Providence’s Seaplane Diner gets great review

The Seaplane Diner, just after the stainless steel was uncovered
but before it reacquired bright blue flex-glass stripes.
2002 photo copyright Larry Cultrera

I got a heads-up the other day from Denise Bass that there would be a review of the Seaplane Diner in the food section of the Providence Journal (RI) on Thursday. So I checked it out online yesterday at It turned out to be a great review. I know anytime I have been there it was always a good experience. In fact the last time I ate there was back in the spring of 2007.

I had just revisited the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University with my brother Steve. Dick Gutman, the Director of the Museum and author of American Diner Then & Now and the Images of America book – The Worcester Lunch Car Company, showed us a couple of things that were not on display at that time.  When we left the Museum it was lunch time and the Seaplane Diner is conveniently located a mile or so down the street, so it was a no-brainer.

I don’t recall what Steve ordered but I know he enjoyed it. I believe I ordered an Italian Sausage sub sandwich and I also was happy with my selection as well. Anyway, here is the text of the article by Gail Ciampa, Journal Food Editor……

Dining Out: Nostalgia’s on the menu at the Seaplane Diner

 01:00 AM EDT on Thursday, August 28, 2008
France can have its bistros and Italy its trattorias. America will always have its diners. Rhode Island is blessed with several fine ones, including the Seaplane Diner. Here the food is all comforting and familiar (eggs, pancakes and omelets for breakfast; meatloaf, burgers, fried chicken and roasted turkey for lunch). The prices are a bargain, the atmosphere friendly and the service fast. The Seaplane Diner is the real deal –– a Jerry O’Mahony model car, built in Elizabeth, N.J., in 1953. Small and intimate, it seats 60 people in booths and at counter stools.

I’m sorry to say that I drove by it time and time again and never noticed it there on Allens Avenue in Providence, sandwiched between an auto body shop and a factory building. It was Rachael Ray that made me sit up and take notice. Back in May, crews were shooting footage highlighting Providence for a future episode of her show Rachael Ray’s Tasty Travels on the Food Network. Her lineup for Providence included 13 spots, including: Al Forno, Cuban Revolution, CAV, Geoff’s Superlative Sandwiches, Haven Brothers, Julian’s, La Laiterie at Farmstead, Nicks On Broadway, Olga’s Cup & Saucer, Pastiche, Waterplace Restaurant and 10 Prime Steak and Sushi. I knew all of those and had dined at them. But then I saw the Seaplane name and wondered all about it. No more.

Here I’ve enjoyed blueberry pancakes for breakfast and meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I’ve tried a special of eggplant parmigiana and a mushroom burger and never had room for dessert. The mini-tableside jukeboxes remind me of my childhood and all those family restaurants where we ate things like spaghetti and meatballs. One quarter could secure music throughout the whole meal. At the Seaplane I looked at the lineups from A1 to V7 and saw Elvis’s “Burning Love.” That’s when it came to me: the Seeburg Consolette jukebox was stuck in the ’70s, just like me. No more music would come from its bad speakers, as they are shut down. But it’s still nostalgic to see them there.

The prices are almost stuck in the past, too. A plate of eggs (any style) with toast, home fries and coffee costs $3.50. A short stack of pancakes costs $3. The eggplant parm on a torpedo roll is a $5.95 special with a huge helping of potato salad. My mushroom burger came with more fries than I could eat and was just $5.25. There are free refills of coffee ($1.75) and sodas ($1.50). As I sucked my root beer down to the end, a refill arrived without being requested. Thank you server Stephanie! And a satisfying cup of the homemade soup of the day, chicken with rice, is just $1.75.

The menu features solid home-style favorites, thanks to Oscar Recinos in the kitchen. His is one of those nice restaurant stories. He started working for the original owner, Robert Arena, eight years ago as a dishwasher and worked his way up to chef. Today’s owner, David Penta, raved about his specials, and if the eggplant parm is an example, he’s on the mark. Penta bought the diner five years ago with Arena’s son, Anthony. Bob Arena bought the Seaplane in 1975 and he still works there, cooking two days a week. His recipes are still in use, including the hearty, moist and wonderful meatloaf like mom used to make. His secret: a bit of ketchup added to the meat. It’s served with a good-sized portion of real mashed potatoes and vegetable of the day (carrots one day, zucchini another) and topped with brown gravy ($6.25).

There’s no doubt that meatloaf is the most in-demand item on the menu, but some of the specials should not be ignored. Start with that eggplant parm. The eggplant was crispy and didn’t taste fried, though it was. It was not bitter, often a problem. The sauce had a pleasant balance of sweet and acidic. The dish had a light layer of mozzarella on top and was served on a crispy Italian roll, torpedo style. All the fresh bread comes from Carmine Borelli, who runs Borelli’s Bakery on Charles Street in Providence. The burgers are also served on a nicely prepared roll and mine was yummy with lots of sautéed mushrooms.

Accompanying the eggplant sandwich was a potato salad, a tasty version made with red bliss potatoes, lots of them, with a bit of onion and pepper. The dressing was a blend of mayonnaise and yellow mustard, but just a bit. The texture of the potato was just right — not too hard and not too soft. When I had breakfast a few weeks earlier, I was first surprised at the speed with which my food arrived after ordering. Server Laura agreed that the chef kept no one waiting very long for their meal. Three large blueberry pancakes ($4.50) were topped with butter and powdered sugar and full of fruit. No skimping here. The side of bacon ($2.25) was crisp.

Likewise, the scrambled eggs, well-seasoned home fries and wheat toast of my companion ($3.50) made for a satisfying breakfast. Breakfast is offered, along with sandwiches, for the two late nights the diner opens, Friday and Saturday from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Those prices are slightly higher, with breakfast items averaging 50 cents to $1 higher and some sandwiches an additional 25 cents. Still, all the food here is a deal.

Yes, Paris can have its bistros and we’ll take diners like the Seaplane. Berets would be out of place on Allens Avenue anyway.

Bill of fare
A breakfast for two at Seaplane Diner might look like this:
Two eggs…$3.50
Blueberry pancakes…$4.50
Side of bacon…$2.25
Total bill…$15.36

Bill of fare
A lunch for two at Seaplane Diner might look like this:
Eggplant Parm…$5.95
Meatloaf dinner…$6.25
2 sodas…$3.00
Total bill…$19.42

 The Seaplane Diner, 307 Allens Ave., Providence. (401) 941-9547. Very casual. Free parking lot. Three steps to get in –– not wheelchair accessible. Highchairs. AE, D, MC, V. Monday to Friday 5 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Also late-night dining Friday and Saturday 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Breakfast items $1.95 to $7.95; lunch sandwiches $4.75 to $8.75; dinners $6.25 to $8.95; seafood $2.75 to $12.95. Late-night prices for breakfast slightly higher.

New Jersey’s Mack Diner may get new lease on life

All Ears Records (aka Mack Diner) from the 1980’s
copyright Larry Cultrera

The Mack Diner, last operated as All Ears Records store in New Brunswick, NJ has been deteriorating for years. The location it is in is very depressed (and depressing). Ironically, at least on the exterior, this 1941 vintage Fodero diner still looks like it could come back. In fact there was an article from the August 26th “” about the very fact that the structures current owner is in possible negotiations to sell the diner to someone who wants to move it out of state.

Here is the copy of the piece written by Richard Khavkine for …… 

The Mack Diner on French Street in New Brunswick may be moved.
AUGUSTO F. MENEZES / MyCentralJersey

NEW BRUNSWICK —A dormant city fixture could be given a new lease on life. But the Mack Diner, which during its roughly 65 years on French Street has functioned as a grocery store, a record shop and, yes, a diner, might first have to be transplanted.

The stainless steel, aluminum and enamel Art Deco fixture, inoperative since soon after a drug raid put its then-proprietor behind bars in April 2005, has drawn interest from out of state. “He wants to take it away,” said the Mack’s current owner, Tareq Algharaybeh, speaking of a potential buyer he thinks is in Mississippi. “Where I don’t know.”

Flanked by a record shop and a mini market on French between Seaman and Suydam streets, the Mack’s turquoise shell glimpsed daylight recently. Last month, the advertising posters that have for years obscured nearly its entire facade were taken down. For about a week, the words “Mack” and “Diner,” on either side of the brick and aluminum portico tethered to the patina of decades, were again visible.

Within a few days, though, billboards publicizing local concerts and hand-lettered notices advertising rooms for rent again blanketed the prefabricated structure. Inside, what appears to be the diner’s original tile and wood counter teeters against the test of time. But other than the ventilation hoods, stripped of their exhaust fans, little trace remains of the diner’s days and nights as a restaurant.

But Algharaybeh, who bought the diner two years ago, says it is otherwise sturdy. “There’s no leaks,” he said. “It’s nice.” Still, Algharaybeh, who also owns and runs Sam’s Pizza and Chicken two blocks south on French Street, has little use for this period piece. With three years left on the lease for the pizza establishment, Algharaybeh wants to move that business, which he has operated for 20 years at French and Alexander streets, onto the Mack’s lot. “I’m going to move there,” he said recently. “My customers aren’t going anywhere.”

First, though, he needs to find a buyer for the diner, one willing to truck it out. Which wouldn’t be unprecedented. Just over a year ago, for instance, the Moondance Diner, a SoHo landmark for 75 years said to have been the oldest such establishment in New York City, was put on a flatbed truck and moved 2,100 miles to Wyoming. For now, the French Street mainstay’s windows remain boarded up, as they were during the Mack’s last, somewhat productive, venture.

Charles Ewen puts on an Etta James record at the Mack Diner in New Brunswick.

As All Ears’ Records, a clutter-filled shop open irregular hours, the Mack endured, more or less intact, for nearly 30 years. But if All Ears’ Records had the longest run at 150 French St., it also had a most inauspicious end. The Mack’s Mensa-credentialed owner, Charles Ewen, was said to be peddling more than just oldies singles: A nighttime raid by law enforcement on Ewen’s French Street apartment in April 2005 yielded a trove of heroin and cocaine, prescription drugs, loaded handguns and ammunition.

Soon after the raid and Ewen’s subsequent incarceration, the Mack, its Art Deco prime already the stuff of memories, fell further into disrepair. A year or so later, Algharaybeh bought the vintage — but by then decrepit — 1941 diner. While the diner was at one time a “problem property,” city spokesman Bill Bray said the diner has had “no active violations” or open complaints of late.

Built by the famed Fodero Dining Car Company of Newark and, later, Bloomfield, the prefab icon wheeled in to the city sometime in the 1940s. But a short-order cook last served a plate of bacon and eggs over easy at 150 French St. some 40 years ago. Somewhat incongruously, the Mack next had a short tenure as a grocery store of sorts. Ewen bought the Mack eight years after that, in 1976, for $7,250.

Over the next three decades, Ewen, surrounded by eight fish tanks, spun both music and tales inside the Mack. Seems he sold some of the former, too, from a record collection said to have reached in the tens of thousands of discs. One of local law enforcement’s greatest hits from 2005, though, confined the Mack to the dustbin. Or so it might have appeared, since, given time, vintage fashions have a tendency to resurface. Just as Ewen, 63, incarcerated at South Woods State Prison since November 2006, becomes eligible for parole and a new life in October, so might the Mack Diner shake off its stint in purgatory, and gleam again.

New Diner Blog by Spencer Stewart

I became acquainted with Spencer Stewart a few years ago. He was around 14 years old at the time. He emailed me to let me know he was an avid follower of my Diner Hotline column in the Society for Commercial Archeology’s (SCA) Journal magazine. His dad, Michael got him interested in the American Roadside with diners being a big attraction. When I heard his story, I decided to write a small piece in the Hotline about him. Basically, I was happy to see the next generation was already out there appreciating what we grew up with.

Spencer is about to embark on a new journey, he is starting college soon, but I also found out he has started his own Diner blog on WordPress as well! I have put a link to it in my blogroll but I am also putting it here in this post….

Fairfield, Connecticut’s Zemo’s Diner has all it’s ducks in a row, groundbreaking to be in spring of 2009

DeCoven Diner from early 1980’s, copyright Larry Cultrera

I just read an article from today’s Connecticut Post about Gary Zemola’s continuing efforts to open the former DeCoven Diner (from Duncannon, PA) at it’s new home on Duka Avenue just off the U.S. Rte. 1 traffic circle in Fairfield, CT. Zemola, an old friend has been dreaming of opening his own classic diner for close to 20 years. He is currently the owner operator of Fairfield’s Super Duper Weenie, which started out as a mobile hot dog wagon in a converted step van and is now a sit-down/take out restaurant. In the article he is quoted as saying the diner, now in storage is 90% ready to be moved to the new location. He is just putting off things until the spring of next year.

Here is the text of the article by Genevieve Reilly……

OK’d vintage diner on hold in Fairfield

FAIRFIELD — Gary Zemola hasn’t stopped chasing his dream for an old-fashioned diner — he’s just put it on the back burner. Zemola, the owner of Super Duper Weenie on lower Black Rock Turnpike, has all the OKs he needs to open a classic diner on Duka Avenue. Zemo’s Diner will be housed in a portable diner Zemola bought on eBay that was manufactured by the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Co. in 1954.

“As of right now, all the approvals have been met,” Zemola said, though he still needs to get financing for a performance bond. He said he was planning to break ground soon behind Fairfield Lighting and Design, but things have been put on hold due to the economy. “I’d like to break ground in the spring,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to do this for over 20 years.”

The stainless steel diner, which for now sits in storage in Monroe, is being refurbished. “The diner is about 90 percent there,” Zemola said. The mobile diner was used as recently as 2003 in Duncannon, Pa., and was formerly called DeCoven Diner. It includes an original terrazzo (crushed marble) floor and “boomerang Formica” tabletops in booths and counters, according to Zemola.

The 59-seat Zemo’s Diner would be installed on adjacent properties at 63 and 75 Duka Ave., both of which are owned by Frank Zemola, Gary’s father. Frank Zemola also owns the property where Fairfield Lighting and Design is located. Zemola plans to continue operating Super Duper Weenie when the diner is opened.

Meanwhile, across town, the last vestiges of the former Larry’s Diner, also built by the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Co., have quietly been incorporated into a new Miller Street restaurant called 55. The doors from the old diner are part of a second-floor dining room at the new eatery. Larry’s Diner sat on the Post Road for nearly 60 years before it was moved in 1986 to Miller Street. The Post Road property was sold for development as an office building, and the vintage 1927 railroad car diner was sold and relocated a stone’s throw away. It was used as the entrance to a larger restaurant initially known as Larry’s Diner, and later as the Rattlesnake Bar & Grill.

Deadline approaches for saving New Jersey’s Forum Diner

Photo by Michael Perlman

I received an email from Michael Perlman, NYC diner saviour. Michael has helped save the Moondance Diner and Cheyenne Diner and is currently working on lower Manhattan’s Lost Diner (aka Lunch Box Food, Terminal Diner). Another diner he has focused on (we mentioned it a while back) is Paramus, New Jersey’s Forum Diner, a very large colonial/environmental Fodero diner that is threatened with demolition. Here is what his email said…

To The Media:
    I am following up on my press release I sent you in early June (which is below this e-mail), and would appreciate your help by covering this utmost importance preservation issue.
    This is the last call to preserve the historic Forum Diner (211 E State Route 4) via transport, or it will end up “doomed in a landfill.” The Forum Diner is still available for $15,000. Rigger, Mel Brandt, took dimensions, and is cheaper than the majority but proficient. Rigging costs will depend upon where the diner is transported to. The diner contains 3 major sections at 18ft 6in each, and the price is a bargain considering its 15,000 square feet (only $1 per square foot!), and a great business opportunity once it reopens. There are also grants available to help finance the future restoration & renovation work, which I would voluntarily assist any future owner with.

    There has shockingly been a sudden change of plans. The prospective buyer from Upstate NY, who was very interested in purchasing the historic Forum Diner, informed me today that he can’t pursue it due to personal reasons. This was alarmingly close to the deadline for confirming a buyer & rigger. I let down other prospective buyers to date, as a result. I do understand the time constraints of property owner Kevin Ormes (of Jeep 17), but he may give me a 1-month extension for confirming a buyer, which I am praying for. I have begun contacting the remaining few prospective buyers, and have heard back from one in particular. He said he has an interest in the Forum Diner, and would like to work something out with the rigger.    

    The Forum Diner is an architectural gem, and rare for 60s style architecture. It was prefabricated by the Fodero dining Car Co, and was announced that “money was no object” when it came down to detail, shortly after it first opened. Joseph Fodero of Bloomfield, NJ was the mastermind of diner manufacturing (also manufacturing NYC’s famed Empire Diner). The Yannitsadis brothers were the original owners of the Forum Diner. The exterior borrows from the Environmental style, and features stainless steel, wrap-around windows, groovy gold frame doors, corner entryway with stone & colored mansard roof, & decorative ornamentation gracing the top. The interior is elegant, featuring fine Greek wood fluted columns & moldings and coffered wooden-paneled walls (rare for a diner), wood ornamentation, recessed areas for chandeliers, etched mirrors with regal logos, stone, curtains, accoustic paneling, counter & stools with backrests, kitchen out back, carpeting, terrazzo tiles and wave-patterned terrazzo distinguishing circular wooden booth areas. Pat Fodero, son of Joseph Fodero, came up with the idea of circular booths to seat more patrons per table, and it was first popularized at the Forum Diner. The interior portrays the Colonial style.
My photos:
     I would be very grateful if you can feature this update/crucial appeal in your paper. Hopefully, someone will come forward before it’s too late! The public can contact me at Hope to hear from you soon. Thank you!
Michael Perlman
Committee To Save The Forum Diner, Chair

Red Wing Diner of Walpole, Mass. to get new owner

Red Wing Diner of Walpole, Mass. (The way it looks today)
photo circa 2006, copyright by Larry Cultrera

I just read an article from The Daily News Transcript out of Norwood, Massachusetts that an old favorite, the Red Wing Diner will undergo an ownership change soon. Located directly on U.S. Route 1, the Red Wing is a Worcester Lunch Car that is partially visible under some newer siding and another roof.

The siding covers the bottoms of the double-hung windows on either side of the front entry and the right side end wall leaving the upper sections that have orange stained glass visible to the naked eye. The diner is used as a bar with food service and is attached to a large building housing the major portion of the restaurant.

Though not open for breakfast, the diner is open for lunch and dinner and is famous for their Fried “Ipswich” Clams as well as their “pub” style Pizza. I have had the clams (excellent) but have never tried their pizza, someday maybe. The new owner has worked at the diner for 28 years. He has stated in the news article that there will be some changes, mostly cosmetic and not too extreme. Here is the text from the Daily News Transcript article written by Jeb Bobseine….

Old diner getting a new owner, look

WALPOLE —  A 75-year-old Rte. 1 dining institution is getting a renovation and a new owner.

Tuesday night Board of Selectmen approved the transfer of liquor, common victualler’s and entertainment licenses from Red Wing of Walpole, Inc., owned and run by the Campanario family, to Red Wing Diner Inc., to be owned and run by Liam Murphy. The sale is contingent on the payment of all outstanding tax obligations and ensuring the facility meets existing health codes.

Murphy, the current manager, has worked at the restaurant for 28 years, starting out as a busboy when he was 15. He later moved up to cook, manager, and soon, owner of the Red Wing Diner. He lives in Bellingham. “This is the type of entrepreneurial spirit we love in this town and the country,” said Selectman Al DeNapoli. Murphy’s attorney, Edward Valenzola of Mansfield, said his client certainly “knows the ins and outs of the business.”

Murphy declined comment on the pending sale, though he briefly described to the board his plans for the storied business and building. As long as the current employees want to stay, the staffing will remain “pretty much the same,” he said. He termed the planned renovations “generally cosmetic.” Some of the darker-colored siding will be removed and replaced, and a portion of the roof will be replaced. “Minor” work may be done to the walls, floors, and ceiling, and he may buy some new furniture.

He agreed with Selectman Chris Timson’s description of the goal being to give the place “a little perked up appearance.” Arthur Cook, a longtime Old Post Road resident who said he’s been going to Red Wing for 50 years, called the place “a family operation.” The Campanarios have always run a clean business, he said. They check IDs and “if you’ve had too much to drink they throw you out.” He hoped that wouldn’t change with the new ownership. Town Administrator Michael Boynton – only half-joking – asked Murphy if there would be any changes in the clam strips. Murphy assured him there would not.

(Note: the diner does not serve clam strips as quoted in the article but whole body clams, LAC)

Red Wing Diner circa 1940’s?, photo courtesy of Red Wing Diner

Lunch Box Diner (Malden, Mass.) Under New Management

I have known for a while that the couple running the Lunch Box Diner, Scott and Kristin Drago were looking to sell the business due to changing demographics, mainly family priorities and such. Business has been great and the Drago’s, with the able assistance of cook David Lane and their loyal waitresses have brought this little Worcester Diner back to being a great stop for breakfast and lunch. Denise and I were regular customers for Sunday morning breakfasts (at least 2 to 3 times a month). The diner located on Route 60 in Malden has seen many people operating it since the 1970’s under such names as Viv’s Diner, Judy’s Diner, Rose’s Lil’ Red Diner, Uncle Lester’s Diner and just prior to the Drago’s it was operated by my friend, John Harmon as Lulu’s.

As of August 4, 2008 the diner is now in the capable hands of Nick Master. If I am not mistaken, he will make a slight name change to Nick’s Lunch Box Diner. The menu will stay fairly close to what Scott and Kristen had with possibly some new additions. Nick is no stranger to food service and is very pleasant and affable and will fit right in with running the diner. Some of the waitstaff will stay on and Kristin will help in the transition for a short time herself. We wish good luck to Nick and his crew in keeping this little diner going as well as Scott and Kristin in their future endeavors.

Abbott’s Frozen Custard, a Rochester, NY institution opens store in Massachusetts

Abbott’s Frozen Custard’s newly opened franchise in Needham, Mass.

I read with interest when the Boston Globe had a piece last week on the recent opening of an outlet of a Rochester, NY landmark business in Needham, Massachusetts. Abbott’s Frozen Custard which started in 1902 when Arthur Abbott started selling his frozen treat at local fairs. He opened a permanent store in 1926 in Rochester’s Charlotte neighborhood. So the ice cream lovers that we are, Denise and I took a ride over to Needham on Saturday afternoon to find the store and check out the offerings and see what the shouting was about. Well, we were more than pleased! It was delicious! We had the Red Raspberry flavored custard and we were hooked. Now I wish we lived a little closer. We met Mary Pat Dauria and her family who opened this franchise, she is a native of Rochester living here in the Boston area for 27 years. Every time the family went back to Rochester for visits one of their first stops was to Abbott’s. Theirs is not the first franchise outside of the Empire state, that distiction goes to Florida, but it is the first in New England. I’m hoping more open here in the future.

Here is the text of the piece from the Boston Globe….

Cold comfort
Abbott’s custard brings back good memories for customers

By Elizabeth Navisky, Globe Correspondent / July 29, 2008

NEEDHAM – She’s lived here for 27 years, but no one would mistake Mary Pat Dauria for a New Englander. “I still can’t get rid of the Rochester accent,” she says, ringing up another sale at Abbott’s Frozen Custard, her shop here. Both Dauria and the cash register have been quite busy since the store opened in June, serving an influx of customers hooked on the cold treat.
Thick frozen custard has inspired a devoted following, especially residents of Rochester, N.Y., the site of the original Abbott’s on Lake Ontario. Frozen custard, made with eggs, buttermilk, and cream, and churned slowly in a custom-made machine, is denser than traditional ice cream. “I missed Abbott’s,” says Dauria. “Every time I went back to Rochester the first thing we did was go there.” So five years ago, the former buyer for Filene’s hatched a plan to open an Abbott’s Frozen Custard franchise here, the first in New England (others are located in New York and Florida.)

It wasn’t long before transplanted Rochestarians found it. “I absolutely grew up on Abbott’s,” says Norma Greenberg, 76, waiting in line at the tiny storefront. She points to a 1939 photograph of the original Abbott’s on the wall. “I could be in one of these pictures!” The Newton resident heard about the new Abbott’s from a Needham friend. She rushed over that day and reminisced with Dauria about custard and all things Rochester.

Dauria has had many similar encounters since opening, and has a two-page list of local Rochestarians who have visited. She’s witnessed reunions of people who hadn’t seen each other since their school days in the snowy city, and has fielded requests for other Rochester treats, like white hots, a type of a hot dog eaten in the area.

Rochester residents were first introduced to frozen custard in 1902, when Arthur Abbott started flogging the confection at local fairs. He open a permanent location in 1926 in the Rochester neighborhood of Charlotte (pronounced “Shar-LOT” or, if you are from Rochester and have the signature flat twang, “Shar-LAAT”), which still exists today. Dauria points to an old photograph of that shop, showing a procession of people – as far as the eye can see – waiting for a custard. “It’s still like that,” she says. “They have to get extra police every summer in Charlotte to deal with those lines.”

The Needham location has its own queues to contend with, a fact that didn’t escape Annette Doolin, a University of Rochester graduate who drove from Swampscott to taste nostalgia. “I almost feel like jumping behind there and helping them out, I’m so committed to this custard,” she says. Doolin, 40, who was introduced to Abbott’s by a classmate who had grown up in Rochester, made a habit of indulging in chocolate custard once a week while living there.

Flavors are limited as the custard is made fresh daily and each batch takes 20 minutes to churn. Vanilla, chocolate, black raspberry, and coffee are some flavors most often available. On this night, Greenberg chooses vanilla, which she shares with her daughter, Susan, who is visiting from Durham, N.C., and has been whisked to Needham to taste her mother’s childhood.

It lives up to the hype. “There was a lot of build up,” says the younger Greenberg, “but it is very, very good.”

Abbott’s Frozen Custard, 934 Great Plain Ave., Needham, 781-444-9908, you can also read the history and other interesting info about Abbott’s at


Our friends at Vintage Roadside receive great write-up

I got an email from Jeff Kunkle last week with a link to a newspaper article about Jeff and his wife Kelly Burg. Jeff and Kelly have the Vintage Roadside website and Vintage Roadtrip blog (check out my blogroll). Based out of Portland, Oregon, Jeff and Kelly (are as quoted in the article), engaged in a kind of guerrilla campaign for historic preservation. (I love that quote)!

Anyway, here is the text from Inara Verzemnieks piece in The Oregonian dated Sunday, July 27, 2008….

Gregg Clapp, left, films Jeff Kunkle, center, interviewing Lyle Lilja
about the good old days at the Tik Tok Drive-In.

Tik Tok: The past comes rushing in

Most people look at a city and see what is there, but some people — possessing a more finely tuned connection to history than the rest of us — can look and see what used to be there. The past overlaid on the present, an invisible, vivid landscape.

You know that parking lot at the intersection of Sandy and Burnside? There used to be a drive-in (restaurant) there, open 24 hours a day and the kids parked their cars outside — the El Caminos and the Chevys and Corvettes — and sometimes the kitchen made gooseberry pie, and the manager, he used to tell the girls who worked there (in short little skirts that showed everything but the president) that he needed them to hop up on the counter and change the lights. … He got fired.

“What is it about connecting with the past?” Kelly Burg asks.

She’s got her own answers to this question — and a life built around them — but it’s worth throwing out there to the rest of us, to all of us who drive by and only see the parking lots.

On a recent Saturday, Burg and her husband, Jeff Kunkle, actually were at the intersection of Sandy Boulevard and Burnside, along with a whole lot of other people, eager to conjure memories of the Tik Tok, Portland’s first drive-in and something of an institution from 1938 to 1971 — with its “Time to Eat” sign and giant coffee cup billowing neon steam. Eventually, like so many roadside attractions of that time, it disappeared.

The Portland Foursquare Church now owns the property where the Tik Tok once stood and, together with the Road Knights Car Club, had organized a daylong reunion — complete with classic car show, hot dogs and cotton candy — for anyone who wanted to reminisce. Near the classic car registration area, Burg and Kunkle had set up their booth, an inviting display of T-shirts with intriguing vintage logos, including one featuring the Tik Tok. But selling T-shirts actually was only a small piece of their overall mission.

Really, they were engaged in a kind of guerrilla campaign for historic preservation.

Both had always been drawn to the old, the overlooked, the disappearing. When they went somewhere on vacation, they made a point to drop by the local historical society. They loved taking back roads and staying at old motels. They were particularly fascinated by mom-and-pop businesses from the 1930s to the’60s — the golden age of automobile travel, as Burg puts it: drive-ins, bowling alleys, motor courts, odd roadside shops and displays.

On their travels, she says, “we would find the remains of places,” tantalizing clues to what used to be. “It looked so charming. We would wonder: What happened here?”

Their impulse always was to save what they could. One of their rescues: An A&W Burger family — the giant fiberglass statues that welcomed you to the drive-in chain. They now live in Kunkle and Burg’s backyard, hoisting frosty mugs of root beer and happily eyeing hamburgers for eternity. (“The alternative was a grass backyard,” Burg says. “This is so much better.”)

But what of the buildings, the places already gone? How could you bring them back?

That’s when Burg and Kunkle started thinking about the T-shirts. If they put the logos of these lost business on T-shirts, they had a chance to resurrect them, in a way. They could get people talking about these places again, wondering about them. They would research each one, piece together its history — often spending hours pouring over old microfiche, flipping through old phone books, calling on amateur town historians — so that when people bought a T-shirt, they weren’t just buying a piece of clothing, they were also getting a story.

That was just the starting point: Their secret hope was that all this would get people thinking about historic preservation, people who might not otherwise, people who maybe found the subject intimidating, thought historic preservation only applied to mansions or other fancy places, not the things close to their lives, like neon signs or roller rinks. Maybe they could get people to see history where they hadn’t before.

And like that, what had always been a passion became their life’s focus. They quit their jobs and last August launched Vintage Roadside.

They like events such as the Tik Tok reunion because they get a chance to unearth even more history, to hear people’s firsthand memories.

Jeff Kunkle and Kelly Burg collect memories of the past for their

Their Web site includes detailed histories of their featured mom-and-pop businesses, but they are always eager to add information — the more specific the better. (From the 77 Ranch Tourist Court entry: “While we haven’t been able to track down the exact dates that the 77 Ranch operated, we do have the following fun facts from Dallas City Directories. In 1947 the manager of 77 Ranch Court was Maude Montgomery. In 1948-1949 Howard Hites is listed as the manager. In 1950-1951 Maude Montgomery returned in the role of manager once again. Yes, it does seem like there might be a story here!”)

For the Tik Tok event, they set out a display case of memorabilia in the Vintage Roadside booth, including an old Tik Tok menu (which included creamed waffles, with butter and syrup, for 20 cents) and an ashtray. Next to the case, they left a pen and a notebook, inviting people to record their favorite Tik Tok memories.

“Ate at the Tik Tok and walked over to Scotties to request a song from (local radio DJ) Dick Novak. Announced our engagement over the radio (before we told our folks). 1957.”

It’s hard to describe just how happy Burg and Kunkle seemed, taking all this in, all the people who would drift in to look at T-shirts and end up sharing stories not only about the Tik Tok but other forgotten Portland places: the barns where they stowed the trolley cars, old service stations, boarding houses.

With each T-shirt purchase, Burg handed folks a card letting them know they were eligible for a year’s free membership with the National Historic Trust (which has invited Burg and Kunkle to come speak on a panel at their National Preservation Conference in Oklahoma in October.)

Soon the couple’s friend Greg Clapp arrived. They had been thinking it would be good to videotape some of these conversations — further preservation — and create a documentary series that they could post on Vintage Roadside site.

While Burg held down the booth, Clapp, armed with a video camera, and Kunkle made their way to the old Tik Tok site, now filled with classic cars. It didn’t take them long to find some good stories.

“This was where it all happened,” Lyle Lilja said, standing by his 1951 Oldsmobile. “It was kind of the beginning point of the cruise. People went to the Tik Tok and Jim Dandy’s and Yaw’s, and then back here.” They were all young and broke. “Any money we had, we stuck it into our cars.”

But the greatest discovery came as they were heading back to the booth. There, near the hot dog table, they ran into Dolly Harris, the daughter of one of the Tik Tok’s last owners.

From her handbag, she drew a framed photo of the Tik Tok in 1968.

“I started there when I was 18,” she said. “I never got to work in the kitchen because it was too small. I got to learn to be a soda jerk. We made everything from Suicides to Green Rivers. … We made milkshakes and we made sundaes and we made our own fresh pies from scratch.” She listed them off: raisin cream pie, pumpkin, apple, cherry, gooseberry, peach cream.

“Do you remember the cook?” Kunkle asked.

“Chad was his name, and he was the head chef. And there was Larry the bus boy. … George was our butcher.”

She told them about the time the cook made clam chowder without the clams, her short-lived career as car hop because her mom thought the skirts were too short (even though her dad was the one who picked out all the uniforms).

They talked so long Clapp had to run and get a new battery.

When they were done, Kunkle thanked Harris profusely. “This is such an important part of Portland’s history, and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible,” he said.

Earlier, Burg tried to explain how she answers people when they ask why preserving these sorts of places and the memories around them is important.

“I think for us, a big part of it is roots — roots in the community. With everything new and places being torn down, you lose your connection to the past. And I think that connection is important for stability, for identity.” Which is another way of saying that maybe who we were says a lot about who we are.
Check out Vintage Roadside and its histories at

Notes from the Hotline, 8-1-08

I have not been too active this week on the blog as I have been on Vacation from my job. Denise and I have been in and out all week doing different things but I have managed to get to a few places.

Breakfast at the Fish Tale Diner

Saturday we went up to Salisbury, Mass. and had a great breakfast at a diner with one of the most scenic locations anywhere, the Fish Tale Diner. This is the original Agawam Diner built in 1940 for the Galanis family (Worcester Lunch Car No. 762) and was originally operated in Ipswich, Mass. until they replaced it with a larger Worcester Lunch Car (No. 797) in 1947.

The first diner was then redone with new porcelain panels and placed at the intersection of U.S. Rte. 1 and Mass. Rte. 133 in Rowley, Mass. where it operated until 1970 when they moved the current diner (a Fodero diner) in to replace this one. The Galanis’ sold this diner and it was transported up to Brunswick, Maine but reportedly never was set up there when the new people defaulted on the sale and it reverted back to the Galanis’. It came back briefly to Rowley and was stored on an empty lot across Rte. 133 from the current diner until it was resold and placed in Salisbury.

The location in Salisbury is just off U. S. Rte. 1, directly on the banks of the Merrimack River adjacent to a marina/motel complex overlooking Newburyport. The current owners have added an outdoor deck for expanded seating with tables. They do a great business and it can be very relaxing eating inside or out. Certainly a good stop for breakfast or lunch  anytime of year but especially so in the summer.

We also got over to The Lunch Box Diner in Malden, Mass. on Sunday and I hope to have more news on this one shortly.

Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe photo circa 2006

Breakfast at Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe

Thursday morning I went to visit Royal Label Company in Dorchester (a section of Boston). I was employed there for over 8 years before I left for another position 2 and half years ago. I wanted to stop in and see what was going on, it seems like I get to do this once a year. On the way in I decided to stop for breakfast at Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, a venerable neighborhood institution located on Columbus Avenue in the South End section of Boston for over 80 years. Whenever I go to Charlie’s I cannot resist their “Cape Cod French Toast”. This is regular French Toast with warm fresh cranberry compote drizzled on top. It is delicious!

Tolman Mfg. & Supply Company

On the way back from Royal Label I was bypassing expressway traffic and cutting through South Boston. I decided to finally investigate Tolman Mfg. & Supply Company located at 61 Dorchester Avenue across from the Gillette Company Headquarters. They sell and service Welding Equipment Supplies and Industrial Gases.

Part of the building Tolman is located in is the remains of an old Worcester Lunch Car. It is fairly covered up and almost unrecognizable. If you get up close to it you can see behind the sign that runs along the roof. The old barrel roof of the diner is discerned from this close up view. You can also see the front left corner of the diner (just a piece). The interior is completely gutted but the barrel ceiling is still visible. The end walls are gone as well as the extreme right section of back wall.

Original corner piece, left front elevation

I talked with Brad Bankman, the president of Tolman and he told me that they have been there since 1960. He also said that it had previously operated as the Donut Dugout prior to his company taking the building over. I do not know what the original name of the diner was. An interesting thing I discovered was that the diner had an addition on the right hand end that also was twice as deep as the diner structure. I don’t exactly know what this was but this section has unique “cove ceilings” covered in metal as well as a large skylight. It almost looked like someone was trying to emulate a diner interior on an on-site structure. Brad thought it might have been an old railroad car but I am not so sure.

Inside of building looking down the length of the old diner,
the light fixture is mounted to the barrel ceiling.

Interior of addition on right end of diner with unique cove ceiling
with skylight, now used as office/service desk.

Thanks to Brad Bankman for his taking time out of his busy day to talk with me as well as allowing me to take photos of the interior and exterior of his establishment.

Palace Diner, one of only 2 Pollard Diners in existance.

Biddeford, Maine’s Palace Diner For Sale

I heard from Bob Higgins the other day and he reports that the Palace Diner, a 1920’s vintage Pollard Diner is for sale. The current owner, Kyle Quinn is seeking to sell the business, lock, stock and barrel (roof of course). Here is what Bob said in his email…

The diner is actively for sale by owner Kyle Quinn,
1-207- 332-6001
I have been there a couple of times in the last couple of weeks. The diner has 15 seats and comes with the land it sits on and a few feet of land around it. He appears to be doing some business, but is not open beyond 10:30 am, breakfast only. He has owned the diner for 3 years. Maybe you could place a note on your blog and see if there is any interest.                                                                                                                      Bob Higgins

Consider it posted Bob!

Old postcard of HoJo’s clone, Mary Hartigan’s Famous Restaurant

Newest addition to my postcard collection

I finally broke down and got a decent postcard of a restaurant I remember (although I never ate there). It was from “Mary Hartigan’s Famous Restaurant” (not my words, that is how the back reads). This place was located on Route 1A, Washington Street in Dedham, Mass. hard by the edge of Route 128. I always thought it might have been an ex-Howard Johnsons Restaurant by the looks of it. I was wrong according to some info I have found. In fact there is a possibility that this place actually evolved from a former Dutchland Farms Restaurant which had similar styling to HoJo’s.

The building still exists but is completely encased within a much larger structure since it was Hartigans. It has operated as at least one other restaurant and is now currently became part of an upscale chain called “Finz”. There is another one in Salem, Mass.