"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Taster's Cherce

Nothing like a good greasy spoon diner, eh? Do they call them greasy spoons outside of the city? I haven’t traveled enough around the country, so let me ask a question: Can you find a good diner just about anywhere?

Also, what do you eat when you go to one? I usally stick to a burger or a grilled cheese or breakfast. Occasionally a BLT.  But I’ve never had a salad at a diner, for instance. Just never seemed worth being adventurous at those joints.

Categories:  Bronx Banter  Taster's Cherce

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1 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 2, 2011 3:44 pm

[0] "Can you find a good diner just about anywhere?"

In my experience, absolutely! Sometimes you have to go through a few before you find a good one.

I've never had a bad breakfast at a good diner, so I usually go with breakfast. If I'm not in the mood for breakfast, I'll get a club sandwich with fries, or if they have it, a bison burger. I don't know why, but I've found most good diners have bison on the menu; I rarely see it elsewhere.

2 ms october   ~  Feb 2, 2011 3:47 pm

NO - you cannot find a good diner just about anywhere. there are many places in the south that have no diners.
hell, there is not really a diner in my neighborhood uptown.

but yeah mostly a burger or breakfast. a french dip is the most adventurous i have been.

3 RIYank   ~  Feb 2, 2011 4:20 pm

My experience is more like Shaun's, but I have to admit I haven't spent huge amounts of time in the South, so I bow to Ms. Oct's superior knowledge. (But we know for sure they have them in Baltimore -- isn't that in the South?)

I also go for breakfast. In fact, to be honest, I probably wouldn't go to a diner except at breakfast time (broadly construed).

4 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 2, 2011 4:24 pm

[3] Ditto on experience in the South. Though I distinctly recall a great diner somewhere near Charlotte, NC - and I know there's a good one in SC too.

The Carolinas and Florida are pretty much the extent of my southern experience, though. Strange that Florida isn't crawling with diners, but I can't think of a single one there.

5 Dave in TX   ~  Feb 2, 2011 4:25 pm

Surely you meant to write "jernts," right?

And I've always called them greasy spoons. But my parents are from NY, so maybe I got the term from the same place you did.

6 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 2, 2011 4:27 pm

5) You are right!

7 Eric   ~  Feb 2, 2011 4:28 pm

Tuna Melt.

8 williamnyy23   ~  Feb 2, 2011 4:34 pm

Greesy spoon must not be a Manhattan term, because out here in Brooklyn you don't really here it. In fact, I always thought it was a "foreign" expression.

In my experience, there are good diners just about everywhere, but the key is finding them because there are usually just as many, if not more, bad ones.

9 williamnyy23   ~  Feb 2, 2011 4:35 pm

[8] Or "Greasy" Spoon, for that matter.

10 51cq24   ~  Feb 2, 2011 4:40 pm

[2] isn't the pictured one right around 100th and broadway? and what about the seinfeld one on 112th?

11 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 2, 2011 4:46 pm

According to wikipedia, the term is also used in the UK.


12 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 2, 2011 4:50 pm

To my experience diners get increasingly less common the further you get from the major cities of the north east. For most of the country, Denny's is the diner.

Diners, at least in NJ, are typically Greek-owned, so going with a Greek salad or slouvaki, etc. is often a good bet. The Park West on Rt. 46 has good wraps. You'd be hard pressed to go wrong with almost any sandwich option. Honestly, the burgers are usually sub-par relative to a lot of that other stuff. Turkey club is a good bet, but a lot of places you have to tell them to put the mayo on the bread, or you'll just get a cup of it on the side, which is insane given the 12 little triangles of bread involved. Of course, any breakfast, particularly pancakes and a black and white shake, or any sort of super breakfast combo, is the default choice.

Went with my in-laws to a diner on Sunday. They said it had been a long time since they had been to one. Becky and I looked at each other and said, "well, for us it's been about a week."

13 Yankee Mama   ~  Feb 2, 2011 5:04 pm

I always thought that we called it a greasy spoon because not only was the food French frie-like, but the jernts were owned by Greeks. I've done Greek salads and spinach pie. Bison burger is also my criteria for a higher quality diner. Turkey club is standard fare. Omelets with spinach and feta is a good fall-back.

14 williamnyy23   ~  Feb 2, 2011 5:09 pm

[12] That's true too...in the South and West, it seems like Cracker Barrel is the diner. Also, in New York (all boroughs), Greek owned diners are also predominant. From watching Guy Fieri's show, that seems to be universal.

15 The Hawk   ~  Feb 2, 2011 5:33 pm

When I think "diner" I think "Greek", but I wonder if diners kind of started with Greek owners or if for some reason a lot of them were taken over by Greek ownership at some point.

16 Sliced Bread   ~  Feb 2, 2011 5:47 pm

I picked up the term "greasy spoon" from my dad, but by his definition it's a shaky or questionable diner. It's a joint where you play it safe, keep your order simple, toast, eggs well-done, and you take a whiff from the milk dispenser before you pour it. Might be wise to request a straw with your water, too.

I love going to diners. Usually go for breakfast.
When I was a teenager, my late night thing was a toasted bagel with butter and a large chocolate milk. As a kid, my thing was always hot open faced turkey sandwiches. Still get them these days - when I don't get breakfast.
I know from good French Toast. Believe me. Challah at cha boy!

17 The Mick536   ~  Feb 2, 2011 6:21 pm

Used to go for breakfast at a place on Seventh Ave South which was in a drugstore. Now a jazz place-sweet basil-or maybe was a jazz place. I was going to law school. Robert DeNiro was married to someone. He lived on Grove St. Bette lived somewhere. Lauren Hutton. Cannot remember anything except the breakfasts and the conversations with the two behind the counter who prepared the breakfast.

In Burlington, greasy would be politically incorrect. Henry's Diner, a greasy spoon to be sure. Penny Clues, not greasy, but pretty cool.

My wife, Sharon, likes to go to diners, anywhere, and look at menus. She also scopes out the pies, especially the creamy things. Then she orders a cheeseburger, cheeseburger, with FF's, onion rings, and lettuce, tomato, and bacon. Never touches the bread. Waitress comes. "Want to see the desserts?" "No."

And, how about memorable movie diners: Pulp Fiction, Five Easy Pieces, Lebowski?

[16] Hurt me. Some mashed potatoes under that turkey....

18 The Mick536   ~  Feb 2, 2011 6:26 pm

For Stamford fans. Lived at 617 Summer Street. Country Diner bought our house. We moved to the country. Ate there all the time. Al's Dog House. And there was a diner on East Main St. Cannot remember the name. Only remember going there high. In Stamford, they used to put butter on the hamburger rolls. And then I remember the Pscopadis who had a greek in Greenwich. Jews and Greeks got along.

19 RagingTartabull   ~  Feb 2, 2011 6:51 pm

Tick Tock Diner, Rt. 3 in Clifton, NJ...I was raised on it.

in the BX. nothing beats Riverdale Diner, or Short Stop on 242nd and Broadway when its about 4:30 in the morning.

now I'm on the UES and Green Kitchen has become the standby

20 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 2, 2011 8:16 pm

Man, you guys are sheltered or something. Greasy Spoon always implied, like Sliced said, a place that was "iffy" to be polite; literally unclean or inhabited by perceived unclean workers/customers. I.e., the dinnerware is coated with soap scum or other type of filmy or speck of substance that you would say, "Umm, can I get another spoon, please?"

Truck stops are stereotyped in that manner; ironically one of the maxims for traveling is to look for the place with the most trucks to find good food.

I like to explore diners; they all typically have the same fare, but the thing is you judge them by the quality/quantity of food per price, their service and their decorum (I will keep pubs on a separate list). In the Bronx, I agree with Raging that Riverdale Diner is the tops, followed by one on Boston Road and Laconia Avenue. In Queens, I like Mark Twain Diner on Northern Blvd, in BK Tom's Restaurant (technically a diner), Manhattan I more often end up at Market Diner on W43 and 11th Ave, and SI... well, I haven't explored it enough to make a determination.

I just came back from having dinner at what once was Doyle's Pub, now it's called McDermott's Pub. The atmosphere is a little different in that now they blast popular music, which is not exactly a welcome change from the type of place it was, which in turn kind of altered the overall experience. Oh well...

21 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 2, 2011 8:20 pm

I got greasy spoon from my old man too and yeah, it meant more a divey place, but in case, one that would fit the budget (although I always recall being careful not to order a deluxe unless he offered).

Also, this is my own damn fault but I misspelled "traveled" above. If you guys see my dumb ass making a mistake like that please don't hesitate to point out the facts. Again, I'm not trying to pass the buck but man, I feel like a bum when I'm sloppy.

22 NYYfan22   ~  Feb 2, 2011 8:25 pm

I was born and raised in NJ and still live here. But I went to college in TX. And there, as Cliff alluded to, the only bottomless cup-having, open all night facilities were IHOP and Dennys.

In my mind, a diner:
- is operated all night (or in these hard economic times, all night on the weekends is permissible)
- serves a bottomless cup of coffee (ordered as "coff-a-cuppie" to get a giggle from the waitress)
- serves breakfast anytime
- sports a 15-page menu (wherein you'll find almost every dish invented)
- is operated by Greek families

In TX, there isn't a large Greek population. I always attributed the lack of diners to that. I also considered it a shame, cause diners are frickin awesome.

Oh, and I have found that many peoples use the term "greasy spoon".

23 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 2, 2011 8:33 pm

[21] I used to tell you, but I felt like I was being too persnickety :)

Does anyone see a proliferation of truck stops in the South, or is that a movie trope? Also, in my recent experience, I saw a whole lot of Waffle House restaurants on the way to New Orleans. Maybe because of the rise of fast food franchises, there are far less diners than there used to be...

24 NYYfan22   ~  Feb 2, 2011 8:35 pm

There are some fine lines, man. Take Veselka on the corner of 2nd Ave & 9th St on the East Side. Some call it a diner, but in my mind it's a restuarant. A knock-your-pierogi-chomper, delicious, low-key spot. I guess when compared to most restaurants, it's definitely more diner-esque. But it doesn't fit enough criteria for me.

BTW, if you like Eastern European Cusine, go eat there. Amazing food.

25 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 2, 2011 8:47 pm

[24] Always thought of Veselka as a restaurant, but the late, lamented Kiev, just a little south of it, that was a diner. I miss late nights at the Kiev.

26 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 2, 2011 9:02 pm

Persnicket away, Will. I can always improve!

27 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 2, 2011 9:03 pm

25) Christine's Polish diner between 12-13th on 2nd ave used to be my spot of cherce for that kind of thing.

28 ms october   ~  Feb 2, 2011 9:06 pm

[10] yes, correct.
i am several blocks east of broadway and there is not really a diner within a 10 minute walk (i realize i am making some demands, but since many neighborhoods have mulitple diners within a 5 minute or so walk, it is just noticeable the lack of them close by).

[3] it is hard to find diners in the deep south. you can find some around atl, probably because of the influx of nyers, but it is really tough to find them in alabama, mississippi, tennesse, etc. dennys and waffle house are what often counts as a diner.

29 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 2, 2011 9:29 pm

[28] and anyone else on the UWS, what would you classify Harriet's Kitchen (Amsterdam btw W84-85)? Not nearly large enough to be a diner, not classy enough to be a cafe, too small for a restaurant per se. A luncheonette? It's kinda greasy, but the food is great.

30 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 2, 2011 9:30 pm

For that matter, is a luncheonette a small diner?

31 NYYfan22   ~  Feb 2, 2011 9:36 pm

[30] Personally, I don't think the size of a joint plays into whether or not it's called a diner.

There's a whole slew of diners here in Jersey that are pre-fab and tiny. Most of those don't even have tables.. just a string of stools around the main counter, and a string of stools near the windows--across from the counter. In fact, they're called "diner cars", which I believe is a play on a railroad diner car--and prolly where the name diner comes from in the first place.


32 RIYank   ~  Feb 2, 2011 9:53 pm

[30] There you go, getting all profound on us.
I will peer into my soul and let you know the answer soon.

33 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 2, 2011 10:13 pm

[31] You're right; I went and looked it up:

"A diner is a prefabricated restaurant building characteristic of North America, especially on Long Island, in New York City, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and in other areas of the Northeastern United States, although examples can be found throughout the US and in Canada. Some people apply the term not only to the prefabricated structures, but also to restaurants that serve cuisine similar to traditional diner cuisine even if they are located in more traditional types of buildings. Diners are characterized by offering a wide range of foods, mostly American, a casual atmosphere, a counter, and late operating hours. "Classic American Diners" are often characterized by an exterior layer of stainless steel—a feature unique to diner architecture."

Without getting into scientific detail, it's a combination of structure and cuisine as we both mentioned, traditionally in the northeast and derived from the old horse-drawn food wagons and diner cars on railroads; a lot of places we may consider a restaurant may actually be diners by loose definition, but then we don't want to start any real trouble now, do we? (heh heh) >;)

Very interesting, indeed. Might I add that there are still quite a few classic diners (by architecture) in Manhattan, which was the Diner Capital at one point. The one that stands out the most to me is the Empire Diner on W22nd and 10th (closed). I remember the Moondance on 6th Ave and Grand before that was closed and shipped off to Wyoming, and the Cheyenne on 9th Ave and W33rd which was also sold and shipped. The Sky Line just up the block on W34th is a classic Greek diner as is the Tick Tock Diner on 34th and 8th.

34 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 2, 2011 10:29 pm

[32] (psst... Yes, it is >;)

35 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 3, 2011 12:35 am

[27] Sure, I recall noshing at Christine's, too.

But Kiev had good food and tons of it, cheap, all night long...and on Sundays, potato pickle soup!

36 thelarmis   ~  Feb 3, 2011 12:36 am

we have plenty of diners here in Atlanta...

37 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Feb 3, 2011 4:52 am

[11] In the UK though a "greasy spoon" is not a diner but a "caf" (cafteria). A local, dirty, cheap place with awful soggy food and watery tea...it ain't good eats!!

I grew up with the Parthenon Diner on Ave. J in Midwood, also a yearly ritual to stop at Roscoe's Diner upstate on the way to my grandmothers place..damn, I miss diners!! And bagels!! and PIZZA!!!!!

38 TheGreenMan   ~  Feb 3, 2011 12:39 pm

Lived on Long Island all my life and I've always called them greasy spoons. I thought it was universal. I will say that I have been to some great diners down South, but they are few and far between.

There is a great diner outside of Charleston SC in Mt. Pleasant called the Boulevard Diner. There is another location south of the city on James Island too. Quite a bit different from the Long Island diners I know and love, but tasty as all hell. Sure you can still get a tuna melt, a reuben or a burger. But you can also get a fried green tomato and pimento cheese sammy or a chicken-fried steak dinner. And that's yummy.


39 Start Spreading the News   ~  Feb 3, 2011 12:46 pm

[25] Veselka was a diner back in the days. But then they made it nice and now it is a restaurant. But Odessa on Avenue A and 8 is still a diner.

40 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 3, 2011 1:50 pm

[39] I had many hungover brunches at Odessa. Veselka started getting nice a long time ago, though...gotta be 20 years at least.

41 The Mick536   ~  Feb 3, 2011 5:08 pm

[25] Kiev. Yeh. I used to go there. That's a greasy spoon. Come to think of it, if the place don't have a greasy spoon, it shouldn't qualify as a greasy spoon. Huh?

42 Yankster   ~  Feb 3, 2011 5:26 pm

Hate being late to a great thread. I went to college up town near Tom's Diner - the one in Seinfeld and later Susan Vega's song - and it was divey but the food was fast, cheap and the eggs were like you asked for them and it was always open and thus rightly worshiped. And they'd ask you to leave if you sat around too long on a busy day, which I respected. A few years after I left college the whole neighborhood got up classed including the interior of Tom's, and I thought it would go to hell. But it's the same guys, slightly out of place, but serving the same good stuff. Less cigarette smoke, better lighting, but it's hard to hold it against them.

I live in DC now, and within the District, the greasy spoons or diners aren't very good at even the basics. soggy hash browns, eggs come out wrong. It's like they think just because they are down market they can do a lousy job. I don't get it. For some reason, maybe because there is so much driving, both Maryland and Virginia have some decent, not exceptional but decent greasy spoons. The further south you go, until you get to the beach or the bayou, you're better off going to a 'cue joint - which is at least the equal of the greasy spoon tradition and similar in many ways.

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