The Third Alarm Diner in Sanford. Photo by Bob Keyes

SANFORD — There was nothing about our meal at Third Alarm Diner that my wife and I did not love.

We loved the atmosphere, which is old school with paneled walls, a handful of bar stools and a smattering of fire-truck red tables throughout. We loved the service, which was friendly and efficient. And we loved the food, which was hearty and inventive, and also tasty.

Bravo, bravo, bravo.

Third Alarm Diner is located in downtown Sanford, among the empty mill buildings. It’s not fancy – a red building on the corner of Washington Street and Pioneer Avenue. The name refers to the firefighting theme that characterizes the decor. The memorabilia on the walls inside are mostly related to firefighting – photos of fires, a framed firefighter’s jacket, a fire-hose nozzle, and more than enough fire exit signs to satisfy the strictest of safety codes. An exterior wall is painted with a mural of a firefighter attacking burning buildings, and the diner offers discounts to firefighters and members of the military.

The decor inside is firefighter themed. Photo by Bob Keyes

What matters most, though, is the preparation of the food and drink, and Third Alarm Diner does both well. It serves exciting and interesting food with flair and flourish, and does so in an unpretentious manner in a simple setting. It’s a traditional diner with big breakfasts, a selection of burgers and fried clam dinners. There are steak tips, meatloaf dinners and a nice selection of sandwiches, like the cranberry walnut chicken salad wrap.

We knew we had arrived in an unusual spot when we perused the drink menu and found an option for a flight of margaritas, with a choice of up to four varieties. The diner also promotes all-day mimosas, which I think is a fine idea depending on the day, and offers a decent selection of beer. I didn’t expect that level of bar service in a diner with all-day breakfasts. I ended up ordering a Harpoon, and my wife asked for a full-size margarita, as opposed to a flight of four. My beer ($5) cost more than her margarita, which Third Alarm nearly gives away for $3. And it was excellent. Vicki pronounced it among the better margaritas she’s had lately.

The nachos are served with crispy potato chips and are exceptionally good. Photo by Bob Keyes

As an appetizer, we ordered veggie and cheese nachos, with homemade potato chips as the base. I was skeptical. I’m a traditionalist. Why use potato chips when tortilla chips have worked just fine for however long people have been making nachos? I was wrong. These nachos were served on a cookie sheet and smothered with melted cheese and diced green peppers, onions and tomatoes. They were exceptionally good. The super-crisp chips were crunchy and added a nice complement of potato flavor with the other veggies. We ate every one of them, as well as every lingering speck of melted cheese.

The Grilled Cheese Stacker at Third Alarm Diner consists of a 6-ounce burger served between two grilled-cheese sandwiches. Excessive, yes, but worth it. Photo by Bob Keyes

For dinner, I ordered the grilled cheese stacker, which is a 6-ounce burger between two grilled cheese sandwiches, served with fries ($13). Talk about overkill. But you know what? It wasn’t. It was a lot of food – more than I could handle – but it didn’t feel excessive. The burger was cooked medium as ordered, and the grilled-cheese sandwiches oozed cheese. Vicki ordered a BLT burger ($11) with fried pickles, which she also loved.

We both came home with a half burger. I almost always finish my burger. “But we did eat a plate of nachos,” my wife reminded me. “The whole flippin’ plate of ’em.”

Good point.

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