All throughout Greasy Spoons Week, food writers and friends of Eater have been writing about their favorite diners. Now, Robecilli's proprietor/blogger Allison Robicelli writes about the diners of her past, and her current favorite: Hope & Anchor.
[Hope & Anchor by Krieger]
Diners are, for the most part, not good places to eat. They are comforting, yes, but good, seldom. It was the place I spent many nights when my fake ID wasn't good enough to get me into a bar in Bay Ridge, or the cops had broken up one of our many street corner drinking sessions and confiscated our beer. My friends and I would sit for hours over a round of bottomless coffees and a $10 check, talking about boys or trouble or other girls or all three, chain-smoking Benson & Hedges, as I had it on good authority that it was the brand Courtney Love was smoking at the time.
When our fake IDs got better, or more accurately, when we got curvier and the bouncers didn't seem to care how old we were as much, we'd amble past 4 a.m. for cheese fries and omelets and to keep the night alive, going home well past when the sun went up. We stole stacks of those iconic placemats covered in old man cocktails, turning one into our group yearbook photo, promising each other that when we went to college we'd hang them up in our rooms to remember each other. It became so ingrained in my memory that to this day, at a bar, I will only order drinks I can recall from that menu — Manhattans in particular.
Then, we grew up. Boyfriends started coming to the table, then husbands, then nobody. Saturday nights turned into once a year when everyone was in town. We'd watch the drunks amble in and wonder if we had ever looked that stupid. Bloomberg banned smoking in restaurants, and with our smell and taste returned to us, we noticed the freezer burn, or the lack of flavor all together. Greasy steak fries covered in cheap mozzarella and gravy really don't taste quite as good when one is sober.
I've eaten in countless New York City diners in my life, and though I will loudly bemoan the death of the Tribeca Diner, or Tiffany, or even my beloved and recently departed Hinsch's, the food was never as good as the company. Diners were never restaurants — they were secret clubhouses for kids from New York. Places we met and planned our lives and made mistakes and fell in and out of love, where you could sit for six hours and not worry about being pushed out to turn the table. Where you could run after fighting with your parents and cry hysterically over a dictionary-sized piece of baklava and the waitress knew to both leave you alone and also to load your plate up with extra whipped cream.
It may have been comfort food, but ghosts can only comfort for so long. In adulthood, I've walked out of most diners, sad that I'd parted with 10 bucks or so for a flaccid chicken salad sandwich and an overly syrupy Diet Coke. That sadness disappeared the day I discovered Hope & Anchor.
Every part of me lights up when I think about eating at Hope and Anchor. I will gladly pull myself out of bed, dress myself, dress my children, pack everyone into the car, and sit in traffic on the Gowanus Expressway for what feels like forever to get myself to Red Hook to eat, well, everything. There are no "usuals" here, as everything on the menu deserves to be eaten: the roast pork sandwiches slathered with mozz and cherry peppers and just the right amount of grease, the Mac Daddy burger which is the epitome of everything a sloppy drunk burger should be, the chicken pot pie that I have on more than one occasion been tempted to plant my face in like some champion pie eater at a state fair. I have even ordered salad on multiple occasions, which normally goes against every natural instinct I have — yet their salads bowl me over, every time. And no matter how full I am or how fat I'm feeling, I will ALWAYS order their banana cream pie, and Matt orders their icebox cake — our two favorite desserts at any restaurant in all of New York City.
I've never had to talk about cute boys there, because the cutest one of all ended up marrying me, and always shares a little bit of whatever he's eating. We talk about important things now, like the news or the weather. We've fought there, I've cried in the bathroom, and healed myself with macaroni and cheese stolen from our youngest son's plate. We sit in the back room where our children play with the house toybox, while Matt and I grab a few moments to eat a meal in peace. This is as comforting in your thirties as coffee and cigarettes were in 1997.
When Atticus turned six, he said that's where he wanted to go for his birthday. So that's where we went, along with our friends who had also grown up, and the kids they had while we had all disappeared from each other for a while. We drank very chichi cocktails from a placemat, we ate very fancy burgers topped with chorizo and banh mi pickles and other very grown up toppings, we teased each other for looking "so goddamn old." We talked about real estate and jobs, and talked about old times. We slipped back into each other like old socks. We watched our children sword fighting with their French fries, becoming fast friends, wondering what sort of trouble they'd get into one day.
We made a pact over cheese fries to never tell them about anything we did at the diner.
— Allison Robicelli
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