The sad news came in September. St. Clair Restaurant, a diner and Boerum Hill institution since 1967, had changed ownership and was about to be completely renovated in order to better fit into the increasingly upscale Smith Street.
Now I like tasting menus and wine pairings as much as the next guy, but if any street in Brooklyn needs an unpretentious diner, it’s Smith Street. Hip restaurants like The Grocery, Saul and Chestnut may have revolutionized the local food scene, but all the “meet the farmer” dinners and Michelin stars in the world can’t buy you a plate of disco fries and a $4 martini.
So for the last couple of weeks, I’ve traveled all across the borough to pay tribute to the kind of old-fashioned diners and coffee shops that will never be mistaken for hip.
This diner on the Flatlands-Canarsie border is technically accessible by the B47 bus, but its huge parking lot illustrates that southeastern Brooklyn’s preferred mode of transportation is indeed the automobile. Swathed in neon and silver, the Arch looks the most 1950s of all the diners I visited, and the radio was tuned to the oldies station for added legitimacy. (Surprisingly, the Arch Diner didn’t open until 1974.)
I ordered the rolled strawberry pancakes, which technically were not rolled at all, but folded and bursting with super-sweet strawberry pie filling both inside and on top.
Upon asking a busboy whether they take credit cards, I got a noncommittal “maybe.”
“You asked him?” my waiter chuckled. “He doesn’t understand anything.”
The staff at Applewood is never that funny.
Arch Diner (1866 Ralph Ave. at Flatlands Avenue in Flatlands) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Dinner entrees: $8.95-$16.95. The eatery is open 24 hours a day. By bus: B47 to Flatlands Avenue. For more information, call (718) 531-3718.
I never thought I would feel underdressed in a diner, but the tuxedoed hosts at Gus Pandel’s Bay Ridge restaurant had me second-guessing my Gap hoodie.
Open since 1981 but looking brand new, its renovated booths and subdued atmosphere make the Bridgeview a perfect place for a family dinner, a working lunch or even a date. The menu ups the ante as well, and although the “chicken fantasia” (chicken breast, mushrooms, tomatoes, artichokes, wine cream sauce) sounded tempting, I settled on a tuna and hardboiled egg triple-decker served with a delightfully chive-heavy potato salad.
The highlight, surprisingly, was the coleslaw. Usually a diner throwaway, the Bridgeview’s recipe is creamy, crunchy and addictively sweet.
Bridgeview Diner (9011 Third Ave. at 90th Street in Bay Ridge) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Dinner entrees: $9.95-$32.95. Open 24 hours a day. Subway: R to 86th Street. For more information, call (718) 680-9818 or visit the Web site www.bridge
Boldly discarding the chrome and neon cliches, this 72-year-old Park Slope diner looks like a cheerful small town cafe.
“The place has been here since 1935,” said owner John Kamitsis, who took over Daisy’s in 2002. “It used to be a German ice cream parlor-luncheonette and the owner lived upstairs. [The decor] has changed gradually with the times, until it became this present look. It evolved with the neighborhood.” Part of that evolution has included the addition of a classic red London phone booth.
“On Halloween, someone put a Superman in there!” recalled Kamitsis with a laugh.
Sampling food for this story had begun to leave me feeling as though I’d been exposed to strength-depleting Kryptonite, so I desperately needed some veggies.
I ordered the salad “mixta,” mixed greens with tomatoes, olives, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and freshly sauteed eggplant, but because I am a self-destructive glutton, I washed my salad down with a steaming plate of disco fries.
My only other experience with this classic New York gut bomb — fries smothered in American cheese and thick brown gravy — has been at three in the morning after a night of “discoing.” Daisy’s version is so good, I finished it stone cold sober.
Top that, Clark Kent.
Daisy’s Diner (452 Fifth Ave. between Ninth and 10th streets in Park Slope) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Dinner entrees: $8.95-$17.95. Open 24 hours a day. Subway: F to Fourth Avenue or R to Ninth Street. For more information, call (718) 788-1438.
Serving Williamsburg for 80 years, Kellogg’s is an anachronism in an increasingly sanitized neighborhood. The patrons come in two varieties: skinny hipster (burger and fries) and Slavic construction worker (steak and chicken combination with onion rings on top, mashed potatoes, broccoli). Although the raucous blue booths and red tables added some life to the proceedings, primary colors could only distract me for so long. The best thing I can say about my unnaturally yellow French toast is that at least it completed the color wheel.
Although the Fiotodimitrakis brothers’ diner/bodega combo looks a little shabby, a manager told me some renovations would start in December. Hopefully they can spruce things up without losing its kooky spirit.
Kellogg’s Diner (514 Metropolitan Ave. at Union Avenue in Williamsburg) accepts cash only. Dinner entrees: $6.95-$14.95. The eatery is open 24 hours a day. Subway: L to Lorimer Street or G to Metropolitan Avenue. For more information, call (718) 782-4502.
“The kitchen’s closed right now, Hon,” the waitress told me as I sat down. “The health inspector’s here.”
Nick Stathos’s Kings Plaza Diner must have passed the inspection with flying colors because my curly fries came out in 15 minutes — tops. With a menu biblical in size and scope, curly fries might seem a timid choice, but they were perfectly greasy, spicy and piping hot.
Open for 25 years, most of the patrons are three times as old, and many of them knew each other, sidling up to their neighbor’s table and shooting the breeze.
If you’re adventurous, try the chopped baby veal platter charbroiled, served on an open pita with peach halves and cottage cheese topped with “old-fashioned” granola flakes.
I’ll stick to the curly fries.
Kings Plaza Diner (4124 Ave. U between Hendrickson and Coleman streets in Marine Park) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Dinner entrees: $13.95-$24.95. The eatery is open daily, 6 am-2 am. Bus: B2, B3, B9, B41, B46, B47 to Kings Plaza. For more information, call (718) 951-6700.
Nick Likourentzos and his family have owned this diner near the Brooklyn Bridge for all of its 25 years, and he and his brother Dimitri know each of the regulars by name. Walking up and down the aisles, they greet their aging customers like family, checking in and making sure everything is perfect. My homemade lemon-coconut cake nearly was, layered with whipped cream and light enough that I could easily have ordered a second.
The Park Plaza looks like your grandparents’ house, strewn with potted plants and exposed wood. Its lone concessions to modernity were little televisions along some of the booths promising “Dinavision: Bringing you music videos, games, television, and more.”
By the time I visited in late November, tinsel and ornaments dominated the walls and a six-foot Christmas tree stood by the door. Above the bar hung a “Happy Hanukkah” sign, an inclusive gesture in an inclusive place.
Park Plaza Reataurant (220 Cadman Plaza West at Pineapple Walk in Brooklyn Heights) accepts American Express, Carte Blanche, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa. Dinner entrees: $9.95 to $22.95. Open 7 am to 1:30 am Sunday through Thursday and 24-hours on Fridays and Saturdays. Subway: C to High Street and 2,3 to Clark Street. Parking lot available for $2 per hour with a two-hour maximum. For more information, call (718) 596-5900 or www.parkpl
Sadly, I found no slot machines upon entering this misleadingly named Bensonhurst diner, which opened in 1982. Although its wood paneling and potted plants are reminiscent of the very Brady ’70s, the huge “These Colors Don’t Run” American flag on the back wall transported me straight to 2001.
Slick-looking “Godfather” types shared a table by the window, while an exhausted woman at the booth next to mine read the specials aloud to her elderly mother. Owners Alex and Ted (who declined to give a surname) have set up mini jukeboxes in every booth which play everything from Sinatra to Chamillionaire while customers can decide among the potent-looking cocktails pictured on every placemat.
I skipped the booze for a cup of coffee and ordered a broccoli and cheese omelet, which was the size of my head and bursting with veggies. My only complaint: cold toast.
Vegas Diner (1619 86th St. between 16th Avenue and Bay 13th Street in Bensonhurst) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Dinner entrees: $11.95-$22.95. Open 24 hours a day. Subway: D to 18th Avenue. For more information, call (718) 331-2221.