There are American diners and there are American diners….my idea of a charming American diner is Rosebuds in Davis Square (Somerville/Cambridge) just outside Boston. It is an original classic with a silver exterior, soft cushioned barstools, the Flo-like waitress behind the counter who is ever appearing with a coffee pot, booths with coat hangers on the end of each seat and traditional ketchup and creamers on every table.
There are diners that resemble Rosebuds in many small towns around the country, including my hometown’s New York Lunch in Gloversville, NY. Less traditional in character, it has its Flo-like waitresses, the soft barstools, homemade rice pudding to die for and the gut wrenching but popular “everything hotdog” for $1.95. When you ask for the “works,” you get it all – the mustard, ground beef, ketchup, onions and relish.
Then there are the American midwest “in the middle of nowhere” diners. These diners often don’t have the soft barstools or the tableside jukebox machines but they do have the Flo-like waitresses armed with coffee pots, the endless cokes with large straws and real cowboys.
We discovered Doo-Wah Dittys Diner, a crossbreed diner/truck stop in Kimball South Dakota. As we drove into the parking lot, an old rusty blue truck from another era pulled in alongside us…..our dinner guests as it turned out. In towns like Kimball, places like Doo-Wah Dittys Diner are typical and there’s not much else to choose from on any night of the week, including Saturday night.
Open later than most places we encountered along the way, our evenings ended shortly after “the town diner” closed for the night, usually around 8 pm. Here we discovered one other place called Mo’s, which really was nothing more than a one-horse saloon in the middle of the prairies.
Ah, the open prairies. No WalMart, no cinemas, no fast food chains, no Starbucks – just a string of lazy cows grazing, Wall Drug-like billboards, trading posts, haystacks, long grass, a dumpy and bare petrol station that surrounded nothing but flat fields and alas, the American diner.
Al’s Oasis, which nestled among a strip of western saloon style buildings along South Dakota’s I90, was known for its Buffalo Burger, a common item on the menu in the area. The only choice in town, it sat adjacent to the petrol station and convenient store just off the highway. Hard as a rock, it has to be eaten. The key thing to remember at a moment like this: “ask the waitress for colorful stories and be an attentive listener….once you’re lost in her dialogue, you forget about high quality cuisine and relish in why you’re where you’re at.”