"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

In Praise of the The Greasy Spoon


Dig this Serious Eats post–which I found via Kottke–by Ed Levine about diners:

There’s one more diner criterion that I haven’t previously mentioned: The food is not usually a diner’s main attraction, nor should it have to be.

When I first started thinking about this post, I tried to devise an ultimate diner test: a list of dishes a diner has to do well to be considered a “good” diner. Then I ate in 25 diners across New York City and quickly realized that good food isn’t the ultimate test of a good diner.

I’m not trying to bash diner food here. I’m just saying that food is not what you come to a diner for, and it’s not why diners remain a vitally important part of our culture. Diners are so important because they are the greatest bastions of civility, service, and dare I say grace available to all economic strata in this country. Service-oriented restaurants, like Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe and innumerable Shake Shacks, are all about treating all guests with equal dignity and respect. And I love them for doing so. But diners have been doing this for years, and for an even greater cross-section of the population. The only dining institutions that reach a wider audience are fast food chains, not exactly known for their kindness to customers.

So many greasy spoons in town close up shop. I hope they are never truly extinct though. They are a window into our past.

[Photo Credit: Ian Boys]

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1 GaryfromChevyChase   ~  Jan 14, 2015 12:49 pm

New Jersey diners, especially along route 40, are about as good as they get. Check this out:http://www.route40.net/page.asp?n=88&s=NJ&x=New%20Jersey.

We usually visit family in Margate for Thanksgiving, and it's become our (enjoyable) habit to stop for breakfast along the way at the Elmer Diner (http://elmerdiner.com/), watch the T-Day parade on TV, joke with the waitresses, drink too much coffee, and eat way too much (I'm partial to the chipped beef on toast, while my son says the corned beef hash is the best).

2 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 14, 2015 4:30 pm

Here here!

3 MSM35   ~  Jan 14, 2015 5:55 pm

When Richard Burton lived in New York doing Camelot he would eat breakfast in a diner everyday. He loved the speed, and variety which was hot and ready before he had finished the sports section.

4 Ara Just Fair   ~  Jan 14, 2015 6:10 pm

When I first started dating my girlfriend/wife, we used to spend hours chatting it up in a variety of diners around town. Those were the days....

5 rbj   ~  Jan 14, 2015 7:50 pm

Love diners. In college we'd occasionally go to the one in Red Hook, NY on a Sunday morning. Helped the hangover.

To me, chains aren't the same thing.

6 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Jan 14, 2015 8:01 pm

[4] rbj, perhaps we discussed this before but it looks like you and I went to the same college..was that the RailCar Diner in RedHook you went to? Many a hungover weekend mornings there for me too.

I'm so sad the diners in NYC are closing..they just won't stop till they turn the city in a complete chain-store/Disneyfied hell..

7 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 14, 2015 8:02 pm

[4] I might have been to that diner; anywhere near Holy Cow?

I don't have a favorite, but the ones I go to the most in the city are Skylight on W.34th and 9th Ave, Tick Tock on 34th and 8th and the Market Diner on 11th Ave and W.44th; all Manhattan-pricey, but better than most. The ones in the outer boros are much better though; a lot of them in Astoria.

8 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Jan 14, 2015 8:08 pm

[6] Chyll, if I remember correctly Holy Cow was a little outside town.
Man, this May will be 20 years since I graduated..I'm an old basterd now :(

9 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 14, 2015 8:27 pm

[5] Disney has largely disappeared from Times Square, but the impact remains. Many touristy stores and theme restaurants and of course the thee-AY-tah, not to mention great glass office edifices and overpriced hotels.

I was on a film set for a movie starring a well-known English actor several years ago; it was at the Cheyenne Diner on W.33 and 9th Ave. It was one of the few original diners left in the city that resembled a train car, but it was already shut down. Unfortunately it smelled of long-dead rodents when opened up, but after much set dressing and rewiring it was spic-n-span clean. I don't know how long they actually shot there, but only a few weeks later the whole place was carted off to the Midwest and all that remains is a vacant corner lot.

I also was at the Moonstruck Diner way downtown a day or two before that too was carted off to Wisconsin; I didn't know that was happening until I saw it being loaded on the truck. The only one that I know of that still has the train car design is the Empire Restaurant on 10th Ave and W.22nd (technically no longer a diner). Would not be surprised to see others in the outer boros, but I can't recall where they are.

10 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 14, 2015 8:34 pm

[7] Yes, definitely on the outskirts. I've only been through the village a few times, though my sister had a friend who lived there when they were college classmates and they often roamed around that area (the whole of Dutchess County is roaming territory, except maybe downtown Poughkeepsie >;)

11 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Jan 14, 2015 9:03 pm

[9] Poughkeepsie good feet-pickin town though!

12 seamus   ~  Jan 14, 2015 11:42 pm

Ah yes, the diner! Lots of amazing memories, though mostly in north jersey diners for this jersey boy. Unfortunately, I don't eat at diners very often anymore. I just can't handle the grease (and recently diagnosed with crohn's on that front) and I often couldn't eat much there anyhow (vegan disease haha). Seriously though, it's sad to see diners disappear.

13 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 15, 2015 12:58 am

[10] Hee-Hee. The town maybe. But the Po-Town part of it that looks like they only just finished dismantling elevated tracks, well you'll be pickin' your feet alright (glass, lead, paraphernalia...) funny how Beacon used to be like that (and Beacon still has their 50's style diner off Main Street that Paul Newman shot a film in), not funny that it's sister city Newburgh still is like that...

14 rbj   ~  Jan 15, 2015 8:05 am

[5] Yeah, Bard. 1987. Don't remember the exact name of it, as it was the only diner in town. That's another good thing about small town diners, you just say you're going to the diner and everyone knows what you're talking about.

15 Greg G   ~  Jan 15, 2015 4:02 pm

I hardly go to diners anymore, as it is just a change in lifestyle.

But I remember in high school and college that it was a real treat and almost every weekend of high school was spent eating fries with gravy after a night of drinking with pals.

In college at New Paltz, I lived in walking distance to one my junior year and it was amazing when I could come up with the scratch to afford it. I used to get "Mexiskins" They were potato skins with cheddar cheese, meat loaf cut up and bacon bits, and it had salsa and sour cream too. My mouth waters just thinking of them.

The diner was always the late night thing or early morning, and those aren't my hours anymore.

For breakfast, I always thought (and still do) that nobody can really screw up eggs, bacon and toast. Some might do it a little fancier, but most are quite the same. But for $10, I will make a breakfast for my whole family now, and have double the bacon.

I miss the leisurely meal of the diner (or anywhere now that we have kids) and the connection that you talk about in your post Alex. It is a little piece of Americana that is fading away, and that is sad. It is tough for diners, even the ones in good locations to compete with franchises that get their wares cheaper.

16 thelarmis   ~  Jan 16, 2015 12:42 am

[7] May '95 - me too!

we went to diner's all the time in high school and college. i still dig them, but down here they're actually kinda expensive...

17 Boatzilla   ~  Jan 16, 2015 8:14 am

Diners were right of passage growing in Jersey. Just like yous, I spent a lot of high school nights and college weekend afternoons (brunch) in diners. After college, it was more of a post-concert thing, etc. But when my Manhattan sister came to town, she always wanted to go to the Cranford Diner. That's Cranford, NJ, yo.

18 Boatzilla   ~  Jan 16, 2015 8:15 am

Damn, Jazz. That's what Tokyo (or Yokelhama) needs: DINERS! "Family restaurants: just don't cut the mustard.

Now I'm jonesin' for diners…Gah!

19 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 16, 2015 10:05 am

When my dad used to take us to greasy spoon diners we'd play a game to see if the bun for the burgers were right side up or not.

I don't go to diners much anymore. Emily and I went a few weeks ago. The food was lousy but it still sort of nice to be in that environment.

What I like about walking past diners, at least in Manhattan, is that they are no-frills establishments and you see regular, working class and middle class folks in there.

20 GaryfromChevyChase   ~  Jan 16, 2015 10:49 am

We love the diners on Route 40 in NJ, on the way to Atlantic City. Stop there every Thanksgiving on the way to visit family so we don't arrive starved. One favorite is the Elmer Diner (fabulous corned beef hash, great chipped beef, wonderful triple deckers)

21 seamus   ~  Jan 16, 2015 12:30 pm

[16] I grew up in Cranford! Me and the diners there had many good times.

22 RagingTartabull   ~  Jan 16, 2015 2:42 pm

I really don't think I could live somewhere where I didn't have immediate access to a 24 hour diner.

23 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 16, 2015 5:20 pm

[20] I crewed on a commercial at a diner in Cranford. We are in a small, small world us Banterers >;)

There's a diner on South Columbus and Fulton here in Money-Earnin I should check out; seems like it's always crowded. Meanwhile there's a diner-like establishment (more of a luncheonette) also in town called The Sugar Bowl that I heard was a favorite spot of some past musical talents. I do know it's expensive and looks kinda greasy; nothing I couldn't make at home cheaper, but I guess it's the name that counts.

Then there was this hole-in-the-wall cheesesteak joint on Sandford Blvd that made surprisingly great steak and cheese heroes among other things; there was originally a direct link to a place in Philly, but when new owners took it over a few years ago the quality went down immediately and they went out of business a little over a year later. That was an outrage I still haven't completely gotten over (the sinking of the quality leading to the shutdown, I mean).

24 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 16, 2015 5:51 pm

21) Awesome.

25 Boatzilla   ~  Jan 17, 2015 1:36 am

[16] [20] Amazing! Cranford was my adopted young woikin' professional home. Great town. Great area (Westfield, Union, Elizabeth, etc.). Lotsa good diners.

I actually grew up in Morris County, a bit farther west and north, in a little town called Denville.

26 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Jan 17, 2015 7:03 am

Isn't Cranford where Rupert Pupkin was from?

27 coleman42   ~  Jan 17, 2015 8:09 pm

[22] I've been enjoying all the comments on diners. In the small world department, I did several consulting gigs in the early 90's with an agency called Fred/Alan that was run by 2 guys that were involved in the MTV launch. Ed Levine (the article's author) was one of their Account Execs. Ed has done much better in his latest job running "Serious Eats!"

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