My husband and I love old-fashioned diners — as in places to eat, not those who do the eating — and this summer, we have set out to visit one per week here in Vermont.
An old-fashioned American diner is not just another restaurant. A true diner has very specific characteristics, including a distinct structure, a wide range of “American” foods, a casual atmosphere, and low to moderate prices. Servers are usually friendly and equally at home with the lone coffee-drinker, the boisterous family, or a group of leather-clad bikers. These independently owned establishments are most common in the Northeast, Pennsylvania and Delaware, and parts of the Midwest. Vermont has several scattered across the state.
Although that cute little diner may look like a retired railroad car, it most likely never rode the rails. Authentic diners are pre-fabricated buildings, often resembling railroad cars, built specifically to be stationary eating places. Sterling Streamliner diners, manufactured from 1939 to 1942, were inspired by the sleekness of streamlined trains of that era and even include stainless steel panels on the exterior. Others, such as the classic Worcester diners out of Worcester, Massachusetts, sport porcelain enamel exteriors, often with the diner’s name written across the front.
The traditional diner floorplan was a service counter with floor-mounted stools facing a food prep area along the back wall. Larger models added booths or tables against the front wall and at the ends. Many had tile floors and a curved “barrel vault” roofline both inside and out. Over time, some expanded through the addition of framed construction or more pre-fab modules, and sometimes the original little diner disappeared within a larger building but is still identifiable once you’re inside.
For comparison purposes, my husband, Don, and I have taken to ordering the same thing in each diner. I get a BLT on toasted whole wheat bread, and he gets a burger. We usually drink root beer, and if his burger doesn’t come with fries, we either order them or we order onion rings. He’s a dessert person; I’m not. We rate our meals, and we check out each place for quality of service and cleanliness, including the restrooms. We’ll let you know what our meals cost before taxes and tip.
And so, we invite you to check in now and then if you’re interested. We’ll give you the low-down as we see it. Our goal is to roam the whole state eventually, but who knows what else might come up to change it all? Anyway, that’s our plan and, for now, we’re sticking to it.