This is the Place
Amazing Breakfast — Lunch Was Out to Lunch
Although I had eaten takeout and leftovers from family members from Jim's Diner, I had never been there. I always wanted to, but it just never seemed to work out. Well, on the Fourth of July, I made it my mission: go to Jim's Diner. Not only did I succeed but, apparently, it was one of the rare times that the place was open on that holiday.
From the outside, Jim's Diner is not much to look at. It looks like two white boxes pushed together, with painted signage on the windows that reminds me of an old butcher shop I had been to when I was a kid. The parking lot is small and oddly shaped. It looks like a real greasy spoon but, as the Philadelphian proves so very clearly, some greasy spoons are the place to find really good food at an excellent price. Jim's Diner is no exception.
When I entered, the first thing I did was stop dead in my tracks and stare. From the inside, the place somehow manages to be bigger than it looks from the outside. There are booths on the left side, a bar right in front of the door, and two rows of booths on the right side. The bar has a setup for shakes and sundaes like the old-fashioned soda fountains, and the decor is striking. There is a lot of red-brown wood, like an old sailboat with mahogany trim. The ceiling is black (which is definitely different), but just adds to the sense of being in a different place. There is a register right by the door but, when faced with the interior, I didn't even notice it till much later. On the walls are paintings and photographs depicting scenes from Greece, sailboats and images from the Northwest U.S. Behind the bar is a stainless steel-trimmed window like the diners in the movies, and it smells like good food.
Once the shock wore off, I looked around and saw that the place was nearly full, a lot of people seated at the boots (only three were open) and all of them needed to be wiped down. After another minute or two, an older woman came out and told me to sit wherever I want, she will get them wiped down for me. All in a thick, Greek accent. So I followed her as she asked me which one I wanted and she wiped it down for me first. As I waited, a white-haired man in a corner booth smiled and nodded at me, as if saying, "Good choice, young man." Then I looked around and saw that every other patron there was the age of my parents, with a few who were the age of my grandparents. Some of the booths have torn upholstery, as do a few of the round stools mounted to the floor at the bar, but the booth I sat on was still comfortable.
When she brought the menu and took my drink order (I went with Dr. Pepper), I told her that she looked busy. She said that they really were and that they were usually closed for a week for the Fourth of July and they went to Las Vegas, but they were open because there was a soccer game and they charge to use the parking lot. (The building is across the canal from the stadium and across State Street from Jordan Commons.) She then said that she would be back with my drink and to take my order. On the way back to the kitchen, she paused to chastise a couple old men for not finishing their food, which was answered with some white-haired sass.
When she came back, she had my drink in a glass mug that was about as tall as my fist, faceted, and just looked cool. You don't see glassware with character much anymore. I then ordered the Jim's Special, which consisted of scrambled eggs, ham, fried potatoes, pancakes and I added a side of bacon. She then left to put in the order. As I waited, I watched her moving around, wiping tables and bussing them, returning newspapers to the bar, talking to customers, receiving payment for meals, cleaning menus, and seating people. You name it, she was doing it. She was a bottle of energy, far beyond my own grandma, although I suppose that they were probably pretty close in age. Unfortunately, the food took quite a while to come, at least a half-hour. In that time, her daughter came in for something and chastised the mother for not calling her in to work when they were busy, to which she replied, "I was just trying to make everyone happy." Another woman who was hanging around, either family or an off-the-clock employee, would call back into the kitchen at someone named Jim — the Jim of Jim's Diner? — as well as calling him "chef." When the food finally came, she apologized for it taking so long, but managed to make me feel like it was okay because she was just so cute.
First words out of my mouth: "Look at those potatoes!"
The potatoes were cut into slices and their odd shapes seemed to indicate that they were not peeled with a potato peeler, but with a paring knife. I also usually like to see some crust of fried potatoes, but these were golden from being fried in butter. It was like the potatoes my grandma used to make.
First words out of my mouth after first bite: "That is just amazing."
The potatoes practically melted in my mouth. They were seasoned perfectly and they were just unlike what you get from anywhere else. It was like how, sometimes, a potato chip just tastes perfect. But this was a pan-fried potato!
The ham was not processed, pressed ham, but quality meat with actual texture to it. The bacon was on a second plate and pressed flat from a bacon press. The pancakes were on a third plate, covering the entire surface area, looked incredibly fluffy and smelled amazing. The scrambled eggs took a minute for me to realize that they, too, were prepared by an artist, because I went next to the meat. The ham was just as good as it looked, caramelized here and there. The bacon, although it was not thick sliced, was excellent, with a really nice, heady smokiness. Then I turned my attention to the eggs.
First, I have to state that I do not like eggs. I eat them because they are a good source of protein. But I can only stomach them when they are scrambled, and I have to eat something else in the same bite every time, to cover up the taste. However, these eggs were so incredibly light and fluffy, he must have whisked them for at least a minute before putting them on the griddle. It totally changed the texture, which is one of the reasons that I don't care for eggs.
Last, I went for the pancakes. Just like the eggs, they were fluffy and decadent, with a hint of flavor in them that you don't get at most other places. Might have been vanilla, might have been something else. All I know is that they were not doughy, they absorbed the syrup (some places, the syrup just runs off and never seems to penetrate) and they were some of the best pancakes I have ever had in my life. Some people say the best pancakes are at the Black Bear Diner. That's only because they have not eaten at Jim's Diner.
When I finished eating, I could not clean all three of my plates. I could only eat about half of the pancakes. That really says a lot, because I can eat with the best of them. Not only that, but it was priced very reasonably. I went to the register and the older woman picked my ticket out of a stack. I asked if she was the owner and she said, "Jim's the owner. I'm just the wife." I asked if Jim was the only one in the kitchen. She said he was and that she did everything else. About that time, he came out, white hair and all, to sit down at the bar with a plate full of green grapes. Right before he touched down on the bar stool, she told him to clean off some tables, so he froze, then got up and went out to wipe them down. It just went right along with the amazing charm of the place.
Last words out of my mouth when leaving: "Why have I waited so long to come here?"
On my second visit, I was excited, particularly after the first time actually eating in their dining room. I really wanted things to go well. Jim's Diner is what I love in so many ways, single location, doing something that they like, the way they want to do it. Unfortunately, the second visit fell short, and it was largely because of the service.
On this visit, I was with my son who was back from college for the summer, and the place was completely empty of customers. (Very unlike the first visit.) We were seated quickly by a waitress who seemed to be very put off by my son's presence: staring a bit, not putting together her sentences very well, etc. She seemed twitter-pated, to coin a Disney term. Nonetheless, she brought us water and dropped off menus, then vanished for about 10 minutes. When she finally came back to take our drink orders, we were ready to order, which seemed to throw her all over again. I ordered a Coke and went with the Pastrami Burger. After another few minutes, my son told me that they used to go to school together and that she used to have a crush on him. (I don't think "used to" is really applicable.)
Unfortunately, like the first visit, the food took quite a while to come, at least a half-hour. In that time, no one else came in to eat, which allowed me to visit with my son, but we were getting tight on time, because we were going to a movie after. Finally, she brought our food, dropped it off and vanished again.
It was lean and there was about as much pastrami as there was burger. The bun was toasted, there was sliced tomato, pickle, onion and three leafs of iceberg lettuce ... but it was dry. There was no ketchup or mustard on the table, nor on any of the other tables. I waited for a while, thinking that she would come out with it, but she didn't. In fact, I never saw her again. So I ate my burger dry, which was a new experience.
First words out of my mouth after first bite: "Good pastrami ... and very dry."
The pastrami wasn't the thinly sliced stuff that you might get at Crown Burger, it had some substance and was very nicely flavored. I just wish that I could have somehow done something to fight off the desert burger other than drink my soda, which emptied pretty soon and was not refilled, since I never saw out waitress again.
The fries were somewhat thick cut, not steak fries, but not shoestrings, either. They were a little crispy on the outside and light and fluffy inside, but had not been salted. But, of course, there was no salt or pepper on the table. So that was a total disappointment, as well.
In the end, when I finished eating, I wondered what it would have been like to eat there with someone who paid attention to us as customers. I had to walk around and ask for our check, but the girl was gone, apparently, and someone else came out to ring us up. We just told her what we had eaten and she did it on the fly.
Last words out of my mouth when leaving: "Waitress must have been family."
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noun. Slang. A person who has an ardent or refined interest in food; a gourmet.