fantastic, and it’s hard to fathom why anyone would need to fool with the good juju that former owner/cook Diane Horn created and perfected during the many years she reigned over one of Coeur d’Alene’s most singular and beloved hash houses. The menu itself doesn’t seem to have changed a bit, and it really shouldn’t. The Rockin’ Robin menu has provided many much-needed moments of sunshine on certain bleak and cloudy mornings after.
Would you like a Big Bopper Omelet? A buttered Fats Domino Biscuit? The humor of Gladys Knight & the Pips Pancakes or Little Richard Hot Sandwiches never fails to put at least half a smirk on grumpy morning faces. The menu is large, filled with pretty much any type of classic breakfast fare you would expect from a diner of this stripe. Among the highlights are a humongous breakfast burrito and some truly dank Belgian waffles with fruit topping and vanilla ice cream. Lunch options include a long list of “Chubby Checker Burgers,” Haystack salads, and “Fonz Specialties,” which include fryer fare like chicken strips, shrimp and hot beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy.
I don’t recall the Fonz ever going fat like Elvis, but if that’s what he liked to eat, surely he must have. Niko, who has recently been making a successful attempt to live a vegan lifestyle, surveyed the menu and announced “Wow, with burgers like this, I’d probably go meaty,” and actually followed up on his sudden carnivorous urge by ordering himself a nice, juicy bacon cheeseburger. It was after noon, but I was still in breakfast mode and knew from experience that a nice chicken fried steak with all the sides would be the most perfect way to cause myself to go crawling back to bed on a lazy winter Sunday.
It seems like some of the endearingly seasoned waitresses have been slinging plates here since around the last time Chuck Berry had a hit song. They’re an entertaining bunch, a flashback to the days when Alice, Vera and Flo sassed the customers at Mel’s Diner on TV. Our server was comparatively perky and new, and she brought our meals out almost as fast as it took for the jukebox to yodel “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” My breakfast arrived impressively spread over three plates. The chicken fried streak was tender inside with a breaded skin cooked to crispy perfection and smothered in country gravy. The same deeply rich gravy was also laid bare across my hash browns, which along with some masterful scrambled eggs tasted delicious, but were nearly cold by the time they arrived at my table. I’d suggest to the cook to serve everything on heated platters. Not only is the food kept warmer longer, but a “careful, hot plates” warning from the server can add some fun drama to the dining experience.
Niko immediately inhaled his pile of fries and made it about halfway through his burger before his inner vegan rebelled and he declared it to be “too beef focused.” I laughed and asked him what else he might expect a burger to be and he cryptically explained that it was too much of a “burger man’s burger, not grandiose like a Red Robin burger, which hides its true beefiness with all the random stuff they put on there.” I guess he’d hoped all the lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion would divert him from the fact that he was enjoying a poor innocent cow, but the savory ground beef patty won out. Coming from him, I think that might actually be some kind of backward compliment.
The Rockin’ Robin Cafe is open daily at the unthinkable hour of 5 a.m. and closes following the lunch rush at 2 in the afternoon.