What ingredients are essential in the making of a true southern diner? Great food, large portions, daily lunch specials and a nostalgic, “frozen-in-time” feel certainly go into making an authentic diner experience. But, in my opinion, the most essential ingredients are regular customers and a convivial staff. No matter how good the burgers are, a diner without unforgettable people is just a restaurant with a good burger. Bear’s Den in Haughton (5399 Highway 80) happens to have incredible burgers as well as a cast of characters right out of central casting. It’s essentially a lunch-hour dinner theater.
During my recent visit, I sat near a table of eight retirees – the food long-since cleared from their table – who spent equal time ridiculing one another and being lovingly abusive to their long-suffering waitress, Shirley. Topics of conversation included the dress code at Bossier City’s Stonebridge Golf Club (“They said they’d sell me a collared shirt at the clubhouse for $27.50. What I should have done is slung my driver through the clubhouse window and said ‘Take that!'”) as well as recent thunderstorms (“How can it have rained on your yard and not on my yard, if we’re neighbors? Are you calling me a sinner?”). I was almost too busy chuckling to eat the fantastic cheeseburger I ordered. Almost.
Whoever the architect of the massive cheeseburgers at Bear’s Den is, she understands that burgers are all about textures. These burgers are works of art: A toasted bun, crispy lettuce and onion, a tomato slice thick enough to provide a little resistance, and crunchy dill pickles atop a hamburger patty that’s been on the griddle long enough to have developed a slightly crispy exterior.
A cheeseburger and fries at Bear’s Den will run you $7.50. Daily lunch specials, of the chicken fried steak and fried shrimp variety, are $8.95 and include tea and dessert. The live comedy provided by patrons comes at no charge, but you’d be kind to tip Shirley well for putting up with it.
Bear’s Den is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Thursday, and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. on Friday. Ignore the incorrect phone number you’ll find on-line, the actual phone number is (318) 949-4119.