For years, David Liberman has been fixated on the ‘50s. Not the sock-hop, poodle skirt, Marilyn Monroe ‘50s — think: American Graffiti and The Wild One over Grease and I Love Lucy. “I’ve always had a deep, deep, deep-deep love of ‘50s culture — hot rods, bomber jackets, and teenage delinquency,” he says. “You know, Marlon Brando on a motorcycle.”
His fascination was enough to take him from steakhouses and fine dining kitchens to a ‘50s diner back in Los Angeles. “I thought, this is an opportunity for me to do what I want to do,” he says. “I loved everything about it, but I thought I could do it better.”
Soon, he hopes to prove it. In late February, Liberman will open Rockabilly Cafe in the former Chop space in St. Johns, a ‘50s diner serving chicken-fried steak and eggs by day, blue plate specials by night, with milkshakes and malts in the blender from open to close.
As Bridgetown Bites first reported, Rockabilly — originally called Greasers Cafe — is attempting to capture the nostalgia of a midcentury diner with higher quality ingredients: Pacific Northwestern dairy or produce, heritage pork sausage, organic maple syrup over pancake stacks. The breakfast menu includes diner standbys like two-egg breakfasts, steak and eggs, Western omelets with hash browns, French toast or buttermilk pancakes. For lunch, expect standards like tuna melts, BLTs, and French dips, as well as Cobb salads; the quarter-pound smash burgers and hot dogs are made with grass-fed beef. And for dinner, a range of blue plate specials feature mains like lasagna, meatloaf, fried chicken, and chicken-fried steak. However, Liberman plans to add a few curveballs to the menu outside of the typical diner canon: Alongside the daily chicken noodle soup, visitors may encounter things like Slovakian sour bean soup, a nod to a dish his wife makes regularly at home.
Liberman is particularly excited about the desserts and sweets at Rockabilly Cafe: He got his hands on a Multimixer, the milkshake machine McDonalds “founder” Ray Kroc sold door-to-door. The Multimixer will churn out shakes in flavors like the Chocolate Elvis (with bananas and peanut butter), apple pie, or peanut-butter-and-jelly; the diner will also sell malts, sundaes, and classic banana splits. The shop will always have apple pie available — including a la mode — as well as rotating flavors like pumpkin or seasonal berry.
Rockabilly is designed for families, with a substantial kid’s menu with things like Belgian waffles, grilled cheese sandwiches, and child-sized milkshakes. “I want a place where if kids screech and make noise, so be it,” he says. “When I take my son out to a restaurant these days, it’s a little embarrassing — he wants to run around and be nuts, so it’s difficult to take a kid out to dinner... we’ll keep them entertained.”
The diner itself is still under construction, but don’t expect a soda fountain. “There are no pictures of Marilyn Monroe on the walls,” he says. “This is cars, motorcycles, that kind of world.” As such, booths will be mounted with old Cadillac steering wheels, with a jukebox in the corner and a checkerboard floor. And, through a hallway toward the back of the restaurant, diners will find photos of Portland in the ‘50s. “This isn’t meant to be about the celebrities of the ‘50s; I care about the music and I care about the culture,” he says. “Ultimately, I want this to be a place that will be a staple of the community.”
Rockabilly Cafe will open at 8537 N Lombard Street.
• Rockabilly Cafe [Official]
• Rockabilly Cafe [Instagram]
• Greasers Cafe, a 50s-Style Diner, Will Open in St. Johns [BB]