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The Ultimate Diner Meal

Many diners have menus that look more like novels, they are so thick...however, when I go to a diner, I find I order the same things no matter where I am. Just curious if others have their "ultimate diner meal(s)" they typically order at ANY diner, no matter how many choices there are.

I guess another (similar) question is whether you have a "test meal" at diners when you go to a new one. In other words, "If Diner XYZ can put out a good burger, I consider it a decent place"

The answer to both could be the same...for me I would say Grilled Cheese and/or Omelette.

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  1. Hot open-faced roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy. Vegetables optional. Extra points for lumpy mashed potatoes.

    1 Reply
    1. re: flavrmeistr

      Agreed. Turkey may be substituted, especially in November.

    2. Grilled cheese and bacon, yes.

      Ah, the omelette. Since cheese must be, what, a thousand dollars a slice, I never, ever get enough cheese in my cheese omelette. I have asked and indicated I will pay extra to get more cheese much more cheese than egg, but nope, I never get my cheese omelette the way I like it. Ever.

      Oh well.

      When you said 'ultimate diner meal', I immediately thought of my perhaps last meal (outside of donuts, peanut butter and ice cream) if calories were no issue. No place makes this like a diner does: corned beef hash, home fries, eggs over easy, bacon and sausage, pancakes, lots of ketchup and jelly (strawberry, keep the grape), buttered toast and coffee. Yum.

      7 Replies
      1. re: dolores

        LOL at the $1000 a slice comment - so true. I've finally convinced my local deli to give me (gasp) TWO slices of cheese if I order an egg sandwich with sausage. It took, oh, at least 6 months of begging, pleading, cajoling and finally bribing. I do pay an extra buck for the cheese, but it's worth it to have it MY way!

        1. re: Catskillgirl

          Catskillgirl, mrbuffer and i are from Orange County (Westbrookville) before moving to Mass for work. Ever to to the Blue Horizon diner in Monticello? The ultimate blueberry pancakes...ever

          1. re: mrsbuffer

            I haven't been there, but do get to Monticello once in awhile. My bakery is in Ellenville with a retail outlet / cybercafe in Monticello. I'll make it a point to try them - thanks!

            1. re: Catskillgirl

              What bakery is that? mrbuffer used to work for ellenville vending for a brief (thank god!) time

              1. re: Catskillgirl

                The only place I went to when I was in Orange County in the Monticello-area that was diner-like (not really a diner) was Lefty's. There was also a place in walden, NY (whose name slips my memory) that had great pie....that may have been a diner.

                1. re: L_W

                  Blue Horizon is on Rt 42 across from ShopRite. I believe that if you follow 42 north, you end up in Kiamesha Lake and the old Concord.

                2. re: Catskillgirl

                  CG: how long has your bakery in ellenville been there? we used to have a family cabin in wurtsboro hills - i spent many summer weekends there as a child.

          2. When it comes to diners, I have two test meals. The first is eggs over medium with homefries and toast. If the whites are firm and the yolks are liquid and the potatoes have flavor and the toast is crisp....ding...ding......ding! When it's any other meal, yes my test is a burger and fries. Good bun, moist tasty beef and crispy fries. we have a winner! But my first test for diners and any other restaurant is cole slaw, I've never been to a restaurant of any sort that had bad or mediocre cole slaw and good food.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jnk

              Corned beef hash or a nice flame broiled burger.

              1. Meat loaf is my standard of quality for a diner. Tasty, moist, devoid of experimental additions, just good old-fashioned meat loaf. Extra points if it's topped with bacon.

                1 Reply
                1. re: BobB

                  I'm with you, Bob. A good meat loaf, decent gravy, mashed potatoes, and some other vegetable that's not over-cooked mush. Mountain Jack's used to have a good meatloaf that they grilled for extra flavour. Not bad!

                2. To me diner says one thing: a hot turkey sandwich, mashed potatoes, gravy (it can even be that gelatinous yellow gunk) and green beans.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: hungry100

                    It has to be real roast turkey, though. Not that turkey roll stuff. Yeesh.

                    1. re: flavrmeistr

                      Diner test food to me is a turkey club. If the turkey is fake, I'll never go back. If they use that cheap, sweet, sugary, fake mayo garbage, but the turkey is real, I'll go back, and try a patty melt, or stick with the turkey and bring my own mayo packets. If the patty melt test passes(hand formed 1/2 lb burger on grilled rye with grilled onions,) then I'll try a rueben. If I can get a club, patty melt, or rueben all in the same place, then I've found my new diner. I currently have a great one that makes all three spectacular. Problem is, they only have one good soup. Split pea on Tuesdays. I can only get a perfect meal there on Tuesdays since all of their soup every other day of the week is horrid. :-(

                      1. re: gordeaux

                        Decent bean soup is a good indicator. Also, any place that has hot pepper vinegar on the counter and a large number of vegetable side choices (mostly in the South). In the northeast, if they have those big breakfast sausages it's a good sign.

                  2. Cheeseburger with fries well done and crispy or an open face turkey sandwich smothered in gravy...

                    1. French toast and creamed chipped beef. You know its a good diner when there is SOS between the pieces of toast!

                      1. The TUNA MELT, extra points for creativity and presentation. I think the best one I ever had was with swiss, open face on an english muffin with tomato.

                        It was delicious.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: adventuresinbaking

                          Yesss, the tuna melt. Boy do I want one now.

                          Chicken fingers, fish n chips, onion rings, malted milkshakes...

                          And I can always tell the quality of a diner by its salad dressings. If the ranch is smooth and liquidy, and the blue cheese is liquid with chunks of cheese in it, I'm usually going to like the rest of the food.

                        2. Burger & fries test for me too, but prefaced by a bowl of soup. Beef barley especially - some diners make it better than mine.

                          1. If I had to pick a test meal, I would probably say a burger and fries.

                            Honestly, I don't get the appeal of diners like a lot of people do. Is it a generational thing? I find it fine for something like a burger or eggs and home fries, but I generally find that diner renditions of other foods like meatloaf, spinach pie, soups have been on the most part mediocre to poor. Perhaps I haven't gone to the right ones. Maybe I don't appreciate it because I've been surrounded by lots of diners growing up. Maybe it's that I can find much better versions of diner items individually at other restaurants. I also find that what I make at home is so much tastier than a diner. Ok. Enough ranting.

                            1. Diner food to me is breakfast food - it can either be the grand finale to a night of liberal libations or after a good nights sleep.

                              My #1 favorite diner meal is a western omlette with cheddar cheese - don't sneak me any nasty american cheese. It has to be accompanied by a mound of crispy homefries with plenty of onions and black pepper mixed in there. On the side is a perfect onion bagel with cream cheese and orange marmalade. This is all washed down with a glass of tomato juice and coffee, lots of coffee, coffee with cream and sugar, just keep it coming.

                              I am salivating just writing this post! I think it has been way too long since I have had the perfect diner breakfast.

                              1. fr me, it was always about the potatoes. i haven't been to one in years, but growing up in jersey there were only two reasons for me to eat at the diner...cheese fries [sometimes with gravy], and
                                home fries [extra crispy, with plenty of ketchup].

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                  Fries with brown gravy and a cheeseburger, medium rare (i'll always go back if they cook it to order)
                                  Tuna melt (as mentioned above ghg in this post) and pizza fries.
                                  Decent soup as an appy.

                                2. Patty melt.

                                  Grilled cheese.

                                  Eggs - American scrambled (better be very moist and tender, not dry and tough aka fluffy); omelette (on the tender side, not tough aka fluffy); poached.

                                  Toast - better have the option of pumpernickel and seeded rye; wheat should be whole wheat.

                                  Good sausages (either link or patty) with a coarse texture and good flavor (red pepper and sage is the American classic - marjoram and garlic also good, though more central European).

                                  Since I do not like a cold layer of slimy condiments in my sandwiches, my variation on the BLT is to substitute peanut butter for mayo....

                                  A diner that serves slices of roast fresh ham (that is, roast uncured leg of pork) gets bonus points.

                                  Moussaka and spanikopita....

                                  1. Breakfast:
                                    Bacon and two eggs over easy and hashbrowns with catchup and Tobasco, coffee.
                                    Is the bacon good quality and not overcooked?
                                    Is the white of the egg just cooked and are the yolks nice and yellow.. not pale?
                                    Are the hashbrowns crisp on the outside and moist and potatoy inside?
                                    Is the coffee drip-brewed and kept in a thermos so it doesn't burn?
                                    Is the water free of disinfectant taste? Ice cubes fresh?

                                    If the classic bacon and eggs passes.. next time I'll order an omelette and expect it to be well filled, moist inside, and tender.

                                    I can't eat wheat so a number of diner meals are out for me, but when a diner has a hash of some kind, I'm hooked. For lunch, corned beef hash with a house salad on the side is pretty indicative of the quality of the place.. I don't mind an iceburg lettuce salad, just make sure it's crisp and fresh and plentiful.

                                    We have a local diner that will grill my rice bread and make me a MOST delicious hand-formed hamburger with real cheddar, red onions, and a side of mayo. Their french fries are thick, twice fried, and delicious.

                                    My dad judged a diner by its chicken fried steak.. must be moist inside with a thick gravy. Mom loved diner shortribs. When I was a kid.. I loved the twirly counter seats.


                                    1. Latkes! Chopped liver!! (At least here in NYC.) If a diner can make a good order of latkes, I'm sold for life.

                                      Outside of NYC, a place that makes good home fries wins my undying devotion. (I back goodhealthgourmet completely.) There is a truckstop right outside of the town where I went to college called Lou's that makes wonderful homefries -- with crispy, burnt edges, carmelized onions, fried with the perfect amount of grease. I still make a pilgrimage every two years or so.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: cimui

                                        cimui: where is lou's? the home fries sound perfect :)

                                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                          between hanover and lebanon, NH. there's something about eating homefries in the crisp, mountain air of an autumn morning, too, that's impossible to beat. :)

                                          1. re: cimui

                                            hmmm...NH is a real schlep from here, but maybe the next time i drive up to CT to see friends i'll take a little detour & make an adventure out of it :) thanks for the info!

                                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                              ah, i know it's a schlep, but part of the pilgrimage for me is for the memories.

                                              you should let me know your hidden finds in NJ, too, if they're still around!

                                              1. re: cimui

                                                they're not so hidden...the tick tock diner in clifton never disappoints.

                                                my go-to places in HS & college were the royal cliffs diner in englewood cliffs, & the plaza diner in fort lee. it's been MANY years since i've been to either one, so i can't vouch for the current quality. but, the good news for manhattanites is that both are right over the GWB [choice will depend on upper vs. lower level]...perfect for when you're starving & it's late at night.

                                      2. Done well, with "real" ingredients, Open-faced Turkey Sandwich with "real" mashed potatoes and a "made-from-scratch" turkey gravy. These are difficult to find, in this day of "turkey roll," dehydrated potatoes and canned/jarred turkey gravy.

                                        Not that long ago, I asked a waitress, in a major resort town, for "real mashed potatoes." Her reply was, "in this town, you ain't gonna' find any. Best go back to wheere you hail from and make 'em yourself." All too common in the great US.

                                        During a major sports event (Grand Prix Tennis Event), I encountered great Open-faced Turkey with all the right stuff. During the lunch break, I dined on this three days running. By the fourth day, I had convinced some of the other photographers covering the event, what I had found. About six of us hit the diner and all ordered the Open-faced Turkey Sandwich. Well, they had changed chefs the night before and it was now all artificial - from a can, or from a box! My credibility was shot, and most of the other photographers wouldn't even talk to me.


                                        1. Patty melt or tuna melt (occasionally a burger, though).

                                          1. If in the mood for breakfast
                                            2 eggs over easy homefries, rye toast
                                            + belgian waffle w.syrup and butter

                                            Tuna salad toasted bagel + fries
                                            Small greek salad

                                            1. When I think of a diner, I think of breakfast food (not necessarily FOR breakfast). I'll either always order a burger or:

                                              eggs with sausage hash browns and toast.

                                              1. chicken fried steak