This morning, I returned to my childhood world. I had breakfast at a diner—one that has not changed much since World War II. Everything—well, most things—were as I remember in diners when I was younger. They are a great American culinary institution that are now few and far between, killed by progress, franchising, and lack of discriminating eaters.
After asking locals (this is an area of rednecks, farmers, and fishermen—their words, not mine), we found ourselves in front of Dave’s Diner on Hutchinson Island, Florida. Less brave souls might not enter, but I like old-fashioned diners and trust local judgment. Inside, I found memories of things past: the same counter with stools; the same Naugahyde benches; the same Formica tables; the same napkin holders; the same sugar, salt, and pepper shakers; the same familiar menu, with eggs any way you like them; pancakes—short or tall stack—French toast (without powdered sugar and fruit one cannot avoid in “modern” restaurants); every side you can imagine, but none of the new-fangled stuff; coffee, tea, milk, and orange juice. The same huge plastic menu also offered sandwiches and a scribbled board let you know about daily lunch specials, all featuring some form of hamburger (cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, meat loaf, Salisbury steak), except Friday, when you can have liver and onions (ugh!). Homemade pies are offered: made by Dave's mother, not Despite being in the heart of fishing country, there was no fish on the menu. Go figure. Overall, it was as if no culinary progress has been made…which I found fantastic.
This was not a operation that invested a lot of the hard-earned money in plant and equipment, which might scare away a lot of picky folks—the kind that gets suckered in by the faux décor of chain restaurants and fancy advertising shots of “modern” cuisine. This diner caters to real folks, suggested by its hours: 11 p.m. to 3 p.m. That’s right: all night and most of the day to cater to fishermen, farmers, and workers. Vacationing folks from the fancy condominiums are welcome and treated just the same as locals. Of course, the snobby types won’t ever know what they’re missing, after they turn up their noses and head for manufactured meal at a franchise. I much prefer the pancakes with a side of bacon to an Egg McMuffin. Recent studies have revealed that the hygiene at McDonalds is not all that great, so that’s another reason to choose places like Dave’s.
I had a much better breakfast and a whiff of nostalgia…
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.