Thursday 20 October 2016

Florida: Diners, Dives and Luncheonettes

Everywhere I reviewed!
After suggesting you watch this space, I can only apologise for the three month silence. Unforgivable. However, I wasn't completely idle in Florida - after my occasional rants about online restaurant reviews (here, and here if you need a refresher) - I thought I'd give it a go myself.

It's not easy. I'm too English to give just anyone a five star review. I'm too polite to post a bad review. With just a few exceptions, it's a long list of four star reviews.

Still, I stuck with it and reviewed every place I ate and if nothing else it gives me a diary to look back on. If you'd like to read them too, I think this link to Google maps should work.

Angel's, Palatka
However there were two places I thought deserved more than four stars and four lines in a Google review. Not only was the food delicious, but they were historically interesting too.

The first is Angel's diner in Palatka. This authentic 1932 diner is far from the diner's spiritual home of the American Northeast. It also occurred to me that this is the first traditional diner I've eaten in.

A diner novice, I commented to the waitress that it looked like a train's dining carriage, and she agreed that it probably once was. As romantic as that notion might be, it's unlikely to be true.

In fact, it's much more likely that Angel's diner was prefabricated in a factory and shipped to Palatka. The long, carriage-like shape makes it much easier to transport on the back of a lorry or on a rail car.

See, it looks like a train!
The opportunity to make this shape a feature wasn't wasted by designers like Roland Stickney, who designed the iconic Sterling diner, heavily inspired by the Sterling Streamliner train dining cars.

It's unlikely Patalaka is an original Sterling - I'm sure I would have discovered if it was - but it's very much in the same style.

So in some ways, the diner is very much like the static caravan, much beloved of British holiday resorts (or, perhaps, the American trailer) - but with a bigger kitchen and booth seating - and delivered to wherever a local entrepreneur has bought land and thinks they'll have passing trade.

Seriously good onion rings
But what if you weren't just a guy with a dream and a patch of land? What if you already had a general story or a pharmacy (in the more wide ranging American sense). Well, that's where the luncheonette, or lunch counter, came in.

Arranged like a diner, with seats around a counter and using very similar cooking equipment, it could easily be added to any existing store with enough space.

Which one supported JFK's bottom?
Green's Pharmacy in Florida's Palm Beach is host to Green's Luncheonette, an institution that's been there since 1938.

Palm Beach was also home to the 'Winter White House', John F Kennedy's winter escape, and Green's hasn't changed an iota since JFK would come for a burger, fries and a chocolate shake.

I skipped the shake, but the cheeseburger would definitely take some beating. In upmarket Palm Beach, Green's was charmingly old fashioned without being 'retro'.

In fact, that was something rather pleasing about both Angel's and Green's - neither had succumbed to over restoration, neither had jukeboxes of 50s hits, nor pictures of Marilyn Monroe or Elvis.

It was packed!
Both had patina and been allowed to age gracefully. Both were also packed, so neither had to try too hard to attract the passing tourist dollar.

I am, of course, boiling up for a rant about over-restoration, about America's sometimes perplexing attitudes towards it heritage. But that's another post, for another time. See you in three months?

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