Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Homesick for RI's finest fare?

As Rhode Islanders, we all have "that" story - the first time we recieved the raised eyebrow after we ordered coffee milk in front of new college friends or asked a business partner for the best place to get stuffies closest to the office .... How far outside of New England you are when you make these foodie-faux-pas will determine how clearly you remember "the incident".

Its true that for such a small state, we certainly have a lot of Rhode Island-isms.

But, a new exhibit at Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University celebrates our 'quirky' culture in Rhode Island Small State, Big Taste. ( posted this video tour.)

My brother enjoys a Del's in 2003.

You have to admit, nothing is quite as refreshing as a Del's Frozen Lemonade on a hot summer day. 

There's even a mix - so whether you're trying educate those from the other less enlightened states or to bring a bit of home to those far away, you can make Del's anwhere you happen to be. 

Rhode Island Small State, Big Taste runs through July 1, 2011.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Diner Guru to Speak Monday, October 25, in East Providence

Richard Gutman wrote the book on diners. Literally. In 1979 he collaborated on American Diner. The first half of the book is a history of diners. The second is filled with intriguing black and white photos – of the restaurants, the people and the details that bring the diners to life. Track it down through your local library. He updated the book on his own in 1993 and changed the title slightly: American Diner, Then and Now. We attended a book signing at the Worcester Historical Society. It was the first time we “met” The Diner Historian … and I have the picture to prove it! Over the years I've had the good fortune of meeting Mr. Gutman both at his exhibit and even for breakfast.

Denise (left) and I wait to have our books autographed.1993

If it sounds like a bit of hero worship, it certainly was. But we're not the only ones impressed. A recent June article in begins, "What Jane Goodall is to chimpanzees and David McCullough is to John Adams, Richard Gutman is to diners." High praise, indeed.

Gutman is currently the curator at the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University and among his credits is an exhibit that is, without doubt, the most comprehensive permanent look at diners. The exhibit even features a ‘live’ restoration of the Ever Ready Diner. (My Ever Ready Diner story to follow in a future posting!)

He’s presenting “Diners: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” at the East Providence Historical Society, tomorrow, Monday, October 25 at Visitors welcome. Apple pie will be served.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why Diners

When I tell people I'm interested in diners, they'll usually think of a local restaurant that may or may not be a diner but it is probably not the fanciest of places. Technically, a diner is a prefabricated structure that was brought on-site in one or two pieces. Some resemble dining cars from mid-century trains. Some are sleek and stainless steel. Some suffered unfortunate 'remodels' in the 1970s. But each diner has a life of its own.

They have a history and, sometimes even a neon sign that seems to say, 'C'mon in!' The story really starts once you get inside. There's so much more to see - the characteristics of a particular manufacturer, the people, the location. And, whether it's finding a diner I haven't been to yet (yes, trips routes are planned to include the maximum number of diners and/or roadside Americana stops) or visiting an familiar favorite,
you get to eat pancakes while you're checking out the place.

That's why I like diners.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Post ... and First Adventure

I'm taking a class and they've asked us to start a blog. Let's just say committing to a topic for a blog has been intimidating. I can’t say that I’ve had writer’s block – more of a case of writer’s indecision.  In the end, I keep coming back to “diners”.  

With so many great websites and blogs out there already, I wasn’t sure I could do "diners" justice. But I’m not competing with Gutman or Garbin ... or any of the other diner gurus that have tracked and in some cases created diner history.

This is all about me … my experiences and my favorites.

I began searching out diners in the early 90s. It wasn’t until Columbus Day weekend, almost exactly 20 years ago, when diners became “destinations”.

Some friends and I decided to go to New Hampshire on a whim.  (Translation – no hotel reservations.) While I was a little concerned, my friends weren’t.

The Midway Diner, Rutland, VT, October 1990
The day was spent driving to VT and hiking and stopped for dinner at the Midway Diner in Rutland for supper. We ended up spending most of the night hanging out in a booth, listening to the juke box….  Sounds like a fun plan, and it was fun … but I’m not sure how many of you caught the “no reservations” comment. 

We spent hours in a diner because we had no place else to go! Closest hotels were in Albany, NY or Maine.  We finally left (were asked to leave .. it was so long ago, really does it matter?!)

Off we go, back into the car to drive to who knows where. I think we opted for Maine and were headed east. Eventually we pulled into some rest area and slept in the car for a few hours. Not comfortable, but makes for a great story. I do remember the shortest person had the entire back seat to themselves.

Before sunrise, after washing up in a bubbler, we took off again. If you turned me around blindfolded, I couldn’t have been less aware of where we were.  At some point we crossed the Vermont border into New Hampshire.

To this day, I swear we saw some sort of creature – a deer or bear ... something cross the road in front of us just before this diner appeared, as if a vision, right int front of us. Our luck had changed because not only did we find Jay’s Sweetheart Diner*, the neon was on … it was open!

And so my Diner Adventures began.

*Jay's is now the Sunny Day Diner on Rt. 3 in Lincoln, NH. Built by the Master Co. in the mid-1950s.