I love diners; I always have. Partly it’s because I grew up in Jersey, in a town with a famous railroad-car-style diner across from the train station (the Summit Diner—get the navy-bean soup), at a time when, if you didn’t have an older sibling to buy you some beer, the bulk of your teenage social time was spent crammed in six to a four-top booth, splitting a single piece of pie and playing the jukebox. Partly it’s the decor; I dig the solid, comforting, chrome-and-linoleum atomic-bobby-sox styling of a diner, right down to the retro pillowy mints at the register.
Brooklyn’s got dozens of diners, and I aim to eat in each of them at least once. If you don’t have that kind of time, or that much elastic in your wardrobe, dig my Best Ofs below and see how your local stacks up.
(Note: I’ve listed my favorites in various categories, but those favorites may not feature the lowest prices—I’d sooner pay $7.95 for a great omelet than $5 for one that’s runny and blah.)
Best Burger and Fries:
The Bridgeview, 9011 3rd Ave. at 91st St., Bay Ridge, (718) 680-9818
You might get a booth with a sightline to the Verrazano at the Bridgeview, or you might not, but if you order the fries, you won’t mind either way. The Bridgeview’s small-bore steak fries come out piping hot and with juuuuust a faint glow of oil; every fry is cooked through, but not overcooked. The Platonic diner-fry ideal. The burger itself is above average, which sounds like faint praise, but “above average” is about the best you can hope for at a diner, where the concern is not necessarily quality beef or painstaking prep, but rather slapping a patty from Costco on the grill and getting it plated ASAP (burger and fries, $10). With that said, the Bridgeview’s cooks do understand the meaning of “medium rare”—rare in and of itself.
New College Restaurant, 224 Union St. at 4th Ave., Park Slope, (718) 522-2083
Diner coffee doesn’t always offer a nuanced taste sensation; its purpose is to wake you up, and fast. For a buck, the New College serves a non-sludgy cup, though; thanks to the high volume of MTA-employee traffic all day long, the joe doesn’t have a chance to sit too long and get that burnt bouquet. The to-go version with milk and sugar is the best-tasting—light, fresh, and won’t jangle the nerves OR the taste buds.
Vegas Diner, 1619 86th St. between 16th Ave. and Bay 13th St., Bath Beach/Dyker Heights, (718) 331-2221
Several diners, including the Americana, offer patrons old-school-diner scenery like cocktail placemats (likely the only reason anyone under the age of 70 has heard of a Brandy Alexander) and in-booth jukeboxes, or hilariously inept full bars heavy on the crème de menthe. The Vegas’s advantage is two-fold: superior size, and superior people-watching. The place is gigaaaaaantic, which means the counter seems to go on for a good half a mile, accessorized with yards and yards of single-serving cereal and carefully constructed ziggurats of glassware and cheese Danish. I counted TWO revolving cake displays the last time I ate there, but since I got lost on my way back from the ladies’, I may have counted a single one twice. And then you’ve got the patrons. Sopranos fashion lives, my friends…and it lives out loud. Visit during the Sunday post-church rush and play Punch Buggy with Members Only jackets.
Honorable mention: Grand Canyon, 179 7th Ave. between 1st and 2nd Sts., Park Slope. Inexplicable Western/wagon-wheel décor, made even more surreal by the addition of a pin-lit portrait of Abe Lincoln.
Purity Diner 289 7th Ave. at 7th St., Park Slope, (718) 840-0881
Your average diner omelet winds up as more of a frittata in terms of the egg consistency. This isn’t a distinction I care much about making as long as the dish doesn’t skimp on the fillings, and a Purity omelet gets the whole food pyramid in there. Everything’s well enough done to give you the flavors, but not so well done that the vegetables go limp, and the cooks don’t subtract any cheese to make room for veggies, either. Your best bet: the Greek ($7.95).
Honorable mention (for medium-well toast): Grecian Corner, 234 7th Ave. at 4th St., Park Slope, (718) 788-1478
Best Tuna Melt:
Manhattan Triple-Decker, 695 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint, (718) 389-6565
Not even Hubert Keller could pretty up a tuna melt—it’s just a dowdy dish—but the Soviet-cafeteria-style Manhattan Triple-Decker diner makes an extremely well-executed version. (The splurge-y $8.25 price includes bacon and potato salad, but they’ve been known to throw in a free soda). The sandwich nimbly avoid the most common melt pitfalls, way too much tuna salad and sweaty-but-not-melted cheese, with a carefully proportioned and uniformly toasty sandwich. Extra credit for the pickles, which actually seem to come from this decade (but were AWOL when our photog visited).
Read more about Sarah D. Bunting’s favorite diners and dishes on brooklyndiners.blogspot.com.