Meet me at the Diner
When I think of New York and the North East Corridor, I fondly think of Diners – the restaurants that are open 24 hours, with a menu that reads like a novel and can take a week reading it from cover to cover. The menus are also larger in size and width than most menus, that have that protective plastic layer, and is spiral bound. Diners are the only place I can think of that can offer you scrambled eggs with home fries, toast, unlimited coffee, or a Veal Parmesan Dinner, with salad, warm bread, spaghetti side and dessert at the same time, at any time. The portions are enormous and can feed a family of 4 and you will still have leftovers to take home.
There is a certain feel of a diner that can only be described as both comfortable and familiar by sight and smell. The look of a diner, in any town, generally has the same exterior, with at chrome façade that looks like it was built in the 1940s or 50s. The smell of various foods waft through the place. During one of my visits back to Long Island, we stayed at my Aunt’s house on the south shore of Long Island, and wanted to go to the neighborhood diner but was unsure of how to get there. We drove along Sunrise Highway until we saw that shiny building in the horizon. It was without a doubt the diner and could be spotted a mile away, like a prism with colors bouncing off the siding.
As we walked in, the cake/dessert displays greeted us and the cases were filled with desserts that are made with the human growth hormone and are the size of Mount Rushmore in meringue. Each cake can feed a small army and my mouth started to water by just looking at those beautiful creations. I’d like to think that they look better than they taste, but we both know they are as good as they look.
In my vast experience of being a patron at a diner, I’ve witnessed wait staff in action, and I am always amazed at how they manage those enormous plates. In my opinion, diner waitresses have somewhat of a weathered look to them as they serve the meals on industrial size plates made of what feels like lead, each weighing 5 pounds before any food is placed on it. As these individuals reach the later part of their careers, it is almost painful to watch as they struggle delivering meals to the table without having the plates fall out of their arms, yet, I have found myself reaching out to help these women put the plates on the table. While they are tough on the outside these waitresses are as soft and kind on the inside, showing their true colors as they remember you from last time, ask how you are doing, and remember your life’s events.
I grew up going to the diner. In fact, my hometown had numerous diners – two in downtown Huntington – the Golden Dolphin and the Huntington Diner, one walking distance from the High School – the Colonial Diner, and another just a short car ride away, The Golden Coach, in which many of us commonly referred to as the Golden Roach, for no other reason that trying to be witty. Sadly, the Huntington Diner, which boasted 2 levels and fed many inebriated 20 something’s (myself included) in the wee hours of the night as well as the Colonial Diner where I spent 1st period of my Senior Year don’t exist anymore, yet my undying memories remain intact. The Golden Dolphin Diner, on Main Street, has been an anchor to Huntington Village for as long as I can remember and has become one of my ‘go-to’ places when visiting. In fact, it was my very first stop on my last visit.
My father was a regular at the Golden Dolphin restaurant until my parents moved out of Huntington, claiming to be one of the original members of the ROMEO club – the Retired Old Men Eating Organization and met with his cronies each morning. It was so enjoyable to watch from an outsider’s perspective as I had the pleasure of joining my dad on a few occasions. The ROMEO members would come and go throughout the morning, generally meeting in one of the booths, the waitresses would say hello from across the diner, already delivering the coffee to the table, would put in the “usual” order for them and they then left them alone to talk with one another or read the paper – for however long they chose to stay and were never asked to vacate the table, no matter how busy the diner got. Because my father was more than a regular there, the owners of the Dolphin (those in the know, call it that), fondly named a platter after him for his many years of patronage. They called when my father had surgery, they sent food home on occasion, they became more than just an owner and customer – they became part of my existence in Huntington. We’d meet at the diner for breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, whatever, because we could get whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted it. My son grew up at that Diner. The food was always abundant and tasty. My father would tell me that when he and my mother split a meal they would still have leftovers – “how do they make money?” He would always ask and I too wonder. This was the first restaurant we brought our son to, the last place we grabbed a meal before we left Long Island, and the place I keep coming back to again and again.
There are a plethora of diners to choose from all over the North East Corridor, and spreading down into Virginia through Florida. During some of my recent trips to New York, I would find myself meeting people at a diner – I even ran into a former colleague and mentor at a diner, completely unplanned! One would think there was an over saturation of diners out there but I can assure you, we need more, and not only in the northeast corridor, but right here in Raleigh. I am sure they exist but have yet to find one that can stand up to the food and service like what I’ve come to love about the Dolphin.
Diners are a beautiful thing and there should be more of them. They are so perfect to meet family, friends, picky eaters, and those that can chow down as it has something for everyone. So the next time I am in town, please – let’s meet at the diner.
Just one of the many diner’s I visited but… this could be anywhere.