Charm for Breakfast: A Diner Tour of the North Shore

Posted: April 12th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Agawam Diner, American, Breakfast, Diner, Little Depot Diner | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

In our latest piece for the Boston Globe North section, we had a fun time focusing on classic diners north of Boston. The article came out yesterday, and you can read it here: Here’s The Dish on Diners

During our diner-ing, we ended up with many more photos than will ever be published, and we wanted to share some of them with you. We haven’t made it to every diner in every town (yet), but here is a pictorial tour of a handful of fun places to try for your next road trip or weekend breakfast.

 

The Capitol Diner in Lynn has been serving up specialties since the late 1920s, but we’re betting the Mickey-shaped pancakes are a newer addition.

New owners Ross and Alicia Scanlon have made the Little Depot Diner a hit by bringing in new energy and maintaining old favorites.

Lowell’s Four Sisters Owl Diner sports a newly renovated entrance and a cheery vintage interior. The Eggs Benedict is amazing.

The summer beach crowd is familiar with Pat’s Diner in Salisbury, but it was quiet on a winter afternoon. We enjoyed the unusual pork pie.

Pie is the thing at the Agawam Diner, and they always have an array of beautiful desserts on offer. Crowds convene at all hours for hearty meals and a cup o’ joe along with their favorite slice.

And lastly, a special photo of the Salem Diner, which was taken in 2008. This is our favorite shot as it shows the old neon as it was, before the diner suffered damage in a fire. The diner has been renovated, and George and Zoe Elefteriadis serve up great breakfasts, but we do miss the neon.

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Dinner in a Diner, Nothing Could be Finer

Posted: May 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Diner, Event | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

While we often write about fine dining and fabulous foodie finds here on the Dish, more pedestrian diners and roadside joints have always held a place in my heart. Whether it’s the excitement of a road trip, the glamour of chrome and neon, or the call of bacon and eggs served at a Formica counter with a swivel stool, classic diners have developed large following.

One of the most dedicated is the intrepid Larry Cultrera, whom I had the pleasure to meet several years ago. As a diner historian, Larry has been chronicling the history of diners and collecting memorabilia for more than 30 years, and he has just published a terrific book: Classic Diners of Massachusetts. (The History Press, 2011)

An engaging book chock full of history, anecdotes, and photos, one chapter is dedicated to the North Shore and Northern Suburbs. “This region of Massachusetts historically had a high concentration of diners primarily because of the mill/factory cities of Lynn, Peabody, Salem, Haverhill, Lawrence, and Lowell, as well as the port city of Gloucester,” he writes.

Each chapter has a full list of diners in the area and highlights a handful of them. The North Shore chapter lists 24 diners and has sections on some of our favorites, including the Capitol Diner in Lynn, the Salem Diner in Salem, and of course the Agawam in Rowley.

Like a father fond of his many children, Cultrera, whose favorite diner meals are eggs and sausage or grilled cheese, refused to single out a favorite when I asked. He did mention the Capitol is a must-see, though, as it’s one of the last operating Brill diners in the country. He also had great things to say about George and Zoe Elefteriadis, owners of the Salem Diner since 2008.

Whether you’re a die-hard diner fan or have recently developed an interest, I highly recommend Classic Diners of Massachusetts. The history of dining cars and those who operate them is accessible and fascinating, and the lists of diners by area will come in handy on those summer road trips.

If you’re interested in meeting Larry and hearing more first-hand, head to the Saugus Historical Society, 30 Main St., tomorrow night at 7:00 (May 9). He will be giving a talk and slide presentation on classic diners and will have copies of the book on hand to sell and sign. You can also keep up with everything diner-related on Larry’s website, Diner Hotline, and his Facebook Page.

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The Scotty Dog Brings a Taste of Chicago to Beverly

Posted: July 21st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Beverly, Casual/Pub Food, Diner, The Scotty Dog | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

Roadside food fans rejoiced this spring when the former Rondogs hot dog stand in Beverly, which had been closed for over a year, re-opened as The Scotty Dog. We finally got a chance to stop by this week and check it out.

Situated in a small parking lot on Rantoul Street, the tiny stand features car-hop service and several picnic tables and Adirondack chairs where diners relax in the shade.

The Scotty Dog is a Vienna Beef stand, so all of its dogs are Vienna products and its touted menu item is the Chicago Style dog. (For the record, if you are a Vienna Beef fan looking for a fix while traveling, there’s an app for that.)

Despite our epic investigation of North Shore hot dogs two summers ago, this was our first taste of a Chicago Style. For those unfamiliar, this mean it’s served on a poppy-seed roll with mustard, onions,relish, tomatoes, sport peppers, a pickle spear, and a sprinkling of celery salt (small$3.70, large $4.90). Under no circumstances is ketchup allowed to mar this carefully prepared combination.

Clearly not experts on the matter, we can’t say whether the wiener we had was up to Chicago standards, but it was certainly enjoyable. The sport peppers give the whole thing a kick, and we loved the addition of the pickle. The bizarre neon green relish wasn’t to our liking, and the bun was a bit bland and squishy, but that’s likely because we’re die-hard New Englanders and prefer a grilled frankfurter roll.

The Scotty Dog has plenty of toppings available for a build-your-own experience and offers a variety of specialty dogs. We’re thinking next time we may have to try the Juracy Dog, which features corn, potato sticks, and mayo.

We also tried one of the “steak burgers” which come in Toy, (single patty, $2.50) Standard, (double patty, $3.50) and Mastiff (triple patty, $4.50) We opted for the Scotty Patty, which came with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and special sauce. The burger was quite good— it tasted very fresh and had a nice hand ground texture and grilled flavor to it. Our only “beef” (sorry, it’s the heat) was that the server didn’t ask how we wanted it done, and it came out slightly more rare than we would have liked. We suggest making sure you specify doneness when placing your order.

The french fries ($1.75 for small, $2.25 for large) were thin and crisp, and we appreciated the generous shake of black pepper along with the salt, giving them extra zing.

The owners are still finding their groove with the ordering and serving procedure, but everyone was cheerful and helpful, and we love the car hop service, which makes The Scotty Dog a perfect choice when you’re on the way back from a day at the beach with a car full of kids of any age.

The Scotty Dog
437 Rantoul St., Beverly
(978) 969-3487
www.thescottydog.com

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Eyes on the Pies at the Agawam Diner

Posted: January 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Agawam Diner, American, Diner, Rowley | Tags: , | 4 Comments »

As regular readers know, we often interact with friends of the Dish on Facebook and Twitter. Just before the holidays, one of our Twitter pals, Liz Polay-Wettengel  (@LizPW) and her husband Dave (@Kromedome), tweeted us in search of the best pie on the North Shore.

Terrific bakeries abound in the area, but most are known for cakes or pastries. Pie is more esoteric, and we are the types that bake our own, so we were stymied. We put the question to the public, and while several suggestions came back via both Facebook and Twitter, the destination most mentioned was the Agawam Diner.

Curiosity piqued, we decided this required an investigatory road trip, and asked Liz and Dave if they’d like to join us. Finally able to synchronize our schedules last week, we made the trip up Route 1.

The Agawam has been a family business since they opened in 1940 and has been in its current building since 1954. It’s a terrific vintage dining car with lots of chrome and vinyl, right up our alley.

The staff was pleasant and welcoming and had no problem with us staking out a couple of booths till the other half of our party arrived. We sipped coffee and perused the menu and were soon joined by Liz and Dave and their adorable and amazingly polite four-year- old son.

We started off with lunch, which was hearty and respectable, but relatively standard diner fare. The coffee was decent, strong enough to stand up to the creamer and good accompaniment for the pie.

Ah, the pie. Where to start? The selection was staggering. At each end of the diner counter was a large glass case full of pies, and we were invited by our waitress to peruse them after she rattled off a seemingly endless list of varieties. What to choose: banana cream, chocolate cream, lemon meringue, cocoanut cream, custard, apple, blueberry, squash, or something else?

The most intriguing was the angel pie, which turned out to be vanilla custard in a dark chocolate cake baked into a pie shell and topped with whipped cream. Yes, you heard it right; pudding in cake in pie. Brilliant concept, and one of our favorites.

We ended up ordering various slices ($3.95 each) and sharing all around, so we got to check out an array of tastes. The cream pies were beautiful but so overloaded with whipped cream that we were full after just a few bites. The banana cream was quite good, edging out the coconut, and the chocolate was surprisingly rich.

The custard pie was eggy and tasty, and the lemon meringue was served warm from the oven. So warm, in fact, that the waitress was upset it had fallen apart on the plate. She shouldn’t have worried because the warm gooey topping was reminiscent of toasted marshmallow and a perfect foil for the lemon. The blueberry pie didn’t let us down either, sweet and tart with a flaky crust.

What you have at the Agawam is a near-perfect diner experience. No, these are not gourmet pies. Some of the crusts are better than others, and I’m sure not every ingredient is made from scratch. But they are tasty and hand-made on site, rotated out to the case piping hot and generously served up on heavy china with a mug of coffee by friendly staff.

And isn’t that what you’re looking for when you pull off the road at a gleaming chrome diner and sit down at that long formica counter?

Thanks to Liz and Dave for inspiring this outing and a reminder to all pie lovers out there; this sunday January 23rd is National Pie Day.

Agawam Diner
Route 1 & 133 Rowley
(978) 948-7780

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The Driftwood Serves Up Local Charm on Marblehead Harbor

Posted: September 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Breakfast, Diner, Driftwood, Marblehead, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Driftwood Restaurant has been a Marblehead institution for so long we’re surprised it hasn’t been granted official historic landmark status. And while its reputation has gone up and down over time, and earlier this year it was closed for a while due to a tax issue, it remains a local favorite and still boasts a line out the door on weekend mornings.

The interior décor is diner meets clam shack, with nautical doodads and work by local artists adorning the counter area and walls. The small tables covered with red and white checked vinyl cloths are set pretty close together, and on a busy day, you may end up chatting with your neighbor as you chow down. The crowd includes everyone from crusty old locals who all know each other to young families and summer tourists.

On a recent visit we decided to try a breakfast special that included two eggs, two pancakes (we chose blueberry), bacon or sausages, and tea, coffee, or juice for $7.75 as well as a mushroom cheese omelet ($6.25) with a side of corned beef hash ($3.75)

The coffee arrived quickly, and while it’s never going to threaten the local coffee house business, it was respectable. The omelet was decent, and we liked the wide range of breads on offer for toast. The waitress warned us ahead of time that the corned beef hash was cooked to order so it could take longer, but the wait wasn’t noticeable, and the hash was quite good—savory and not greasy.

The breakfast special was definitely satisfying, with crispy bacon and eggs cooked to order, and the winner of the morning was the blueberry pancakes. Fluffy, golden, and studded with fresh berries, they were delightful. The waitress was quick to refill our coffee and didn’t rush our check, two things we appreciate anywhere, but especially at a busy diner.

The restaurant is primarily known for its breakfast, as it opens at 6:00 a.m. and closes at 2:00 p.m. We hear the lunch menu features a pretty good lobster roll, though we haven’t tried it yet, and the famed fried dough served only on weekends and holidays sounds inviting as well.

Like a weathered old wharf rat sitting at the town landing, the Driftwood may be rough and tumble to look at, but it’s full of salty charm.

The Driftwood Restaurant
63 Front Street, Marblehead
(781) 631-1145

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French Toast and Friendly Faces at Beverly’s Depot Diner

Posted: July 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Beverly, Breakfast, Depot Diner, Diner | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

With all of the incessant rain lately, we were feeling in serious need of some comfort food. And because bacon is one of our favorite comfort foods, we decided to head over to The Depot Diner in Beverly. Not to be confused with the Little Depot Diner in Peabody; it isn’t a vintage style diner, but rather a storefront restaurant in a small strip mall next to the North Beverly commuter rail station.

It was bustling on our arrival, but we managed to snag a free table, though we’re told arriving after 9:00 on a weekend morning will mean fighting the crowds for a seat. The dining room is large and open, and in lieu of a diner motif, the décor is made up of warm mustard and terracotta colors, accented by bright abstract paintings and dark wood tables.

Our waitress was cheerful and efficient, providing coffee (dark and rich) and juice in short order as we surveyed the large menu of breakfast and lunch items. The omelets being consumed at the next table looked impressive, but we decided on the eggs (any style) over corned beef hash with homefries and toast ($7.75) and the Portuguese sweet bread french toast ($6.50) with a side of bacon ($3).

The corned beef hash was quite tasty, with nice crispy bits and savory flavor that complemented the eggs. We were impressed by the variety of breads available for toast and pleased rye was among the offerings. The homefries, however, were lackluster—bland and mushy. The french toast was heavenly: two large, thick slices of Portuguese sweet bread transformed into fluffy, eggy perfection. The bacon was nicely crisp and not too greasy.

Whether you are looking for a bright spot on a dismal day or simply a tasty hearty breakfast, we found that a stop at the Depot Diner is just the ticket.

Depot Diner
23 Enon St., Beverly
(978) 922-6200
www.depot-diner.com


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Breakfast With a Side of Cheer

Posted: April 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Breakfast, Diner, Little Depot Diner, Peabody | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Stepping into a vintage dining car often gives you the feeling of stepping back in time, but that isn’t quite what happens when you enter the Little Depot Diner. It’s more like you’ve stepped into some bright and happy idealized version of the past, and you’re glad you’ve stumbled upon it.

Built in 1929 by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, this diner car was moved to its current location in 1950 where it has had a succession of owners, most recently Jim and Judy Miles who re-opened the diner just over a year ago.

A tiny place with no booths and just fourteen stools, waiting for a seat on the weekend looks highly probable. The interior is a warm yellow with the ceiling painted sky blue and accented with clouds. Just below the ceiling is a model train track that runs the length of the car. The black and white tiled floor, reproduction tin signs advertising Moxie, and a small shelf with courtesy books for those wishing to linger over their coffee complete the atmosphere. The background music, hit tunes from the 1930s and ’40s was perfect. (I wasn’t the only one humming along to Judy Garland singing “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart;” the cop on the stool next to me was, too.)

The owner and her sister Terry, wearing vintage-styled waitress dresses, greeted me with smiles and an immediate offer of coffee. When I mentioned this was my first visit, Terry gave me a “train ride” by blowing the whistle and making the little train run the length of its track. This honor is generally reserved for those ordering the All Aboard breakfast, which consists of two eggs, two bacon, two sausage, two pancakes, and homefries or baked beans. ($9)

The menu is small and straightforward, with all the usual diner fare, though I was sad to see they don’t offer waffles, one of my personal favorites. The counter was almost full with locals and regulars chatting, and every meal I saw go by looked generous and tasty. I decided on the little stack of pancakes (2 for $3.75) with a side of homefries ($1.50) and bacon ($2.50) The homefries were a bit bland, but the the bacon was terrific, crisp and plentiful, and the pancakes were large and dense. I opted to try the Special Butter, which turned out to be a brilliant decision. The maple caramel cinnamon butter, whipped together on site, was absolutely delicious on the pancakes.

The coffee is quite respectable, rich and fresh ground, and for those on the run, diner features The Honest Cup of Coffee, a self-serve station for take-out coffee at the bargain price of $1. (They are a cash only business, but there’s an ATM just around the corner.) If you want your breakfast to go as well, take out is available.

On weekdays, the diner serves both breakfast and lunch, open 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. On the weekend, they serve breakfast only and close at 12 p.m.  The lunch specials sounded great, and there’s no doubt you’re in Massachusetts because one of the sandwiches offered is the infamous Fluffernutter.

The Little Depot Diner is a place that just plain makes you feel good. Even without the siren call of that luscious Special Butter luring me back, I’d still return and bring my friends. Welcoming and comfortable with tasty food at good prices, this car is on the right track.

The Little Depot Diner
1 Railroad Avenue, Peabody Square
978-977-7775
http://www.thelittledepotdiner.com

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Craving Coffee and Carbs

Posted: March 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Breakfast, Diner, Red's Sandwich Shop, Salem | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

A small dog who shall remain nameless woke us up quite early this morning, so Lunch Guy and I made the best of the situation by heading over to Red’s for breakfast. For those not familiar, Red’s is an old-style family restaurant with great food at terrific prices. It’s located on a small side street in Salem, but there’s plenty of parking nearby. Especially at 7:30 in the morning.

Feeling the need for carbs, I ordered blueberry pancakes. The waitress asked if I wanted one, two, or three pancakes, saying they were large. She wasn’t kidding. I ordered two ($5), but since they are as big as a platter, one would have been sufficient. The blueberries were small and tender, and the pancake was fluffy.

Lunch Guy was very pleased with his western omelette ($6), which came with a generous portion of delicious home fries and toast. He enjoyed his side of sausages ($2.50), although they were a bit mild for his taste. The bottomless cup of coffee ($1.75) was topped off so frequently he never came close to reaching the bottom.

That kind of service holds true for lunch, according to Lunch Guy. In fact, the American Chop Suey at Red’s ($6.50) is one of his favorite lunches. Hot, delicious, and served quickly, the portion is so large he often can’t finish it. And there are plenty of other choices on the large and varied lunch menu, all at extremely reasonable prices.

Red’s Sandwich Shop
15 Central Street, Salem
(978) 745-352
www.redssandwichshop.com

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