If I were forced at gunpoint to declare my favorite exemplar of diner food, it would be difficult. So many dishes, so little time. “It’s hard to know where to start,” I might protest to my assailant. Would I choose the Gus Burger, best consumed at the counter of the White Spot in Charlottesville, Virginia, to fully lavish in the greasy trifecta of twin stacked burger patties, cheese, and a fried egg? Quite possibly. Or would it be the Zonker, a toasted bagel piled high with bacon, red onion slices, tomatoes, and a magnificent schmear of cream cheese, available a few steps up the sidewalk from the Spot at Littlejohn’s? Hard to say. I have eaten eggs in so many holes-in-the-wall that it would be hard to choose any one dish over another…but, if prodded ominously, I’d have to say that my mind goes back to the insanely huge green chile breakfast burritos served up at the Horseman’s Haven in Santa Fe, New Mexico, perhaps the ne plus ultra of egg-based breakfast concoctions, despite the four-alarm fire it regularly set off in my mouth. Perhaps. Because now that I think about it, I had one of the best green chile cheeseburgers of my life in Santa Fe at Bobcat Bite (now closed, sadly). “But I digress,” I’d tell my assailant. “Green chile can do that to you! Give me a couple seconds here.” There was that whole belly clam roll I had in Cape Cod last summer that nearly gave me a heart attack it was so good. There were the sauerkraut and mushroom pierogies I used to inhale at Veselka in the East Village when I lived in New York. There were the incredibly cheap plates of baked chicken leg-n-thighs with black beans and rice I used to wolf down on my lunch hour at that Cuban place on 18th Street when I worked at Spin. “Hang in there, bud. I’m thinking,” I’d reassure my new friend, before asking if I could sit down. I might bring up the lip-smacking tortas at La Mexicana in Newport. Or the four-ways at Cretan’s in Carthage. Or that pile of fried smelts at Spike’s Keg o’Nails in Grayling, Michigan. Or the cheese fries from Marvin’s in Greencastle, Indiana, not to mention the ones at Zip’s….
“Look, I’m sorry buddy,” I’d finally say to the now thoroughly non-plussed highwaymen. “This is gonna take a while.”