My first meal in New York City was at Tom's Restaurant, immortalised first in Tom's Diner by Suzanne Vega, but probably more popularly known as the diner hangout for the characters in Seinfeld.
I was feeling a little lightheaded as I entered my 26th hour without sleep but I was excited about eating in my first ever diner... from Seinfeld!
It was about 6pm as we came in from the freezing cold, a shivering 0C / 32F (hey, I'm from Sydney!) and the cosy atmosphere was much welcomed. The windows were festooned with Christmas tinsel, carols were playing, and the entire diner had booth seating (these things impress Australian females).
I noticed, bemused, as three solitary diners at the counter picked at their plates, eyes glued to the breaking news on the television behind the server (see? It's just like the movies).
A stout but friendly waiter arrived as we sat down, bearing glasses of iced water (we don't get this in Sydney--the instant free water I mean) and then brandishing a pen held aloft over a thick notepad. We had to send him away as we removed coats, jackets, hats and gloves, and it took me a while to realise that the posts between booths were deliberately high so as to accommodate hooks for such wintry paraphernalia (see what Australians notice?!?).
The menu was long (six pages!) and comprehensive but I chose the Reuben, a uniquely American concoction I had read and heard much about. My friend had the Lumberjack, an all-day breakfast feast.
Two pancakes, two eggs any style, one sausage,
two strips of bacon and toast
The toast came as ordinary supermarket slices of bread and the eggs arrived more like an omelette than scrambled. I was fascinated by the bacon, which were super thin and fried to a crisp in a corrugated pattern. It was like it had been cooked in a pattern sandwich press perhaps?
My Reuben was preceded by a complimentary bowl of soup. I chose broccoli over vegetable, and I found the accompanying crackers a novelty thing too (we always have bread rolls back home, and yes, I soon realised that in the States, soup always comes with crackers).
Broccoli soup with crackers
Reuben sandwich $6.50
Corned beef with swiss cheese and sauerkraut on rye bread
with French fries and a cup of soup
The Reuben was delicious. I do like corned beef, and the sauerkraut, cheese and toast combination was like a morph between a meal and a hamburger. Kinda homecooked yet fast-foody at the same time.
Fries were crispy albeit a little lardy in texture (another tongue-coating feature I would have to get used to in the States). The sauerkraut helped offset some of the grease.
Paying for our meal elicited a giggle of delight as I spotted the cashier sitting on a stool by the exit. Using an ancient manual register, he methodically punched in the price of our meals, causing the 1920s-style white-on-black numbers to whir to a sales tax calculated total (grr... sales tax).
It's fairly obvious that Seinfeld-wise, only the exterior shot of the diner was used (and yes, the producers removed the word "Tom" from the signage in later episodes to avoid paying royalty fees). The inside set-up is nothing like the show, although there are plenty of signed caricatures from Seinfeld staff (plus a copy of The Kramer) adorning the walls.
But as a first foray into the world of diners, I like it! The menus are so comprehensive (about 100 choices!), the food is cheap and the atmosphere is low-key and casual. It's a convenient option for solitary diners, plus you get to watch TV while you eat! And the staff all wear little white paper hats! And the bell rings when you push open the door!
Cheap and cheerful.
2880 Broadway, New York, NY 10025
Tel: +1 (212) 864 6137
Cross Street: 112th Street
Subway: No. 1 to 110th St-Cathedral Pkwy
Open: Sun-Wed 6am-1:30am, Thu-Sat 24 hours
Note: Add about 8% for sales tax
Expected tipping in New York is 15-20%
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12/05/2005 11:59:00 p.m.