Monday, May 18, 2015

In Praise of the Conundrum of the New York Diner


I'm sure I've sung the praises of the conundrum of the New York diner before - it really is an inimitable phenomenon, and you could as easily transplant it to, say, Cleveland or Lyons as you could take an al fresco ristorante out of Rome and put it on the moon. People say it's a disappearing animal, but I still go to plenty of them; they're still around. 

The first thing to know about New York diners is they have nothing to do with food. I mean they provide 'food' to give you props to play with and possibly consume while you go about the real business of being there: talking to somebody you want to talk to, or musing solo out a window at New York sidewalk life. Or even maybe reading. (You always feel some subliminal sense of Hopper's iconic views of diner counters thru the window late at night - see his "nighthawks" painting above.) But they're never about food. This makes them exceedingly annoying to many people from other cultures who actually value food. (New Yorkers of course value food extremely if they go to a restaurant FOR the food; but a diner isn't that.) For example, I have a dear friend born in Singapore who lives in NYC now and mightily dislikes New York diners for excellent reasons: not only because the food is generally bad but because you can't substitute, say, an English muffin for toast or iced tea for coffee without getting walloped with a big extra charge. (cf., famous 'Easy Rider' no substitutions scene.) New York diners are about people, not food.


Then there's Pier 72 - 72nd & West End Avenue. It completely fits the visual- and menu-paradigm of the classic New York diner, but for some glorious divinely inspired reason I doubt I will ever fathom, they make the absolutely best scrambled eggs and bacon and home fries - even plain old white buttered toast - I have ever had in a diner. It still LOOKS like a diner breakfast, but - it's just unspeakably better. I've been back to test this hypothesis as often as I've gone back to MoMA to see if that huge Jackson Pollock covering one of its walls will alter my being again. The Pollock always does, and Pier 72's scrambled eggs, bacon & home fries breakfast always does.


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