“BLUE PLATE SPECIAL/THE AMERICAN DINER COKBOOK” by Elizabeth McKeon and Linda Everett is an excellent choice if you are interested in learning more about the captivating American diners and would like recipes to go along with it. I discovered, while putting together “Dinner at the Diner” that while there are numerous books on the subject of American diners, many of these are primarily ‘picture’ books of diners, inside and out – which, although enormously interesting – don’t always offer recipes. I just love “BLUE PLATE SPECIAL/ THE AMERICAN DINER COOKBOOK” and I think you will, too.
Randy Garbin of ROADSIDE Magazine provides a kind of introduction in the beginning with a piece called “Pancakes At Henry’s” and says, “When I walked into Henry’s Diner in Allston, Massachusetts, for the first time in 1986, I did so with a great deal of reluctance. This was only my fourth visit to a diner in twenty-five years….”
Garbin explains that, until Henry’s, when he ate out he was only concerned with finding a decent cup of coffee and a good breakfast. He says that the last place he expected to find them was in a diner, a place he had “long associated with belching truck drivers…”
Now Garbin loves diners and is a spokesman for this beloved institution. He writes, “As I look at the old photos of the proud grillmen behind the counter with their white shirts and ties, I realize these men and women could not possibly have foreseen the imprint they were making on our culture. It was a job, a way to pay the mortgage or maybe send their children to college. But in their own ways they were making a difference in their communities.
Quietly and unceremoniously, with every cup of coffee and every piece of pie, they were adding to the lore we now cherish so dearly…”
Garbin also notes, “We are nostalgic for this time because we realize that in our mad rush to the Twenty-first Century we have thrown away and paved over many of the good and simple things in life. For many, all that is left is some Disneyesque diner wannabe in a barren strip mall. The large restaurant corporations are under the impression that if they spend enough on their marketing campaigns, they can fool us into thinking that any one of their thousand outlets recreates a ‘down-home’ atmosphere.”
Says Garbin, “We have handed the stewardship of our commercial culture over to those machines of homogenization that roll across the landscape, flattening whatever sense of creativity and cultural diversity we still have. They think they are doing us a favor by making every place an exact copy of all others to ensure consistency.”
He continues, “Certainly there is comfort in consistency, but the damage it inflicts to our communities is staggering. We lose something not only when another diner is lost, but also when we lose any business that is owned and operated by a local family and is part of the neighborhood…”
Garbin considers that the Diners still exist today for a very simple, basic reason: It’s still a good idea. “Today”, he reflects, “we appreciate good service, good food at reasonable prices, and a clean, homey atmosphere. These things will never go out of fashion, provided that we stop trying to rush, package, or process them into oblivion…”
Randy Garbin considers that not every diner is perfect and not every diner owner is able. The quality of food varies from place to place, but joy is to be found in finding that diner in the middle of nowhere. There you will find big warm biscuits, like at the Avoca Diner in Avoca, New York or onion rings, like he found at the Midway Diner in Rutland, Vermont.
The recipes offered throughout “BLUE PLATE SPECIAL/THE AMERICAN DINER COOKBOOK” are a joy to read and I am reasonably certain, will be just as enjoyable to cook and serve to your family and friends. You’ll start with Breakfast At The Counter, with recipes ranging from Glazed Doughnuts to Jelly or Custard Filled Doughnuts, Cinnamon Rolls and old-time favorites like Red Flannel Hash and Diner Scramble. There are intriguing names of recipes such as Hogwaller (which sounds delicious!), or, from Miss Albany Diner, the Calamity Jane Omelette (sic) or Dutch Mothers Omelette. There are a wealth of recipes for pancakes, griddle cakes, and waffles.
The Chapter titled, “On The Side” includes Classic Onion Rings, French Fries (nothing frozen about these babies!), Mustard Pickles, Red Pepper Relish, several recipes for corn bread, biscuits, baked beans and our favorite Mashed Potatoes and Gravy. If that doesn’t get your engine running, there are Scalloped Potatoes, Stuffed Baked Potatoes and Candied Sweet potato recipes as well. Two sides I have tagged with post-its are Broiled Tomatoes and Dutch Tomatoes (both sound heavenly, but then, I am a fool for tomatoes).
I am a fool for soups, too, and under “Soup of the Day and Salads”, I found Chicken Gumbo – and a recipe for making home made noodles, Beef Barley Soup and Vegetable Beef Soup, Cheese Soup and Black Bean Soup and—another favorite—French Onion Soup. One I don’t think you’ll find in most cookbooks is called Saturday Night Soup and it sounds divine. There are a lot of other soups besides – New England Clam Chowder and Cream of Tomato Soup, Manhattan Clam Chowder and something called Daddypop’s Clam Chowder which makes two gallons (my kind of recipe!). (Daddypops is a diner is Hatsboro, Pennsylvania).
For salads, you have your choice (among others) of Chef’s Salad, Crab Louis, Crab Stuffed Tomatoes, Avocado Salad – or the House Salad (gee, I am beginning to feel like a waitress).
There are also a variety of dressing recipes including some of my favorites, Roquefort Dressing, Blue Cheese Dressing and Avocado Dressing.
Under Sandwich Platters, look for the all-American all-time favorite of Grilled American Cheese, Grilled Ham & Cheese and Denver Sandwiches, Monte Cristo and Patty Melt, the classic BLT Sandwich and French Dip, Reuben Sandwich (one of my other favorites) and Poorboy Sandwich. “From the Grill” you can try a variety of different kinds of burgers including Blue Cheese Burgers and Roadside Burgers – but there is even a recipe for making your own Hamburger Buns.
Further on, look for the Blue Plate Specials –for it was truly the Blue Plate Specials that gave American Diners the distinctive nudge that helped set them apart from ordinary cafes and restaurants. Under the Blue Plate Special section of “BLUE PLATE SPECIAL/THE AMERICAN DINER COOKBOOK” you will find Just-Like Mom’s Meat Loaf, Salisbury Steak, Delicious Swiss Steak, Hungarian Goulash, Highway Beef Stew, Beef Brisket, Lasagna, real homemade Chicken Pot Pie and lots more.
There are recipes for making some of your favorite Fountain drinks, such as Hot Chocolate (not from a mix!), Black Cows, Chocolate Malteds, a wide variety of milk shakes, sodas, and enough sauces (Caramel, Fudge, English Toffee) to keep your ice cream covered for years to come. Trust me, this is just the tip of the ice cream (er, ice berg).
“BLUE PLATE SPECIAL/THE AMERICAN DINER COOKBOOK” is filled with photographs of vintage diners and loads of diner lore. I am fascinated with stories such as that of Miss Adams Diner in Adams, Massachusetts, which was rescued from obscurity and the junk yard during the late 1980s. Miss Adams Diner was a 1949 model Worcester Lunch Car that served breakfasts, sandwiches and filling meals for almost 40 years before falling on hard times. The current owner has restored the diner to its original sparkling condition. The Four Sisters Owl Diner in Lowell, Massachusetts was originally called the Monarch Diner and was part of a chain of diners operating in the Boston area. In 1951, the Monarch was relocated to Lowell and renamed the Owl Diner. The current owner purchased it in 1982 and gave it another identity by adding “four sisters” to he name. Gibby Wold is the original owner of Gibby’s Diner in Duanesburg, New York, a Mountain View model that was built in 1952.
“BLUE PLATE SPECIAL/THE AMERICAN DINER COOKBOOK” has something for everybody. Published by Cumberland House Publishing in Nashville, Tennessee, “BLUE PLATE SPECIAL/THE AMERICAN DINER COOKBOOK” originally sold, in 1995, for $17.95. A check on Amazon.com verified that they have 11 copies starting at $11.19. One is priced astronomically at over $100.00! There are over 450 recipes and over 115 photographs of diners in “BLUE PLATE SPECIAL/THE AMERICAN DINER COOKBOOK”. You may want to add this to your cookbook collection.
Review by Sandra Lee Smith