Category Archives: Essays & Rants

New York City Diners

 

coffee container

New York City Diners

There are some places that want to be perceived as diners and others that are intrinsically and naturally diners. The latter, which are usually family run, can be recognized by very large menus, a few traditional Greek dishes on those menus, a huge selection of Danish, muffins and elaborate cakes displayed on and behind the counter and never letting your coffee cup get less than half full. They serve breakfast twenty-four hours a day and fast service is provided by people who are professional waiters and waitresses. Their coffee-to-go is usually in a blue and white paper cup with, “It’s Our Pleasure to Serve You,” framed by two Ionic columns.

 

cake 4
City Diner – Upper West Side

 

Lately, in New York City, mostly Manhattan, a new type of chain diner has been opening. They try for a 1950’s retro style featuring Doo Wop interior design with old signs and maybe some muscle car parts hanging on the walls. Their menus list items with cute names that they want us to believe mythical Eisenhower-era Americans lived on; burgers, shakes and sundaes. Was there ever a “Malt Shop” in New York City? Maybe there was in television land where the Nelson boys and Donna Reed’s kids hung out after school but no, not New York. No matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” sipping coffee in any of these Disneyfied places. There’s something contrived about the “new” diners that I would hate to see catch on.

I hope tourists don’t have a BLT at one of these theatre sets and think, “Wow, I’ve eaten in a New York City diner!” because they haven’t.

Some of the old favorites are gone now; the Market, Munson and Cheyenne, but there are enough of the originals left to easily give anyone who wants it, a genuine diner experience.

A handful of them still have waitresses with teased blond hair who will ask you, “What’cha havin’, hon?”

How could anyone give that up for a second-rate copy?

 

diner 4
Neptune Diner – Astoria

Chicken Hearts and Mushrooms

Aunt Carolne
Aunt Caroline

 

Chicken Hearts and Mushrooms

My great aunt Caroline could cook weeds and make them taste good. She had a dish her guests would often hope for at lunch. She’d sauté chicken hearts and mushrooms in olive oil with crumpled dried pepperoncini –  simple ingredients which came together as something very special. The mushrooms were gathered by my Uncle Tony in his forays into the wilds of Staten Island to places only he knew.

When he went to pick wild mushrooms he’d be gone all day and Aunt Caroline would say, “He thinks I don’t know, but after he gets the mushrooms, he plays poker with his friends. As long as he brings me the mushrooms, I don’t say anything.”

The first time I can remember her serving the chicken hearts, she looked at me and without asking if I’d prefer it, cut a couple  of slices of crunchy Italian bread and spread it with cream cheese and Welch’s grape jelly.

“Robbie’s ‘Merican,” she said to my mother, “so I made him a sandwich I saw on television.” I was glad to get the cream cheese and jelly but eventually acquired a taste for her chicken hearts.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb chicken hearts
  • 1 lb sliced mushrooms (your choice)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Dried peperoncini to taste
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Preparation:

Wash, dry and season the chicken hearts with salt and black pepper. Sear them in oil in a very hot pan and remove. Sauté sliced mushrooms in the remaining fat & oil. When done return the chicken hearts. Break up 3 or 4 dried peperoncini into the pan stir and serve when the peppers soften.

Chicken hearts and mushrooms
Chicken hearts and mushrooms