It’s no secret that New York City is running low on old-school diners; they were vanishing even before the pandemic. From 2014 to early 2019, 15 diners were sold, a figure that didn’t include the many owners who lost their leases during that period. These closures signal, to some, the end of old New York as we knew it.
But that hasn’t stopped a new breed of diner from cropping up, ostensibly for the younger set and usually with decent branding and a social media presence.
Diner Aesthetics With Modern Menus
On a recent evening at Golden Diner in the Two Bridges neighborhood of Manhattan, I followed a chile crisp-spiked vegan wedge salad with two massive pancakes and a chicken katsu club. The bill didn’t exactly come out to Waffle House prices, but the energy was similar: simple, uncomplicated, tasty. You can’t beat pancakes after dark.
When Golden Diner arrived in 2019, it showed that the diner, is still a form that can be made over and made over well. The chef Sam Yoo did so by bringing his professional chef bona fides and his Asian roots to diner staples.
Baby Blues Luncheonette, in East Williamsburg in Brooklyn, on the other hand, is a Greek diner for the 21st century. (For a decidedly 20th century Greek diner, try Tina’s Place at Wilson and Flushing Avenues in Bushwick, Brooklyn.) There’s the H.L.T. with grilled halloumi, lettuce and heirloom tomatoes on Pullman bread, with the option to add bacon and avocado. But I think the real play is to order the Plato plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, warm pita, half an avocado and grated halloumi. It’ll cost you $20 before tax and tip — not bad for an increasingly expensive corner of Brooklyn.
Out on Staten Island in Bulls Head, there’s Sandwich and Pickle, which is more great-aunt’s living room than linoleum fever dream (see: floral wallpaper and thrift-store décor). But the deli-as-diner ethos that runs deep throughout the menu has really piqued my interest, especially the pastrami and egg bagels and latkes Benedict. And any restaurant with park adjacency — in this case, the downright bucolic Willowbrook Park — deserves a visit. Think of the post-meal walks!
Safeguarding the Diners of Yore
There’s also a movement of diner preservation. As I wrote while answering reader questions a few months back, restaurants like Kellogg’s Diner in Williamsburg and S & P Lunch (formerly Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop) in the Flatiron district have persisted because new, younger owners stepped in to carry on their legacies. The 78-year-old Three Decker Diner at the corner of Manhattan and Norman Avenues in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is under new management after the previous owners decided to retire. As the Eater journalist Emma Orlow reported, the menu and the prices have remained largely the same, which is to say affordable, though the coffee is now of the third-wave variety.
And even though the year is still quite young, I’m not sure that any preservation project will be met with more enthusiasm than the new, “deluxe” Superiority Burger, which will occupy the East Village space that housed a diner, the Odessa Restaurant, for more than two decades. The food will be decidedly non-Ukrainian, and the restaurant is unlikely to be open for 24 hours as Odessa was. But from what’s been shared on Instagram so far, the freshly repainted space looks largely the same, with wide booths and misaligned, newly de-gummed tables. And at least it’s not becoming a bank, which we all know is the truest sign of the end.
In Other News …
This week, Pete Wells reviewed Kjun, the Korean-Cajun restaurant from the Seoul-raised chef Jae Jung whose “grasp of the food of New Orleans is stronger than the average New Yorker’s.”
Closings: Pizza Moto, the Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant on the border of Red Hook and Carroll Gardens, had its last service on Sunday, Feb. 19.
Kim Severson profiled Raghavan Iyer, the chemist and cookbook author who has written seven books on Indian cooking. His latest, “On the Curry Trail: Chasing the Flavor That Seduced the World,” will be his last as he continues his five-year battle with colorectal cancer.
William Greenberg Jr., the Army veteran turned bakery owner whose cakes and other treats became favorites of people like Glenn Close and the Tisch family, died on Feb. 7. He was 97.
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