New England is the birthplace of the American diner. It’s also where diners and diner cuisine have developed most fully over the years. From the lunch wagons of 1870s Providence, Rhode Island, to the gleaming steel-and-glass palaces of today, New England diners have long served as community gathering places, offering comfort food at affordable prices […]
New England is the birthplace of the American diner. It’s also where diners and diner cuisine have developed most fully over the years. From the lunch wagons of 1870s Providence, Rhode Island, to the gleaming steel-and-glass palaces of today, New England diners have long served as community gathering places, offering comfort food at affordable prices in a warm, homelike atmosphere. Food and travel writer Mike Urban, author of The New England Diner Cookbook (Countryman Press, 2014) has visited dozens of these iconic eateries throughout the six-state region. Here’s a sampling of his picks for the best diners in New England.
A1 Diner Perched on metal stilts on a hillside some twenty feet above a parking lot, the A1’s precarious position in the world belies its reputation as the most gourmet diner in New England. Co-owner Michael Giberson is constantly innovating in the kitchen of his 1940s Worcester diner car, coming up with such dishes as Syrian Cod Cakes in a Spiced Tomato Sauce; Lamb with Eggplant Curry; and Spinach with Dates, Red Onions, and Sumac-smoked Pita. You may also enjoy regular diner food, such as a plate of beans and franks or the A1’s famous fresh-ground beef burger with hand-cut french fries. Gardiner, ME. 207-582-4804
O’Rourke’s Diner After rising from the ashes of a devastating fire in 2006, this diner has galvanized its reputation as the best in New England. Owner Brian O’Rourke’s Irish heritage shines through in such menu items as the Dubliner Omelet, corned beef hash, and Irish Soda Bread. (The diner does all its own baking.) Another not-to-miss dish is the Steamed Cheeseburger, a central Connecticut specialty. Brian is constantly innovating in his kitchen, and every day features some hitherto unheard of (and unforgettable) dish springing from his creative mind and showcasing the freshest of carefully selected local ingredients. Middletown, CT. 860-346-6101; orourkesmiddletown.comModern Diner Back in the late 1970s, the Modern was the first diner to make it onto the National Register of Historic Places. This 1940s Sterling Streamliner diner, owned by chef Nick Demou, is best known these days for its amazing weekend brunches. With such dishes as Linguica Hash Benedict; Lobster Cheese Grits; and a Sun-Dried Tomato, Caramelized Onion, and Feta Cheese Omelet, the Modern attracts devotees from Providence to Boston and all points between. The straight-up diner food is also excellent, especially the home-cooked meat loaf and the liver and onions. Pawtucket, RI. 401-726-8390Moody’s Diner A waystation on mid-coast Maine’s U.S. Highway 1 since the 1930s, this third-generation Moody family institution is known far and wide for its magnificent pies. Still using co-founder Bertha Moody’s lard-laden piecrust recipe, you can’t go wrong with any pie ordered here. The chocolate cream pie has been voted the most popular by customers, but Moody’s four-berry pie and walnut pie aren’t far behind in the voting. Other dishes of note include fresh doughnuts made daily and the half-pound Percy Burger, named after co-founder Percy Moody. Moxie soda is the drink of choice here. Waldoboro, ME. 207-832-7785; moodysdiner.com4 Aces Diner Camouflaged beneath a red clapboard building, this 1952 Worcester diner car serves up heaping helpings of comfort food during the week then turns gourmet on weekends, when it caters to the students and faculty of nearby Dartmouth College. To illustrate, one of the most popular weekday dishes is a four-cheese grilled cheese sandwich; on weekends customers clamor for such delicacies as the Pan-Seared Tuna Cake Eggs Benedict. The 4 Aces makes fresh doughnuts daily, and on weekends only, there’s a maple-glazed sour cream doughnut that’s cut in half, tossed on the grill, and served with hot maple syrup and whipped cream. West Lebanon, NH. 603-298-5515; 4acesdiner.com