An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Dec 10, 2013
01:12 PM
The Connecticut Table

Local author pays tribute to the Nutmeg State's "Classic Diners" in New Book

Local author pays tribute to the Nutmeg State's "Classic Diners" in New Book

Collin's Diner at 728 Main Street in North Canaan, a 1942 O'Mahony.

Who doesn't love a gourmet meal? Even so, the finest, most elite dining establishment will never dislodge our favorite "grab grub on the run" local diners from our hearts. More than 100 of these beloved eateries have dotted the main streets and side roads of Connecticut for decades, waiting for someone to pay tribute. Say hello to local author Garrison Leykham, whose finally done so in his new book Classic Diners of Connecticut (History Press; $19.99). Leykham—host and producer of the Connecticut Public Television series "Diners"—doesn't give a comprehensive overview; rather he focuses on a few prized landmarks designed and built in the 20th century by legendary names like DeRaffele, O'Mahony, Tierney and Kullman. In addition to bringing us on a virtual road trip to these sites, he provides a "Short Order History" of diners, shares a few recipes and even reviews classic diner lingo common from the 1920s to the '70s, a form of shorthand used by waitstaff to communicate an order to the cook. We'll give you three guesses as to what "Noah's boy with Murphy carrying a wreath" stands for (and a hint: Ham was the name of Noah's son in the Bible).

Here's what Leykam has to say about a handful of these gems:

Family Diner, Norwalk (1955 Mountain View #480)—"The Family Diner boasts a classic exterior that is an irresistible wave to come in, much like memories of one's mother holding the front door open with a smile that said 'welcome home' when you grew up and returned for a visit. . . . Don't expect a modern version of a diner with the menu displayed on big-screen TV monitors in each corner of the ceiling and a forty-page menu that requires a day of preparation to get through it. This diner is the real deal—a classic that has stood the test of time and evokes the value of basic diner fare served by waitstaff who are more like your aunts and uncles than paid employees. . . . What you will experience is sitting among a lot of locals and sharing an impromptu conversation or passing the local newspaper with ad-libbed commentary about how the local high-school sports team fared at the game the night before or different opinions on what the twon respresentatives voted on."

Georgie's Diner, West Haven (1957 DeRaffele)—"As vast as the breakfast menu is at Georgie's Diner, the Georgie's Specialties always grab my attention. Maya's Breakfast is two pieces of challah French toast stuffed with a low-fat cream cheese filling and served with fresh kiwi, strawberries and maple syrup. The banana-stuffed French toast is built on top of the house-made challah bread and stuffed with caramelized bananas and topped with pastry cream. . . . The A.M. Cannolis are two pancakes rolled and stuffed with cannoli cream and dusted with powdered sugar. The butternut squash hash and eggs is composed of house-made butternut squash hash and potato hash seasoned with shallots, garlic and sage and all served with two eggs, home fries and toast. And this is just a partial list . . ."

Makris Midtown Diner, Wethersfield (1951 O'Mahony)—"[Owner] Eva [Nowak's] philosophy about how to run a classic diner flows out of her actions as naturally as she pours a cup of freshly brewed coffee. During one of my visits, an older woman who is a regular customer came right in at closing. As if no operating hours existed, Eva welcomed her and escorted her to the nearest booth. . . . The woman told Eva that she was not feeling well and had just come from the doctor's. Although she and her staff had pretty much shut down the kitchen and put away the food, Eva asked her what she would like, prepared to make anything for the woman. . . . The woman simply wanted an escape for a little while from her apparent ordeal and requested only a cup of coffee as a salve for how she was feeling. And Eva never rushed her, even though it was long after the posted closing time when she finished her coffee."

Winsted Diner, Winsted (1931 Tierney)—"Beginning in February 1967, a decade-long series of separate UFO sightings was reported in Winsted. . . . UFO researcher Ted Thoben declared that the area of the town is one of two UFO windows in America, the other being the Michigan Rectangle. In all my rides through Winsted, my motorcycle does seem to come to an almost uncontrollable stop when I reach the Winsted Diner, but I've yet to see any saucers other than the ones that have cradled my many cups of coffee as I devoured the signature Ra-Doc-a-Doodle sandwich composed of eggs, Tennesee sausage and American cheese. While some Winsteders claim to have been abducted by aliens and talk about entering an altered state of consciousness, locals will tell you that a few days without being 'Doodled' can have a deleterious effect on anyone's culinary well-being."

Zip's Diner, Dayville (1954 O'Mahony)—"What do Liberace, Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger, Brian Dennehy, Renee Zellweger, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Carl Yazstremski have in common? They've all eaten at Zip's Diner under the iconic neon 'EAT' sign. . . . The original diner was located on Route 6 between the Powdrell and Alexander Mill and what is today the Danielson Post Office. The diner operated until 1954, when [owner Henry 'Zip' Zehrer] purchased a brand-new O'Mahony diner and had it shipped up from Elizabeth, N.J., to its current location. The trip from the Jerry O'Mahony Company was handled by Hoffman's Motor Transport of Belleville, N.J., and took two weeks due to an extended truck strike . . . One of the largest and most completely modernized diners of its time, the 101-ton behemoth made the last leg of its journey down Main Street under police escort to the cheering throngs of spectators, who were mesmerized by the 43-foot-long to the  31/2-foot-wide monolith."

Local author pays tribute to the Nutmeg State's "Classic Diners" in New Book

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