VT Diner Tour: Springfield Royal Diner

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Springfield Royal Diner, Springfield, VT

Springfield Royal Diner is an extremely rare Mahony Diner Car. While the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Company of Elizabeth, NJ, produced around 2,000 diners from 1917 to 1952, an offshoot called Mahony Diners, Inc. lasted for only two years (1956-1958) and built only four diners. This is believed to be the one and only Mahony still in existence anywhere.

For over forty-five years it operated as the Royal Diner in Kingston, NY, going out of business in 2001. A group of Springfield businessmen purchased the building and moved it to Springfield in 2002. It has changed owners and operators a time or two since then, and has currently expanded its name to include “and Pancake House.”

Springfield long view

With its continuous line of windows, its resemblance inside to a railroad car is intentional. The interior retains its original pink counter and peach bakelite decor. At the far end is an open space for tables, while booths line the front wall.  Frame-built additions and a fancy rounded facade have been put on each end, but the original exterior is still visible. All cooking is done in a state-of-the-art kitchen added onto the back, and restrooms are off of the added dining room on one end. For more photos go here.

The place was mildly busy, and most of the customers seemed to be locals whom the waitress knew by name — usually a good sign. She was busy, but appropriately friendly. Still, something seemed to be missing from the ambiance of the place, and it may have been because  none of the cooking or prep was being done out front. It lacked the intimacy and sense of inclusion one gets in a more bustling diner. It was almost too pristine and too quiet.

BLT: My BLT was unremarkable, neither bad nor particularly good. I was surprised to see iceberg lettuce, since most of the diners have been using dark green leaf lettuce. Perhaps it is their retro acknowledgement of a 1950s culinary staple. The sandwich contained the usual cardboard tomato, in spite of late summer being the height of fresh tomato season, but at least they were generous with the tomato. The bacon was okay, the bread somewhat dry. I was given the choice of either chips or french fries, but no pickle was to be found. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 5 being average, I gave the BLT a (5).

Hamburger: Don chose a cheeseburger with Swiss cheese, and was pleased that it came with lettuce, tomato, raw onions, pickles, and mayo, as well as the choice of french fries or chips. The burger was thick and juicy, cooked the way he liked it, and he gave it (8).

French fries: Handcut, not too brown. Way too many for one person. (8)

Dessert: The only dessert offered was ice cream in vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate. Don, who is usually a diner dessert enthusiast, was not enthused. (0)

Prices:
BLT: $7.95, included choice of ripple chips or french fries. Compared to what came with the burger, it seemed overpriced, especially since I chose chips but there was no price differential.
Burger: $7.95, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mayo, and a choice of ripple chips or french fries.
Root beer: $1.79 for a 20-ounce glass, no refills offered.

Total bill before taxes and gratuity: $18.56

Service: Attentive, friendly. Food arrived within a reasonable amount of time. We had to ask about dessert, which was not offered before the bill was dropped off. (8)

Restrooms: Large, multi-stall, clean. Well-kept and appealing. (10)

Overall experience: 6

Contact information:

Springfield Royal Diner and Pancake House
363 River Street, (Route 106)
Springfield, Vermont 05156
(802) 591-4374

The website in their name is out of date by several years and totally inaccurate. They do have a current Facebook page. The diner is  open for breakfast and lunch only, closing at 2 p.m.

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VT Diner Tour: CJ’s Diner

Diner at Quechee, VT

CJ’s Diner, Quechee, Vermont

CJ’s Diner is located in the Quechee Gorge Village, which it shares with the Vermont Antique Mall, Cabot Creamery store, Vermont Alpaca, Vermont Spirits distillery, and more. This 1946 Worcester Semi-Streamliner (#787) began its career in Holyoke, Massachusetts. It was brought to Quechee in 1991, and has had several owners and several different names since then. The current owners also have a restaurant and bar next door, which would account for the fact that this diner offers mimosas, bloody Marys, and beer on tap.

The interior includes the original terrazzo floors and tiled front on the counter, along with a smattering of the original elements behind the counter. Seating includes stools at the counter and booths. No cooking is done within sight of customers; we assume it’s done in the kitchen of the restaurant. The menu was standard diner fare, including breakfast all day.

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Because it’s located in a very heavy tourist area, the atmosphere here is quite different from that of a community-oriented eatery like the Windsor Diner, with its regulars well-known to a friendly staff. Fifties’ rock and roll piped in overhead could not make up for less than enthusiastic waitresses or the rather incongruous TV monitor mounted above the counter. The end result was a big lack of authenticity, when it came to having a true American diner experience.

BLT: My BLT was pretty standard, although the “toasted” bread had blackened grill marks, most likely from a panini press, that tasted burnt. In spite of being in the peak season for luscious garden tomatoes, the sandwich contained the usual tasteless disk of hard commercial tomato, okay lettuce, and an appropriate amount of chewy bacon.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 5 being average, I gave my BLT a (5).

Cheeseburger: Don’s hamburger came with his choice of cheese plus lettuce and a similarly insipid tomato on a Kaiser-type bun. No onions, the usual condiments. The meat was thick but somewhat dry, and he gave the burger a (7).

French fries: These were included in the cheeseburger plate and were quite delicious. We decided they were probably cooked in beef tallow, which gave them lots of flavor and color (10).

Dessert: They didn’t offer and we didn’t ask. Customers were waiting in line, and the waitress seemed more interested in moving us along.

Prices:
BLT: $6.95, included ripple chips and numerous pickle slices
Burger: $7.95, cheese, lettuce, and tomato; French fries and cole slaw included
Root beer: $2.00 each; no refills offered

Total bill before taxes and gratuity: $18.90

Service: As little as possible. (5)

Restrooms: We did not visit restrooms but suspect they were not literally associated with the diner itself anyway.

Overall experience: 5 (out of 10)

Contact Information
CJ’s Diner
5573 Woodstock Road
Quechee, VT 05059
(802) 280-1810

For more photos, go here.

Who Put the “Miss” in the “Miss Somebody Diner”?

Miss Portland Diner

Have you ever noticed that some diners have the word “Miss” as part of their name? Ever wonder why?

American diners began in the mid-nineteenth century as horse-drawn lunch wagons. They were mobile and traveled from place to place, but instead of offering only walk-up service, they included room for patrons to sit inside at a counter, out of the elements. The lunch wagons primarily traveled to workplaces, providing their services to the men who were employed there. They also remained open at night, after restaurants had closed, thereby offering a place to grab a quick, inexpensive meal for the nighttime crowd.

Eventually, the lunch wagon business became so popular, towns began to enact ordinances to restrict their numbers and hours of operation. Wagon owners responded by finding semi-permanent locations for their wagons, and soon the idea of the prefabricated dining unit as an inexpensive way to start a business took off. Many of them ran on a shoestring budget that did not include funds for maintenance or landscaping, giving them the reputation of “greasy spoons” that appealed only to the working man.

By the 1920s, with women’s suffrage in the forefront, many of the diners recognized the need to attract women if they were to stay in business. In addition to cleaning up their act, adding booths or tables, and improving the esthetics with paint and flowers, many added the word “Miss” to their name in an effort to soften their image and appeal to women.

Over the years, the names of diners may change with new owners, and many of the old “Miss Somebody” diners have been renamed. Today we still have the “Miss Lyndonville Diner” and “Miss Bellows Falls Diner” here in Vermont, “Miss Worcester Diner” and “Miss Mendon Diner” in Massachusetts, and the “Miss Albany Diner” in New York. Hopefully, there are others. The “Miss” has also been commandeered by eating places that are not true diner-car diners, including one of our old favorites for blueberry pie, “The Miss Wiscasset Diner” in Wiscasset, Maine.

Personally, we find the whole “Miss” thing charming — just another reason to appreciate the history of the American Diner.

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An Ugly Word for a Beautiful Phenomenon

guttation

My garden plants—especially cucumbers and certain types of weeds—often exhibit a row of water beads in neat, uniform rows on the surface or edges of their leaves early in the morning. This phenomenon, lovely as it is, goes by the unfortunate name of guttation.

Guttation is not the same as dew. Dew forms on the surface of leaves and grasses when moisture in the air condenses into little pools of water. Guttation occurs when water pressure inside the plant pushes water out through water glands called hydathodes. This is most likely to occur on cool nights or when high humidity inhibits natural evaporation of moisture from the leaves. Roots continue to draw water from the soil, and when internal water pressure becomes too high, it forces excess moisture out through the glands.

Guttation is not an indication of over-watering. Rather, it’s the reaction of a healthy plant. Over-fertilizing, however, can have a negative effect via guttation, because of minerals that may be carried out onto the leaf tips and left there to accumulate when the water dries.

The origin of the word is from the Latin “gutta” meaning “drop.”

Who’s Got the Blues?

blue moon

I had no idea what I was in for when I looked up the definition of the word “blue.”

I was particularly interested in its use as an indicator of questionable decency, such as a “blue movie” or “blue language.” I knew I would run into descriptions of the color, of course, but I never thought about how many ways the word is actually used in the English language or how many meanings it has.

You can be a blue-blood, a bluestocking, a bluenose, or be born a blue baby with a heart defect and cyanotic skin. Baby blues can be a description of someone’s enchanting eyes, or baby blues can be the feeling of sadness a woman may experience after giving birth. You can put bluing in your laundry to make the whites whiter, live in a blue state, or get caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

A blue ribbon puts you in first place, but feeling blue means you’re depressed or sad. Having or singing the blues signifies low spirits or feeling melancholy, while music known as the blues is defined as jazz or popular music using specific harmonic and phrase structures.

Doing something until you’re blue in the face means it’s hopeless and going nowhere. Something coming out of the blue is a surprise. Once in a blue moon indicates something that happens rarely, but with the current definition of a blue moon, they are actually not so rare. A blue moon was defined as the second full moon in one calendar month, which doesn’t happen all that often. However, now it’s also used to indicate the third of four full moons in a season, which makes it much more common.

Most interesting are the contradictory definitions around morality. A bluenose is a person with puritanical values. Blue language or a blue movie is defined as obscene, coarse, crude, dirty, indecent, lascivious, lewd, profane, smutty, trashy, and so on.

As should happen in any excursion into etymology, I learned a couple of new words: bluestocking and billingsgate.

A bluestocking is a woman having intellectual or literary interests. The term was an attempted put-down in mid-18th century England when learning was considered to be an inappropriate pursuit for a woman. The women in question deflated the put-down by embracing it and calling themselves the Blue Stocking Society.

And billingsgate? It’s a noun defined as “coarsely abusive language.” Billingsgate was a centuries-old fish market in London, England, known for the crude and vulgar language continuously used by the fishmongers, male and female alike. To be subjected to billingsgate is to be subjected to foul language.

Interestingly, one term that did not show up spontaneously was “blue-hair,” meaning an elderly person, often with white hair having a bluish tinge. When I specifically searched for the term, two separate sources used the same sentence as an example of its use, each referring to getting “the blue-hairs off the road.” Hmmph.

What other uses of the word “blue” have I missed?

Post Script: My husband wants to know how I could forget blue balls. And we’re not talking bocce here, folks.

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