The Food Freak

Cooking, dining, and appreciating food through the written word. A young West-Coast food-lover has been displaced to numerous small towns and cities on the East Coast; in New Jersey, New England, and now the Hudson Valley. This is his story.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Dinner at the Diner

New Jersey is the home of very many good diners, my favorite being the Americana Diner in East Windsor. The Americana has about a thousand items on its menu, about 80% of which are very good. That's a huge compliment for a Diner. Usually, a diner is good if only 80% of the food is BAD...that would mean a whole 20% of the menu is decent. Pretty good considering Diner food is the ancestor of fast food.

I've only really found a handful of diners with good statistical profiles. Americana is definitely by far the best. Compare the Americana to the horrendous excuse for a local favorite P.J.'s Pancake House in Princeton (who actually got the "pancakes.com" domain name!). Americana's pancakes, waffles, and french toast have a light fluffiness to them without even a hint of cooking grease or the flavor of old food off the grill or griddle. The fruit toppings are fresh, the bacon lightly crispy and never dark. You cannot fail at Americana with any of their sandwiches, including the souvlaki, something non-Greek diners get very wrong all the time. And the Mile-high Meatloaf? My god! P.J.'s fruit, on the other hand, is frozen, defrosted on the counter to a hideous brown. The pancakes taste of the stale corn oil they use on the grill, and their savory dishes taste like they were concocted by a Denny's reject. Why there are lines at PJ's every weekend is beyond me.

One of my first projects here in the Hudson Valley is to visit every single restaurant on the "Best of Hudson Valley" list. I've actually made it to MANY of them in the short time I have been here, and my reviews will be slowly posted as time permits. Today's emphasis is on the Diner.

Eveready Diner in Hyde Park has consistently been the number one Diner in this magazine. It was the second diner I went to in the Hudson Valley. I've also been to the Millbrook Diner in Millbrook, the Acropolis Diner in Poughkeepsie, and Alex's Restaurant in downtown Poughkeepsie. I will not dignify Alex's Restaurant with even a negative review. The Acropolis, decent enough for a 1am snack, since it is the only thing in Poughkeepsie open 24 hours. Otherwise, not worth mentioning too much.

My favorite thus far has been the Millbrook Diner. The Millbrook Diner has a remarkable quality; the food, building, town, and people seem to be part of the same experience. I felt that I was thrown into 1950s American middle-class wholesomeness. The scrambled eggs did not look like anything I would call such, but I dug right in and I found a soft fluffiness hiding underneath a less than completely attractive exterior that made me think "Wow, if I had a white-middle-class, mother-who-is-a-homemaker, Wonder-Years kind of childhood, this would taste just like home!" How much better a compliment can you give a good diner? I looked around at the customers, cars, and town and thought I was cast as the ethnic extra in a Hollywood movie set in small town America circa 1961.

Which brings me to Eveready. I would put Eveready in the half-way decent range. The look and decor are correct, there is just enough good items on the menu (the French Dip, excellent) to warrant coming back, but also enough downright crappy items to warrant a verdict of OVERRATED! Iceberg lettuce, radishes, cherry tomato salads with Italian dressing (are you kidding me?), unseasoned egg and chicken salad, overly-creamed mac n' cheese...come on, these are Diner standards! If I were Eveready, I would settle with cutting the menu in half and getting the classics right.

All in all, I still need to find a good enough local diner to be a regular hang out. It would be a shame if the Hudson Valley fell behind New Jersey in any respect, especially in matters of food.

3 Comments:

Blogger Anne said...

I'm ashamed to say that I haven't been to the diner in my hometown of Beacon, but many people love it and i've heard a lot of "it's pretty good...for a diner". Something to check out, anyway. It's called the Yankee Clipper, which is great in and of itself! I generally shun diners, but finding a good one is something truly remarkable...here's hoping we find one in the HV!

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Second attempt at posting this comment... haha... When was the last time you've been to Alex's Restaurant in the City of Poughkeepsie... We frequent it quite often especially for breakfast. I'm not sure when or what your experience was like, but we love it!

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I doudt very much you have been to Alex's. This diner has been around for about 100 years and is the best diner i have every been to. The food is so good. I mean how could you give it a negative review??? have you seen it between the hours of 12 and 2 in the after noon. Every table filled with people lines of people outside at the window and people waiting to be seated. Your wrong.

10:27 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home