They’re brimming with kitsch and bursting with personality. Oh, yeah-and then there’s the food, which conjures up memories of dishes made in mom’s own kitchen. They’re 10 mustn’t-miss diners of which we just can’t get enough. By Anna + David Kasabian,Â Photographs by Jared Charney
What exactly is it that we love about diners? Is it the eggs all day, any way? The gravy and mashed on the daily specials? Maybe it’s the nostalgic decor, the ruby-red gumdrop plastic chairs, the Pez collections, or the toy trains. Or maybe it’s the people: the regulars, the cooks, and the waitstaff who keep these places going. We scoured the North Shore for some of the funkiest, tastiest, most historic, and just plain interesting diners and discovered that maybe the real reason we love diners is that they actually seem to love us back.
Capitol Diner owner, Bob Fennell
Capitol Diner /Â Â A monitor-roofed Brill diner, built in 1928 by Wason Manufacturing Company in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Capitol Diner is so wonderfully worn into its downtown Lynn site that it appears to have grown straight up from the earth beneath it. Despite its age, it looks great, which is fitting, as this could be the last diner of its kind anywhere in operation today. For that, we have owner Bob Fennell and two generations of his family before him to thank, not only for the Capitol Diner’s survival, but also for its vitality and long run of success. There’s 27 years of it for Joyce, who, every Wednesday, runs the counter and the cooks with the ease of a big-city traffic cop. Her voice, calling out orders, echoes through the air (she writes nothing down). Food flies furiously into and out of her hands. She chats with regulars and serves, clears, and cleans, yet she never breaks a sweat. It’s 40 years of Capitol Diner success for Charlene, seen vigorously buzzing about behind the scenes; the person Bob calls “the backbone of the business.” Everything that’s wonderful about diners can be found right here, including the huge Florentine Omelet ($8) packed with baby spinach, mushrooms, bacon, and Swiss cheese. The Beef Stew ($6.30), an ancient and venerable Capitol Diner staple, uses Bob’s dad’s recipe, comprising fork-and-knife-size chunks of beef, potato, and carrots. 431 Union Street, Lynn, 781-595-9314.
Tucker’s Farm Family Diner owner Dave Tucker with employee Aleah Conrad
Tucker’s Farm Family Diner /Â Â Tucked almost inconspicuously onto a ground floor in a mixed residential neighborhood, you could drive right past this place and, like us, never think to stop in. Well, park your car and get yourself in there. The food is awesome, the decor is a hoot, and the service is great. Owners David and Eleanor Tucker opened almost three years ago, filling the walls with humorous signs, funky art, and lots of Three Stooges memorabilia, David’s favorite guys. So it’s only natural that they serve the Three Stooges combo ($8), a belly-bending spread of three sausages, three rashers of bacon, three helpings of home fries, and three huge pancakes, each with an egg fried into the middle of it. Eat the whole thing and it’s free. But good luck; only one customer has pulled it off since they opened. And don’t miss the fabulous Turkey Pie ($7.20) with loads of turkey and vegetables in a crispy crust, served with buttery mashed potatoes, gloriously lumpy gravy, and jellied cranberry sauce. 67 Maplewood Avenue, Gloucester, 978-281-0803.
Cityside Diner /Â Â Owner Deborah Moody cooked all over the North Shore for 37 years before she bought this 54-seat downtown eatery just two years ago. For 50 years before she bought it, they served breakfast only, but she now offers lunch and dinner, too. In addition to her regular daytime hours, she reopens Fridays and Saturdays at 11:00 p.m. and cooks through to 6 a.m.! She calls her fare 100 percent comfort food-from homemade meatloaf and boiled dinners to liver and onions and baked haddock. If you don’t see it on the menu, she’ll cook it right up for you anyway. It’s a friendly place with great service, and we loved our waitress, Christine, who flew and danced around the dining room and in the middle of it all, pulled up a chair for a friendly chat. The Steak & Eggs ($7.50) is a deal, as is the Garden Omelet ($7.50), packed with fresh broccoli, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and your choice of cheese. 275 Cabot Street, Beverly, 978-922-9080, udine4less.com/citysidediner.
Pat’s Diner /Â Â Some cool old diners are transformed for modern times, perhaps a little too primped. But as every diner aficionado knows, a few others are frozen in time. This is one of those diners. Just minutes north of the Newburyport line, Pat’s is a thriving relic of diner history, a well-preserved 1948 product of the Worcester Lunch Car Company, diner number 824, with cozy booths, a working jukebox and food cooked from the heart. Pat Poulakos Archambault has been the owner, greeter, and cashier since 1999, and she makes you feel welcome when you come and eager to return when you leave. Try the Grilled Meatloaf with Eggs Over Easy ($6.75), served up with home fries and toast. Or better yet, the outrageous French Canadian Pork Pie ($7.99) entree that includes two poached eggs, Boston baked beans, toast, and a slice of pork pie made from Pat’s secret recipe. But we detect a hint of nutmeg. Tell us, Pat, did we crack the code? 11 Bridge Rd, Salisbury 01952, 978-465-3060.
Chef Angela DeLuca from the Little Depot Diner in Peabody
The Little Depot Diner /Â Â Do not push or pull; instead, slide the door open on this diminutive 1929 Worcester Lunch Car Company creation and step into a special zone where time stops, troubles melt away, and grownups get to feel like kids again. Find yourself a spot at one of the 13 stools (that’s it-no booths or tables), order up a meal, and strike up a conversation with the guy to your right, or the gal to your left. When you’re here, it’s easy. Ask for the Train Wreck ($8.95) and not only do you get two poached eggs, corned beef hash, home fries, and brown bread, but you also get the royal treatment: In your honor, a small Lionel electric freight train is dispatched on an around-the-diner trip, running on tracks up near the ceiling. When your order is ready, you’ll hear the toot toot of a real air-powered train whistle, located just outside the kitchen door. For Judy and Jim Miles, The Little Depot Diner is obviously a labor of love and an unending source of delight for them and their patrons. Looking for lunch? Try one of their daily homemade soup specials, like the outstanding Ground Beef Chili ($3.95 for a cup, $4.95 for a bowl). 1 Railroad Avenue, Peabody, 978-977-7775, thelittledepotdiner.com.
Agawam Diner in Rowley
Agawam Diner /Â Â True North Shore natives know The Agawam Diner like their grandmother’s kitchen. Drive by here most days and the parking lot is full, often with a line of people snaking out the door. The iconic stainless-steel prefab was built in 1954 by the Fodero Dining Car Company of New Jersey, and it remains as authentic as the Agawam’s extensive menu of tried-and-true diner staples. But whatever you eat, save room for pie. Especially the Banana Cream Pie ($3.90), made by John “Bubba” Galanis, a descendant of the family that opened the original Agawam in 1940. With a Crisco crust, chunks of ripe banana in an egg-rich custard, and a snowy pile of Dream Whip on top, you will feel the addiction coming on. Go here for an authentic diner experience, where the townies talk, waitresses know what the regulars want, and the food is the very definition of a diner. U. S. Route 1 & 133, Rowley, 978-948-7780. MORE AGAWAM: And have you seen our spring fashion photo shoot and exclusive behind-the-scenes video from Agawam Diner?
Drive-In Diner /Â Â If you’ve headed home from Logan up Route 1A in Revere lately, you’ve probably noticed the sign on the right, about a quarter mile past Suffolk Downs. In fact, you really can’t miss the sign at five feet high with hot pink lettering, announcing that this-right here, make no mistake-is the home of the Drive-In Diner. So distinctive and commanding is that sign that one gentleman, spotting it from the air as his flight from Chicago approached Logan, headed straight there for lunch after landing. True story, according to Mort Siegel and Colleen McGillicuddy, who bought the location in 2009, cleaned up the existing diner, erected the now-famous sign, added nostalgic touches around the dining area, and, thankfully, didn’t do much else. What they ended up with is a buffed-up, well-lit museum piece of a no-frills neighborhood diner, circa 1960. Nothing fancy, which is exactly the point. Take the French Toast with Bacon ($5.99): It’s hot, fresh, and exactly what you’d expect from a diner. Or try the crispy, tasty Fried Chicken ($7.50) served with three scoops of smashed potatoes (skins and all) with a hint of garlic and hot chicken gravy. 419 Lee Burbank Highway, Route 1A North, Revere, 781-284-1238.
Driftwood /Â Â Everything about Old Town Marblehead that’s charming, eccentric, quirky, and loveable is somehow summed up in the Driftwood. Not much wider than its door and two windows facing Front Street, the ramshackle red structure dates to the 18th century, when it probably served as a boat builder’s shop. Its current incarnation as a dining spot goes back at least to the 1930s, when the Bide-A-Wee Restaurant operated here. For the last 60-plus years, through a succession of owners and names, it has resolutely been exactly what it is now: an unfussy little neighborhood hangout, embraced as much for its role as a community meeting place as it is a source of food and drink. The look is pure Marblehead kitsch: shark’s jaw, harpoon, fish net, folk art, and other nostalgic items grace the ceiling and walls. The menu is straight-ahead, no-nonsense diner fare, including a satisfying Full Stack of Banana Pancakes ($5.25) and a BLT ($4.40) that goes to show how virtuous some foods can actually be when stripped down to their bare essentials. 63 Front Street, Marblehead, 781-631-1145.
Salem Diner waitress Georgia Georgakakis
Salem Diner /Â Â There is an inexplicable allure, at least for some, opening their hearts (and wallets) to the noble but harrowing mission of rescuing a diner. This is the journey George and Zoe Elefteriadis embarked upon three years ago when they bought the darkened, dilapidated 1941 Sterling Streamliner, just across the street Salem State University, and set about making things right. Soon, the leaky roof and neglected fixtures were restored, once again expressing the dignity and pride of the sturdy, 70-year-old structure, built just up the road in Merrimac, Massachusetts. You can see the satisfaction in George’s and Zoe’s eyes as they greet customers-regulars and newcomers alike-ensuring that everyone feels right at home and leaves smiling. Which we did after our Greek-style Spinach Pie ($4.45) made of tangy feta and fresh spinach swathed in buttery phyllo dough and baked until golden; as well as our Scrambled Eastern Wrap ($4.50) made with eggs, ham, American cheese, and onions in a fresh wheat wrap, grilled crisp on two sides and served with home fries. 70 Loring Avenue, Salem, 978-741-7918.
Depot Diner /Â Â This five-year-old, 83-seat powerhouse is what you’d expect to find in Brooklyn or Manhattan. It’s big, bustling, and zealously driven by the trinity of great-eatery creeds. First, everyone is family. Second, the staff takes pride in everything they do. Third, it’s all about the food. Just ask chefs, owners, and brothers Peter and Andreas Hantzopoulas. There’s energy in the air and most noticeably in the servers who, in feats of daring and skill, glide swiftly about the diner, two, three, sometimes four heaped plates of steaming food on their arms as they race off to hungry tables. Food shows up fast and hot in unstinting portions, and the quality is exceptional. We like the Fresh Vegetarian Omelet ($7.99) with broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms, and choice of cheese. And we love the Baked Oatmeal ($4.99), a tasty concoction that’s a sort of hybrid of oatmeal, bread pudding, and custard. We also flipped for the Grilled Rueben Sandwich ($8.75) with house-made corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing on rye. 22 Enon Street, Route 1A, Beverly, 978-922-6200, depot-diner.com.
Tucker’s Farm Family Diner