Some people looovveee diners, you know, those little local joints that sell omelets all day, serve bottomless cups of coffee and use a lot of processed cheese food — those individually-wrapped single slices by Kraft, etc — and that are usually run by a handful of people who have been there for years and years (and sometimes look like it, too)?
You know, the setting of Edward Cooper’s “Nighthawks” painting? That have an atmosphere and customer loyalty that places like Denny’s are trying to emulate, the same way that Subway longs to be a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop?
Well, I’m not one of them. I like diners okay, but it’s a rare day that I’m craving that sort of food, specifically. I think I’m an anomaly, because on any given weekend between the hours of, say, 11 am and 3 pm, nearly every diner you walk by in the city will be full or nearly full, with crowds spilling over onto sidewalk seating in the warmer months.
I think I figured it out today, the “why” part of the appeal of diners, as I was enjoying my plate of fries and my tuna melt (which was not so melted. Better when the cook throws the slab of tuna salad onto the grill itself so that it crisps and browns a bit, heats through and melt the cheese).
For those of us who generally eat well and don’t need to eat fast food, (that is, unless by choice) — diner fare is our riff on fast food. It’s cheap, service is efficient, there’s an emphasis on sandwiches and other dishes that involve some sort of fryer or griddle, comfortable in that familiar way.
[ED NOTE: As I think about this more and more, maybe I have it backwards. I think fast food evolved from the culture of diners, a la Chapter One of Fast Food Nation. Good food for thought.]