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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Greasy Spoon

The same friend who introduced me to bankfacing money is the man that one morning during my first college days asked if I wanted to eat at the greasy spoon next door. To which I replied of course "what's a greasy spoon?" I was informed that it was basically a diner and the term greasy spoon suggested a place where utensils might not be as clean as one might hope for. But I had a sense that this was to be an authentic, edgy, New York experience and another small rite of passage to the city. So we went and it was fun.
Memories like these and the desire for simple pleasures can drive one to nostalgize and romanticize the past and make the mistake of trying to capture those feelings by recreating the experiences. The new experiences, however, do not often measure up to the past memories and one wonders whether the past was as good as one remembers (see the great quote from Jil Eisenstadt in my posting Better When).
Certainly some diners are better than others and my breakfast with aforementioned friend at Joe Jr's on a recent visit of his to the city was fun - see here. And what choice do you have but to eat breakfast at a diner when a Brooklynite comes back to town to visit and he's the man that introduced you to greasy spoons? This outing and recent postings on Joe Jr's and the Anthora coffee cup inspired my recent visits to local diners.
My expectations of diners are realistic and I am capable of adjusting my food standards. I have also learned lessons from the past and realize that one should narrow one's choices to those things diners do best, or should I say those things diners do least poorly, like burgers (which I don't eat), fries (which I love but try to avoid) and eggs (which I eat rarely). So, I opted for Eggs Benedict. A mistake. Sauces, like hollandaise, should also be avoided in a diner. The whole meal became rapidly unappetizing - eating it became a test of will. Everything was so salty including the butter on the toast.
What does all this have to do with New York City? Although we have some extraordinary dining establishments, many like comfort food and diners too. And much of the diner food here is just as bad as diner food elsewhere. I couldn't even finish that toast ...

8 comments:

Terry B said...

Brian, while I agree that picking your way carefully through a diner menu is key to a successful meal there, I think another thing at play is your maturing taste buds. While I still enjoy the occasional stick-to-your-ribs [and probably add-to-your-cholesterol] meal at a diner, it's no longer the remembered stellar experience of my college days. And I find this phenomenon even more intense with most Mexican restaurants. There's a place here in Chicago where my wife and I ate at least once a week for more than a year before moving out of the neighborhood. We went back a couple of years ago and found the food practically inedible. The quality may have fallen off somewhat, but I suspect our taste buds had just moved on to more sophisticated foods in the interim. We have a couple of Mexican restaurants in our new neighborhood that we like well enough on occasion now, but they're kind of relegated to the diner level of meal, comfortable places for cheap, filling food.

Brian Dubé said...

Terry - So absolutely perfectly put! I was going to write about this very thing, but did not want to sound to snobbish and that I was incapable of enjoying simpler foods. But as you point out, taste buds do evolve. Like in my case from iceberg lettuce over the years to mesclun greens. But simple should not confused with poor quality. In most cases, better quality food is an issue of better ingredients and more care when making things. Sometimes requiring more time.

Robin said...

I had to laugh. I grew up on NY (and so grew up in diners) and it still took me a long time before I learned to stick with the turkey club or the omelette, and to never, ever, under any circumstances, go for the scallops...

Anonymous said...

Maybe you would enjoy the french toast more.

I still don't know what bankfacing is and would love to.

Brian Dubé said...

Anon - Bankfacing is to order your bills: all face up, facing the same direction, largest bills on the inside, smallest on the outside. This way you can most rapidly find the assortment of paper money without rifling through all your bills.

Virginia said...

But what if all your bills are small ones??? HA
Since this is my first visit to your blog I don't want to start out as a know it all but in a diner eggs benedict should have been a big ole red flag. Guess you don't need my hindsight now, sorry. I think your photo made that toast look pretty darn good. I zipped over from the portal to see it. Like your stuff. I will visit again.
V

Snapper said...

I like everything about this image. Just perfect. Cheers from BC!

plume said...

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