What makes a diner a real diner? Well, according to Casey Patten, co-owner of the Taylor Gourmet sandwich shops, the place has to serve pancakes the size of car tires and if it's a really good greasy spoon, expect to wait in line.
Patten knows a thing or two about diners. He's from the diner-mecca-state that is New Jersey. And, he grew-up in a Philadelphia suburb, where he was a regular at Hank's Place, a small roadside diner on Route 1 in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.
While Patten says there are good options for diner food in DC — you may often find him eating a walk of shame burrito at Ted's Bulletin or the rice pudding at the Coupe — he also says DC lacks the diner culture that is a given in cities, like New York and Philly.
At Hank's, his order is the french toast with peaches and two over-medium eggs with a side of scrapple. He doesn't recommend people ask what's actually in the scrapple, but he loves the pork flavor, along with how it's grilled — crunchy and caramelized on the outside and creamy on the inside.
From an early age, Patten says he recalls going to diners with his family. He spent summers visiting his grandfather in Union, New Jersey, and they would always go to the "country club." "The club was really a breakfast club of senior citizens who took up a booth and talked all morning," he says.
He can recall the shifts of people coming and going, too. There were the construction workers early in the morning, the group of retirees who lingered with coffee and newspapers, the midday lunch crowd and the weekenders, who would slam the place on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
"Personally DC doesn't have the biggest diner culture, and I think it's that way because it's not a city always moving," Patten said. "We're also not a working man's city, and the blue collar aspect plays a part into it too."
But, if you look hard enough, you can find some of the throwback diners similar to the one's he grew-up with, he says. Patten goes to Lincoln's Waffle Shop, which he admits is a bit of a tourist trap, but has the neon signs, formica countertops and the simple but good, buttery waffles. It's a breakfast spot tucked away between souvenir shops and vendor carts in downtown DC. It's not the prettiest diner, but it has the appeal of the diner culture, he says.
And, his favorite seat, no matter what diner he's at, is always the stools at the bar. "Watching a grill cook in action, is kind of like art. The barstools are the front-row seats to the grill."
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[Photo: Hank's Place]