16 July 2007

Diner Days


Dwight loves diners, and he has a lot to say about our favorite aluminum-clad coffee spots. Here he is in his own words:

"Each of those thirteen diners has its own story about why I love it.

There was time I tried to get over learning about the breakup of the Smiths; there was Anne—wearing fishnet stockings—flipping off some boys who had been ogling her all evening; there was sitting alone reading a David Sedaris essay in the 'New Yorker' on my birthday; there was my first meal with my future wife, and our wedding rehearsal dinner. In none of these stories does food play much of a part, although I do remember a few of the meals: grilled cheese sandwiches and pancakes, mostly.

Several years ago I made the mistake of writing a series of grilled cheese sandwich reviews on my blog. This was only a mistake in that it got people to thinking that I really love grilled cheese sandwiches. I don’t. I like them a lot (a LOT), but mostly I just love places that serve grilled cheese sandwiches. For a long time after that every time I went to a diner I felt a sort of obligation to order grilled cheese. There are worse burdens in life, certainly, but often it meant I had to forego my 'Portobello/veggie burger rule'. This rule says that if there is a veggie burger or something with Portobello mushrooms on the menu, I give those first considerations in my ordering.

As I type that I realize how ridiculous that must sound.

How many self-respecting railroad-car diners serve Portobello-freaking-mushrooms or veggie burgers? Well, buddy, let me tell you: more than you might think. But aren’t I breaking some unwritten rule by ordering stuff so highfalutin’? Well, let me tell you another thing: unwritten rules are made to be broken.

While I prefer silver diners, and I prefer diners with jukeboxes in the booths, and I prefer diners that serve breakfast all day (and that are open 24 hours), and I especially prefer it if you can order alcohol, if everything else is just right, I’ll through those rules out the window. There is only one rule which I absolutely stand by (and have yet to have any reason not to):

Diners that have a framed poster of 'The Boulevard of Broken Dreams' on the wall all suck.

You know: that Edward Hopper homage/rip-off featuring Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, and Elvis Presley.

This gets at one crucial question of the diner dining experience: How much does authenticity matter, and what’s up with the 1950s obsession?

According to legend—and Wikipedia—It is generally agreed that the first diner was a horse-drawn wagon equipped to serve hot food to employees of the Providence Journal, in Providence, Rhode Island in 1872. Walter Scott who ran the diner had previously supplemented his income by selling sandwiches and coffee to his fellow pressmen at the Journal from baskets he prepared at home.

1872!

Hear that? Where exactly does Elvis Presley kitsch enter in that equation, Mr. Johnny Rockets? And did Americans stop eating French fries in 1959?

Diners—the best ones, at least—are not an emblem of some time in the past (those 'simpler times' we hear so much about); they are living, breathing, sassy waitress-employing icons of all that is great about America, land that I love."

Dwight Swanson is one of the folks responsible for 'Home Movie Day'. This project has been praised by everyone from John Waters to Martin Scorsese; do yourself a favor and check out what they are planning for this year's events. And while you are at it, pick up a copy of their new 'DVD' compilation.

1 comment:

MJ said...

The approach of restricting what you eat to 2-3 menu items is probably the way to go. I usually find myself frustrated at diners because the huge menu has very little I'd want to eat.
None-the-less, I must mention two dinner that I remember mostly for their distinct apparatus:

The Haven Brother's dinner in Providence RI
The Empire Dinner in NY

Can't comment on the food; but I'm not sure that's the essence of the attraction anyway.