A local news reporter contacted me today wanting to know my opinion on the new Cracker Barrel being planned for Fifth Street extended near the Holiday Inn. I read the message. Read it again. And laughed. Really, really laughed. Um, I kinda have no opinion at all, having not eaten at a Cracker Barrel since oh, 1994 or so?
My first thought was of the road trip my besty Scotty and I took to Asheville, NC in 1994. Wandering in shock, open-mouthed, through the gift shop as we waited for a table. The place was jamming. Full of blue hairs and toddlers gobbling platters of “down-home” food. Big swirly multicolored lollipops, horehound candy, pioneer chotchkes, and bonnets. I remember lots and lots of prairie bonnets. There was even a paddle like they used to punish kids in the one-room schoolhouse back in the day. Our waitress was so damn nice and the food so damn terrible that even though we both worked in a food court we left her 100% tip. Without a second thought.
I prefer my diner food to be real diner food. Not a CHAIN restaurant. Not a manufactured, pretend, old-timey, but the real thing. Mom and Pop stuff. Hell, Aunt Sarah’s would be a better choice because at least their potato pancakes are the bomb. The buckwheats too. So what if I got a SOUR waffle once after a long night of club hopping. Ugh, what a memory. I give that chain a get-out-of-jail-free card because of fond childhood memories. Shoney’s too. Don’t diss the Big Boy in my presence. Yeah, I’m a hypocrite. I loved ‘em back then, but wouldn’t eat there now. So sue me. I blame that heartless devil nostalgia.
But Cracker Barrel? Bleah. It’ll probably do well though, those places always do. Right near the highway and a hotel. You see a lot of these triumvirates on major interstates: gas station, hotel, Cracker Barrel. So why not on our own little section of I-64? Why the hell not?
Like I said, I prefer diners. The real thing. REAL diners, with chrome, and spinny stools at the bar, and tall glass towers of cake and pie that spin and spin like a carnival wheel. Red leather booths that stick to the backs of your thighs in the summer. Coffee in white mugs. Peppery meatloaf on white plates ringed with red, or green, or blue. The stuff Fish’s Eddy manufactures now. They used to just buy it up from old, closed diners and resell it. Now it’s a brand. Sigh.
Once upon a time, my friends and I stopped at The Frost Diner on our way to Dinosaurland in Front Royal, Virginia (an EXCELLENT roadside attraction, if you’ve never been – GO NOW). We grabbed a booth and “Dot” (real name) came over to take our order. Little dress, white cap on her head, white apron, glasses on a chain, the works.
As we chowed our country-fried steaks and coffee, mashed potatoes and pie, two yuppies walked in. Now I don’t stereotype, but seriously, if you looked these guys up in a dictionary………just imagine more madras, Bass Weejuns, Volvo, ponytail, polo-wearing, collar-flipped-up action than you can shake a stick at. I’m SURE they were headed to an antique store. I’d bet money on it. Said couple looked around some, noses in the air, significant “snotty” factor going on, then asked where the NON-smoking section was.
Dot, without even looking up from her pad, and chewing loudly on her gum, replied,
We howled and howled. They promptly left. And Dot got a big ol’ tip that day. So ask me again why I love diners. And why I don’t give a good hard crap that Cracker Barrel is coming. I mean seriously. Who gives a shit?
I don’t just love diners, I fucking adore them. I seek them out. Places like Wright’s Dairy Rite in Staunton, and The Frost Diner in Warrenton call to me like milkshake Meccas. Every time I find a new one I clap in glee. I obsess on ‘em so much I’ve decided a major blog redesign is in order properly reflecting that love. Look for it in the coming months. I’ll still write about food, of course, but will also highlight great, wonderful, kitschy, gorgeous, yummy diners in our area. Send them to me! I will hallow them with reverence. With all the glory and honor and respect they deserve.