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Arts & Culture

Classic American diner offers glimpse of another era

Jukeboxes, hospitality, great food form secret recipe for reviving traditional diner

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, November 21, 2014

In harkening back to the glory days of the diner, Wayland Square Cafe Diner has managed to carve its own path and remain relevant to modern customers through classic dishes and friendly service.

The American diner — once the mecca of hip social circles with its catchall of pop culture, vintage cars, delicious milkshakes and nervous first-daters — is making a comeback,albeit one riddled with identity crises. Falling a half-century after the golden age of diners, Wayland Square Diner must navigate the tension between homage and parody and settle for a golden mean of pastiche — falling short of “Pulp Fiction” but still home to as many Marilyn Monroe posters and jukeboxes as the fire marshal will allow.

The authenticity of Wayland Square Diner, then, comes as a breath of fresh air. Authentic not just in the sense of replication — which makes an appearance with stools lining the counter, aproned waiters and five-ish dollar shakes — but also in creating a style of its own, meshing the glory days of yore with the vibe of an intimate, service-oriented neighborhood joint.

Upon sitting down in the row of two-person booths along the far wall, a patron is immediately asked, “Would you like some coffee?” The question presupposes a “yes,” and correctly so, as the hand-ground coffee is delicious, with enough cream and sugar available to satisfy the biggest of cynics. Next comes the choice between the breakfast or lunch menu or, for the very ambitious, both. Though eggs Benedict, French toast and pancakes await the early bird, a recent visit at noon lent itself to the latter menu option.

In a diner this cozy — it’s difficult to sit more than 10 feet from the counter — the small staff milling around is as much a part of the experience as the still photography memorializing a black-and-white Providence on the wall. The service was quick, as a grilled cheese had a miraculous one-minute turnaround and a burger took no more than 10. Even with this efficiency, the standout trait of the staff was their friendliness.

Food allergies — and the inevitable but crucial barrage of questions about ingredients and cross-contamination that follows­ ­— are an excellent way of judging the level of commitment to the patrons. Admittedly, helpfulness in this regard can stem from an aversion to vomit on the dining tables, but the staff of Wayland Diner gave off a strong sense of genuine care, with a waitress cheerfully granting access into the kitchen to check ingredient lists.

The grilled cheese, laden with moderately melty tomatoes and bacon, served as a cheap but tasty appetizer. This promises good things for the other sandwiches on the deli and triple decker-rich menu. As a shout-out to the diner’s relative proximity to campus, the Van Wickle Gates burger makes for a great choice, with a combination of pepper jack cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and bacon.

The foreseeable stopping block to students interested in this affordable, atmospheric experience is less so the 15-minute walk than the early closing time. Wayland Square Diner is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., making frequent trips difficult. But this underscores its importance in the current age. Once establishments such as the Wayland Square Diner surpass pure nostalgia, they are able to reign again as the hip place for dates, post-Saturday night recoveries and good food. The weekend holds the key to this new American mecca — the home of brunch.

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