When the winter winds begin to blow, one’s thoughts turn to comfort food—and the best comfort food in New England may be found in its numerous, varied diners. Yankee contributor Mike Urban, author of The New England Diner Cookbook(Countryman Press, 2014) has visited dozens of New England diners in recent years. Here are his picks for the top 10 diner dishes in New England.
Beans and Franks, A1 Diner Food doesn’t get any more diner than this classic from the A1. This beans-and-franks plate is hearty, satisfying, and easy on the wallet. Made from B&M baked beans (based in Portland) and served with two plump, grilled franks and a side of coleslaw, this depression-era special defines what New England diners are all about. 3 Bridge Street, Gardiner, ME. 207-582-4804Corned Beef Hash, Laurel Diner Owner Pete Homick has developed his amazing corned beef hash recipe over many years, and he keeps it a closely guarded secret. What we know for sure is that there is plenty of expertly cooked brisket, carefully selected potatoes, and finely chopped onions in the mix. Homick spent thousands of hours working the griddle to perfect his recipe, and it’s well worth a special trip just to give it a try. (His hash browns are to die for, also.) 544 Main Street South, Southbury, CT. 203-264-8218Dubliner Omelet, O’Rourke’s Diner Of all the wonderful things coming out of the kitchen at O’Rourke’s, the best just may be the Dubliner Omelet. Stuffed with corned beef hash and cheddar cheese, this delectable tri-folded omelet comes topped with a couple of slabs of Irish bacon and fingerling potatoes and Irish soda bread on the side. 728 Main Street, Middletown, CT. 860-346-6101; orourkesmiddletown.comFour-Berry Pie, Moody’s Diner Moody’s is one of the top diners for pie in New England, and the four-berry leads the parade of wonderful pies that flow out of Moody’s kitchen all day long. Each slice is stuffed to overflowing with blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries, all lovingly baked in Bertha Moody’s famous lard-laden piecrust. 1885 Atlantic Highway, Waldoboro, ME. 207-832-7785; moodysdiner.comAmerican Chop Suey, Agawam Diner “American Chop,” as it’s referred to by diner aficionados, is more Italian than Chinese. But you won’t care once you tuck into a plate of this stick-to-your-ribs diner specialty that reaches its apex at the Agawam. Chock-full of ground beef, macaroni, bell peppers, tomatoes, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes, this hearty dish never disappoints. 166 Newburyport Turnpike, Rowley, MA. 978-948-7780Red Flannel Hash, Maine Diner New England boiled dinner is served as a special at the Maine on Thursday nights. The leftovers are refrigerated then transformed into the diner’s famous red flannel hash on Saturday mornings and served until it runs out. Chopped beets lend the red hue to this delectable New England breakfast dish, which goes great with all the wonderful meat-and-egg dishes on the menu. 2265 Post Road, Wells, ME. 207-646-4441; mainediner.comCranberry Apple French Toast, Modern Diner This weekends-only special at the Modern is as New England as diner food gets. The French toast is smothered with sliced, cooked apples and cranberries, a sprinkling of granola, and a tart, sweet syrup made from a reduction of locally harvested apple cider. 364 East Avenue, Pawtucket, RI. 401-726-8390; moderndineri.comIndian Pudding, Sonny’s Blue Benn Diner This classic New England dessert reaches new heights at the predominantly vegetarian Blue Benn diner. Made with cornmeal and blackstrap molasses, seasoned with allspice and ginger, and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, this fresh-baked dessert also makes a nice breakfast dish when topped with cream. 314 North Street, Bennington, VT. 802-442-5140Meatloaf, Dottie’s Diner Dorie Sperry, Dottie’s owner, has come up with a recipe for meatloaf that would make even the most persnickety trucker order seconds. Sperry mixes in finely diced red and green bell peppers and healthy dollops of Dijon mustard and marjoram to give the loaf some attitude. She tops it with a jalapeno-inflected gravy that makes you sit up and take notice. 740 Main Street North, Woodbury, CT. 203-263-2516; dottiesdiner.comChili, Red Arrow Diner The chili at the Red Arrow is not a fancy-pants, Tex-Mex version with jalapenos, habaneros, and other exotic spices from south of the New England border. Its main flavor enhancer is good, old-fashioned chili sauce, the kind you find on supermarket shelves everywhere. This is a slightly sweet, very meaty chili, and it’s served around the clock at this renowned 24/7/365 diner. 61 Lowell Street, Manchester, NH. 603-626-1118; redarrowdiner.com
Want more diners? Check out Mike’s list of the 15 Best Diners in New England!
Do you have a favorite diner dish?