Brunch · Full Complement

The Dining Car, Philadelphia: “You always have the guys at the diner.”

SOMETHING magical happens at diners. From your first grip of the metal bar door handle to the moment you pry the syrup-stained laminated menu off the Formica tabletop, there’s a prickle at the back of your neck that has nothing to do with the population of septuagenarians nor the lack of haute cuisine descriptors for “omelet” or “hot cake.” No, this is a prickle of pure joy, of taking a step back and letting yourself sink into a world of jukeboxes and “good eats” and simple conversation.

There’s a sense of security and continuity to the diner; it’s an establishment that hasn’t changed much over the years. You can expect to hear “hit” music from a variety of eras, starting with the 50s and progressing forwards to the likes of Whitney Houston and N’Sync (if you’re lucky). The menus are laminated, with darkened font (for those older, bifocal-ed eyes); the waitresses have you-can’t-scare-me eyes and pursed lips, and write with an efficiency that would make a ranking military officer proud.

Lissie has been bemoaning the lack of diner fare in Egypt, and so the occasion of this particular venture was purely to satisfy her deep-seated need for diner coffee before she boarded her plane to the south. Because of her distance from the US, Lissie has to pack in a lot of people-seeing into her summer holiday; so far, she’s hit up the East Coast (including NJ, NY, and PA), the Midwest, and is currently in the Down South; and the girl has only been back in this country for about two weeks!

Not only did we get the diner coffee (served with half & half, of course) and diner orange juice (served with thick straws), but I also got to re-profess my love for laminated menus. Something about their sleek, shining lines makes my bones turn to jelly. Bonus: our waitress was named Angel, which is pretty much as perfect a diner name as you can find. “Babs” is the only name that could, potentially, top hers.

Anyhoo, we were delighted by the presence of the older folk. In our world–which may or may not be founded on worlds passed down to us by friends, family, and foe(s)–we figure that any diner that still caters to a crowd of white-haired, windbreaker-ed ladies must, naturally, be a “real” diner. As in, ‘this is the real deal.’ Here, the likes of Sinatra might have once eaten, before hitting it big. But he’d never forget a meal like the one he’d had at, say, The Dining Car (if ever he made it here). The point is, this is where memories for a lifetime are made.

There are some diner standards that you just don’t mess with. If they have specials, well, that’s a whole different party of fun. In this case, Malik went with the time-honored classic, Creamed Chipped Beef. He chose to have his on wheat toast, with a side of home fries and scrambled eggs. Lissie went for the banana french toast (soaked in banana sauce and even garnished with bananas), with 2 scrambled eggs. For me, the lure of the broccoli-ham-cheddar omelet with home fries and wheat toast was too much, and to that I applied my diligent fork.

This was also at the un-godly hour of 8AM on a weekend. We were famished, yes, but also more than a little groggy from weekend partying. DJ DeeJay at The Barbery played a set on Friday night that entirely consisted of Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince. The joy of hearing Like A Prayer at midnight while dancing with friends was a nostalgic two-step that nearly brought me to raptures. I controlled myself, and merely got elbow-friendly with the guy behind me. You know how these things go.

So we sat, and talked, and appreciated Angel’s thank you note on the back of our bill. We paid up front at the register, as you do at any “real” diner; but before that, we got our coffee mugs filled and refilled and talked about food and friends and movies and babies. There was time enough before running Lissie to the airport that we could both enjoy our food and then sit back, fully satisfied, and laud (again) the holistic diner experience. Oyez, this is where we all sat–this weekend–in anticipation of one day making it big.



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