We all have those places. Places where we go and we just feel at home. The Highway Diner is my comfort place. It is Cheers without the beer. It is where everybody knows your name and your order depending on what time of day you come in.
The Highway Diner hasn’t always been there, but it feels that way. It gives the authentic diner experience. An experience from the golden age of the diner. It is part of Americana. Hearty breakfast is served all day long. Coffee is always flowing. And the cakes are mile-high.
We go there at all times of day, but mostly on weekend mornings for breakfast. It is a great way to start your day. And the breakfast fills up me for the whole day. I usually order an omelet with homefries (the homefries are the BEST) or the U-Turn breakfast (right.)
Sometimes after school, we shoot over there for snack. Any of their cakes are good choices with ice cream or a basket of fries with a Coke.
While the food is great, the people are great there. They make it special. And keep us coming back more than we usually would.
Chain restaurants. We all go to them. Sometimes not willingly, but often there aren’t other dining options. Chain restaurants serve a purpose by providing a consistent menu that is familiar to most. While chains strive to be “authentic,” they are often far from.
It seems that “authentic” places are vanishing from the American food landscape. This saddens me greatly. I freely admit I frequent chains a lot more than I would like to, but I do actually seek out local places first. I like to think of it as an adventure in dining, and I like to visit places long established in their locations… Pieces of Americana.
Wherever we move, my goal is find these local treasures. Most aren’t fancy dining and that’s OK. Often they’d be called greasy spoons, but there is something special about them. I’ve found many on my food adventures. I’ve got some new favorites. Back in Lexington, KY, there was the Parkette Drive In
, founded in 1951. It is still going strong. Everything is still original from the neon sign, to the call-boxes, and the the fried chicken in a box. Here in eastern North Carolina, I’ve stumbled upon Parker’s Barbecue
(est. 1970), where you are served heaping plates of chopped BBQ with homemade hushpuppies by young guys dressed in all white with paper hats, and Dick’s Hotdog Stand
, which has been serving hot dogs with all the trimmings since 1921, and the walls are covered with photos of famous people paying tribute to the food to show for it. Both are in Wilson, NC.
What do all these places have in common? Tradition and memories. They are community gathering places. Real neon signs. Worn booths and stools that aren’t exactly comfortable, but yet somehow comfort you. Photos on the wall sharing the collective past. Waitresses who call you “hon” and mean it. You go there to connect with people. And to hear the news, or basically hear the gossip. Everyone knows everyone, and even if you are a stranger you soon become a friend should you be sitting at the counter. While I’ve eaten in posh restaurants and have had a pleasant, memorable dining experience, what I remember the most about eating out are the Friday nights spent with my Dad at Max’s Hot Dogs
on the broadwalk at the Jersey Shore, or with my parents eating pizza and dancing at Briody’s in Rumson, NJ.
Many of the places I’ve mentioned are becoming endangered of becoming memories. In fact, Briody’s is gone after seventy years.
Now where does Foodspotting
come in? It is a a restaurant review app/social network of people who like food and sharing their food photos. Foodspotting for foodies by foodies. The goal is to create a new kind guide of food guide that highlights not only restaurants, but their best dishes. Most places featured on Foodspotting are small and local. It gives people the opportunity to share their favorite places and the food they love. Even though I have Urban Spoon on my iPhone, I find myself going to Foodspotting first and checking out what other foodies have uploaded and said about places. And I love adding my own
So the next time you are out and find a special place to eat like Dick’s Hotdog Stand or a place that makes regional specialty foods like the Clam Box
in Ispwich, MA, share it on Foodspotting so others can enjoy it too. In fact you’ll be preserving an important piece of vanishing Americana. So what are your favorite, unique eateries?
PS – Often these restaurants have unique period architecture so you’ll be hitting two birds with one stone.
This post was originally posted on Ann-Sense on February 13, 2011.