I love diners.

It started years ago in Chicago. My not-yet-retired father enjoyed working so much that he would go into the office even on weekends. (Thankfully, that gene wasn’t passed on.) Proclaiming that he was working only a half-day, he would usually go in at 5a.m. and finish up around noon. If you do the math that constitutes a full day for most sane individuals, but my dad is definitely not part of that demographic. However, it did mean that he got off just in time for lunch with his favorite daughter! (Sorry, Mila.)

So began our weekly tradition of lunching it at a cozy little diner called Jk’s. Forget Denny’s or IHOP or any of those other chains that cater to the “it’s hip to be square” crowd. As much as I love the occasional Grand Slam, those aren’t authentic diners. I’m talking about the joints that haven’t changed their décor since 1978 and don’t plan to anytime soon; those restaurants where mom and dad are running the place, the son is cooking in the kitchen and the daughter is handling the cash register up front. This was Jk’s. Every time we came in, the kindly proprietor would welcome us with open arms and immediately guide us to one of their many worn-in vinyl booths. Another reason why this place rocked? We always got a booth! Score one for Jk’s.

The menu wasn’t exactly ripped from Spago, but I loved it anyway. The food came out fast and was always deliciously hot and greasy. Not to mention, free. (Thanks, Dad!) Plus, the same waitresses who had been working there for years served us each time with smiles and friendly small talk. They knew not only us, but also pretty much every other customer in the place. Everyone was a regular at Jk’s. Some for decades. Without fail, I was typically the youngest person there by a good twenty years, but I didn’t mind one bit. In fact, I preferred it that way.

Though the senior citizen set does get on my nerves from time to time. Their driving skills suck. They sometimes smell funny. (It’s true!) They love repeating the same story over and over again. (Ahem, Dad…) But get me in a diner and the old fogies are my best friends. Why? They’re so chill, man. Maybe it’s that replaced hip or cumbersome cane, but everything seems to move at a slower pace when you go to the right diner.

That said, I never thought I would find a place more beloved than my Jk’s until I experienced Carol’s Garden a few weeks ago. Carol’s Garden? I knew immediately that this place would be awesome – any joint with an old lady’s name in it is golden – and I was not disappointed. Warm welcome by the owner? Check. Booth seating? Check. Super old people? Check, check. I had never seen so many walkers, wheelchairs and oxygen tanks in one location outside of a hospital’s ICU, but these folks were going to have their pancakes come hell or high blood pressure. I was in diner heaven.

Without fail, every few minutes someone from the Great Depression would pass our booth with a caretaker in tow. What I noticed is that not only were they being lovingly watched over by that person, but also everyone at the restaurant greeted them with warmth and genuine kindness. Maybe this is why I love diners so much. Everyone is nice to everyone else. The staff is friendly, the customers are unusually complimentary and everybody is happy, which let’s face it, it a rarity anywhere else in today’s world. How many smiles do you see at the post office, DMV or airport? Plus, it’s reassuring to know that when I’m back in diapers one day, there’s at least one place I can go and have a comfy booth in which to sit. Chairs are hell on hemorrhoids.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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4 Responses to “Sunny Side Up”

I love this one, yes great places like that do exist and I’m almost one of those people you mention. Thanks Anna, keep those blogposts coming.

susan anlage
July 28th, 2011

Aww, thanks, Sue! Carol’s Garden would be perfect for us, too… I was there for over three hours and not once did they harass us to leave. 🙂

July 28th, 2011

Another great post, Anna. Makes me think of an old haunt back in Chicago called S&G’s (short for Sam & George’s) on the corner of Lincoln and Wellington. Est. 1957 so you know they are solid. So many Sundays were spent attaining a satisfactory food coma there, good times! I have yet to find it’s equivalent out here but Carol’s Garden sure sounds intriguing.

Jeremy Ward
July 28th, 2011

Thank you so much, Jeremy! And now I’m totally going to hit up S&G’s next time I go home. 🙂 Also, I probably didn’t make it very clear in the post, but Carol’s Garden is also in the Chicago ‘burbs. I guess that means you’ll have to make a trip home as well!

July 28th, 2011