I’m always looking for quick recipes. Sometimes I start a quick recipe and then realize — hey, this ain’t as quick as I thought. But I plod on — usually so absorbed and fascinated by each step that it doesn’t matter how quick it is.
I like to cook my meals because — I like to cook. But also, because I like to know what’s IN THEM. I love choosing each ingredient — knowing how I’m treating that ingredient, and leaving myself no mysteries. The mystery is usually a magic not entirely my own. Just the sheer alchemy of cooking. Molecules, ions, nuclei shuffling together in heat ….wow, a little bit of stardust in the food.
Which brings me (and how could it not) to the joy of watching a fast order cook at work. Talk about magic. Talk about seeing every ingredient go right into the recipe. Talk about deftness of hand aerobatics. Talk about concentration, follow-thru, and thoroughness.
Okay, let’s talk about it. Growing up in NY, and being of an everyday-food persuasion, I have, for a long time, found myself in diners. I have trouble trumping diners with high-fancy restaurant fare (excuse that word over there). I just love diners.
In the old days, diners were everywhere in NYC. You either went around the corner. Or you decided to walk five blocks to another, because you liked the decor better. Or because you were meeting a friend who lived five blocks away. Or — who knows, maybe you needed a walk. Because there wasn’t much difference in the food from diner to diner. They ALL knew how to make that menu shine and it always shined. My faves: scrambled eggs soft, with home fries, and whole wheat toast. Diners in NYC include tea or coffee in the price of the breakfast (I’ve learned that’s not true everywhere).
Or get a grilled cheese with tomato (with maybe bacon?)
Or venture further for a club sandwich, a meat loaf dinner, some Greek specialties like: spanakopita, or shish kebabs. Most diners in NYC are run by Greeks. There are Lobster Tails (the seafood, not the pastry) and Fettuccine Alfredo and NY Strip Steak on the menu, too. Okay— I probably wouldn’t order those things… I like the traditional diner fare. But people do order those dishes. I’ve seen them go by on the way to another table. Riveting.
Wandering around NYC streets, you sometimes get hungry while you’re neighborhoods away from home….you can always be saved by a diner. Looking to kill 20 minutes before your appointment? Siddle up to the counter and have a hot tea and a toasted English muffin. Or maybe a corn muffin (you don’t see corn muffins in the South…cornbread, yes, but not the muffin). I used to LOVE the diner corn muffin. They’d cut it in half, toast it on the griddle and serve with butter on the side. Groan. Yum.
But my favorite part is getting the seat at the counter just behind the short-order cook. It’s the kind of show that could entertain me for days.
Here’s where you will find some differences from diner to diner. Not in the competence of the cook or the menu, but in how the cook arranges things. What side of the grill is the bacon? How often does he scrape off the excess oil? Are the eggs all broken into a gallon-sized pitcher, ready for use? Or does he crack them as he uses them? Have the home fries just arrived to the griddle or have they been there for hours? (And hours.) Does he wear a baseball cap, a do-rag (du-rag?), a hairnet, or just hat-less, loose and free?
Doesn’t matter. The show must go on. The pressure of orders coming in fast keep the action of the story moving. WITHOUT a hitch.
It’s even more fun when he’s cooking YOUR order. Watch closely — you’ll almost feel like you’re cooking it yourself. You can see every second and every morsel and every technique going into your plateful. Then it’s delivered. Live. In front of you on the counter, steam wafting, aromas poking your nose. Your fork poised, your diminutive diner napkin on your lap, your taste buds rushing forward, ready for sensations.
Time to EAT!
(Dessert? No other place has so many choices.)