There’s something nostalgic about brunch at a diner. It may be the classic American comfort food—like grilled cheese, French fries, pancakes, and sloppy Joes. A diner might bring to mind the thought of old movies, stories from our grandparents, or times when Coke was still served in glass bottles, “going steady” meant a milkshake with two straws, and the Fonz was still the coolest guy in school.
Or it might bring to mind rowdy drunk kids stuffing their faces with late-night burgers that they won’t remember eating the next day.
When I first visited The Diner, years and years ago, I thought it was the coolest place ever. It is both charming and affordable, always bustling and filled with people posted up on bar stools eating pancakes and drinking milkshakes—just as a diner should be.
On my visit to brunch last week, it had lost some of its charm. First off, let’s be clear that nothing about the diner is gourmet—so we’re not judging it as so. But, I happen to be a self-proclaimed expert on damn good junk food.
Christina and I were seated at a table for two right in the middle of the restaurant, where we were unable to really catch-up or avoid being elbowed by passersby. I honestly didn’t know which waiter was our server the entire time—and repeatedly found myself hopelessly begging for someone to fill up my water glass and bring me some ketchup.
The coffee was good—better than diner coffee—as The Diner, like its sister restaurants Tryst and Open City, gets its coffee from Durham-based Counter Culture Coffee. It’s a 100 percent Arabica, organic “Diner Blend.” Good coffee, much appreciated.
The menu doesn’t change, so Christina griped there were no inventive options. She opted for the watermelon, feta, and chicken salad, which was fresh and fine but nothing to write home about.
Feeling similarly dissatisfied with my choices, I opted for a stack of blueberry buttermilk pancakes and a side of hashbrowns. The pancakes were pancakes, prepared correctly—I kind of hate it when they’re still mushy around the blueberries. Whipped, soft butter on the side was a major plush.
However, the hotcakes paled in comparison to the delicious greasy confections at Bar Pilar, weren’t nearly as cute as the cornmeal silver dollar cakes at Smith Commons, and didn’t rock my world like the banana pancakes at Bourbon.
We both opted for sides of potatoes: tots for Christina (her favorite) and hash browns for me. Personally, I don’t get the obsession with tots, but she loves ’em. I was hoping—and expecting—shredded hashbrowns a la iHop; instead, cold, boring homefries arrived.
I left disgruntled. If you’re going to eat greasy diner food, you want it to be the kind you’re familar with, you know?
The Bitches say: C. It’s fine for a diner. You’d be much better off going for a late-night pancake fix than brunch, which is pretty sub-par. If you’re looking for a good, greasy, affordable hangover brunch, head to Open City, Bourbon, Bar Pilar, or Granville Moore’s instead.
2453 18th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009