food we miss

Diner Breakfast Is the Perfect Meal to Dream About Right Now

It’s unfussy, it’s delicious, and it’s impossible to make at home.

Perfect. Photo: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images
Perfect. Photo: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

My favorite diner in America is on the North Fork of Long Island. It’s on the main corner in Greenport. I couldn’t tell you the name, because, like all great diners, it is simply “the diner.” (“Where do you want to go?” “The diner.”) I’m pretty sure it has undergone at least one, and possibly several, changes in ownership since I started going there, because the décor has changed over the years. Right now, it’s got a ’50s-kitsch vibe, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives chic with a few nautical touches here and there. It’s smaller and more ramshackle than the typical chromed-out diner car, which is probably why I like it better.

The reason I am not positive about the name or ownership of my favorite diner is because its retro sign just says “restaurant,” and besides, I’ve never had to think about it. You go to a diner for breakfast, and without even looking at the menu, you know what to expect. Stacks of pancakes, with pats of butter in between each one and drizzles of syrup gracefully spilling down the sides; eggs over easy next to a pile of corned-beef hash; giant slabs of French toast under a too-heavy dusting of powdered sugar; pan-fried potatoes and thin-sliced onions sizzled together into home fries; giant mugs of medium-strength coffee that never go empty; impossibly tiny individual containers of half-and-half; omelettes, enormous American models that are browned on the outside and filled with peppers, more onions, cheddar cheese, bacon, spinach, mushrooms, or whatever else you want; little glistening rods of breakfast sausages; and, always on the side, triangles of perfect diner toast, which steam a little bit on the way to the table so that they’re somehow both crunchy and a little soggy at the same time.

Lately, I cannot stop thinking about Giant Diner Breakfasts. This started about a month ago, when I saw one of the few good things on Twitter:

The notion stuck. Now, at some point almost every day, I imagine eating toast and eggs and pancakes and hash-brown potatoes. I think about the little ceremonies and rituals that go into a Giant Diner Breakfast. I even miss that moment when, at a new diner, you aren’t sure if it’s a place where you pay the server or you walk up to pay at a register.

Normally, when this happens and the idea of a single food or meal is lodged in your brain, you can go eat that thing or you cook it yourself. Alas, that diner in Greenport — which, after Googling, I now see is actually called Crazy Beans (?!) — is, like most diners, closed to sit-down diners for the foreseeable future. Getting a Giant Diner Breakfast for takeout or delivery would just be depressing. And preparing a GDB is also out of the question, because it is impossible to re-create at home.

You won’t hear the din of strangers all around you enjoying their own GDBs. You can’t hire someone to constantly refill your coffee. And you would have to be insane to try and cook so much food by yourself.

Giant Diner Breakfast is everything, by which I mean it is all breakfast foods, served simultaneously, until the Formica table overflows with heavy-duty plates, bottles of ketchup and hot sauce, big cups of juice, and those little plastic packets of Smucker’s jelly. The shopping and prep alone would take a full day. (I have no idea where to buy those jelly packets.) And while I’d be happy to cook sunny-side-up eggs or pancakes or corned-beef hash or giant omelettes filled with peppers and ham, I absolutely can’t cook them all at the same time. Even if I could, I definitely would not then add six pieces of white, wheat, or rye toast on top of it all.

There has, of late, been something of a growing chorus of support for big, fussy breakfasts. Even though I am usually happiest when “breakfast” is black coffee and maybe a yogurt if we have one in the fridge, I absolutely agree that now is a time to take extreme steps to make yourself feel as happy and comfortable as possible. A thoughtful meal is an excellent way to do that, but a GDB is not a meal in the traditional sense; it is a full experience. It is something that, when done right, takes up the entire morning. It makes you way too full. It is possibly the only time that waiting an hour for a table to open up is the right move because the best kind of breakfast diner is a very busy breakfast diner.

Or at least it was, before crowds became so alarming. Now it’s different for the same reasons everything else that used to feel normal is different. Instead, simply spending weeks mulling over some idealized version of breakfast feels like luxury. This is an idea that I have brain space to even consider?

It’s one way to cope, I guess. Maybe I can’t shake the idea of the breakfast because it’s almost as useful as the breakfast itself: It’s a way to feel a little bit better about things and to remind myself how lucky I really am.

Diner Breakfast Is the Perfect Meal to Dream About Right Now