Love it or Hate it: Diner food

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Love itFor me, diners hold a certain allure that’s half golden-era nostalgia, half my own starry-eyed idealism. I love the idea of the ’50s, the era when diners were king. The fashion was great (circle skirts, bright colored dresses, red lips and flats), Hollywood movies were at their undeniable peak (Hitchcock, John Ford, James Dean) and everyone was going to sock hops and soda fountains and watching TV in their homes for the first time ever. And eating at diners. At least, that’s how I like to picture it.

I’m a picky eater. Not by choice – I always have been. It sucks, pretty much. A lot of the things normal people like to eat are things that taste bad to me. Exotic foods, in particular, are the unpredictable enemy of a picky eater. I do like ethnic food, but there’s inherent risks involved. I’ll love an Indian food dish from one establishment, but loath the exact same dish from another. Don’t ask me how or why. They taste completely different to me.

But boring, cheap, plain grub? That’s safe. Not saying diner food is boring or cheap, exactly. But it often is. And it’s consistent. I know I’ll like a burger and fries at any diner anywhere in America. Or a chicken Caesar salad. Or the perennial favorite of all New Yorkers, a bagel.

Diners hold a lot of happy childhood memories. My family members all knew they had to dine with me at a diner because I didn’t like the food anywhere else. They were annoyed, to be sure. Many self-respecting adults consider themselves too sophisticated for diner food. Anyway, I’m better now. I can eat anywhere, even if I don’t always enjoy it. But I’m grateful diners were there for me in trying times.

— Anya Jaremko-Greenwold Hate itThere’s no way around me not coming off like the world’s biggest food snob here. And don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love diner food and would eat it all of the time if I could because it’s pretty much always stupid good, totally satisfying and rather comforting.

But I can’t say I don’t hate it.

While I can’t speak for every diner ever, I’ve visited my fair share of diners across this great country and have taken some notes to fuel a bit of hate when it comes to the food.

I hate how a slice of toast is generally always three tablespoons of butter smeared atop the thinnest, whitest piece of white bread ever or how the eggs come from the most oppressed sweatshop chickens around or how the burgers are fried on a hash-brown griddle using beef from factory-farmed, growth-hormone-laden, washed-up dairy cows.

There are those diners (not in Durango, mind you), whose laminated, 10-page, spiral-bound menus include everything from fried chicken to spinach marsala to buttermilk waffles to bacon cheeseburgers to eggs Benedict to club sandwiches to deviled eggs – all available at a moment’s notice 24 hours a day – and one can’t help but wonder how fresh the food is or how this is possible under any circumstances.

I can’t say I’ve ever been unhappy eating at a diner. But that doesn’t mean I always feel good about it.

— David Holub

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