Before moving full-time to Callicoon, my sister, Janet, and I drove back and forth from Manhattan each weekend to spend the weekend at our little country house. Many years ago, driving back to the …
Before moving full-time to Callicoon, my sister, Janet, and I drove back and forth from Manhattan each weekend to spend the weekend at our little country house. Many years ago, driving back to the city one evening, we were suddenly overcome with hunger. Having just entered New Jersey, we knew a diner would come into view sooner or later. “Keep an eye out,” Janet said. Within minutes, the Tiffany Diner—a mammoth, gaudy vision in chrome, neon and mirrors—came into view. It looked like it had been wrapped in aluminum foil.
We pulled into the parking lot and headed inside the supernaturally bright diner. Waitresses, all of a certain age, in shiny black-and-white polyester outfits moved briskly around the room. Colorful faux Tiffany lamps hung suspended above each table. We settled into a booth and were greeted by a quirky-looking woman whose laminated nametag read “Alice.” Her eyelids were painted with blue shadow and from her ears hung large gold-colored hoops. She was as cheerful as could be and we warmed to her immediately. She handed us heavy, bound leatherette menus. “How ya doing, girls? Good to see ya,” she said, her head bobbing as if on a springy coiled wire. Her long wispy hair, the dying of which she clearly handled herself, was multi-hued, nearly striped. Her coral-colored lipstick had been applied with a blind eye. “I’ll let ya look these over,” she said, patting the menu in my hand. She turned to leave, then pivoted around. “Something to drink, girls?” she asked. “I’ll have a cup of coffee,” I said. “Decaf,” Janet added. Alice winked, “Ya got it,” she promised. A couple of minutes later she brought my coffee. “Was it tea for you?” she asked Janet. “No, actually decaf, but I do usually have tea,” Janet said. “That’s what I thought,” Alice said, “You like your tea.” When she walked away, Janet asked, “Have we ever been here before?” “Nope,” I responded.
“The usual?” I asked my sister, scanning the six-page menu for both turkey sandwiches and tuna melts. “With French fries,” she replied. I spotted Alice standing next to a large coffee urn, arms crossed over her chest. She was happily muttering to herself. I caught her eye, and she crossed the room waving her ordering pad. “We’re gonna split a couple of sandwiches,” I said. She nodded her approval. “One tuna melt with cheddar cheese on whole wheat and a turkey on toasted rye with lettuce.” “Lots of mayo,” Janet said. “Extra mayo on the side?” Alice suggested. “Yeah, and well-done French fries, please,” I added.
Our food arrived and Alice waited to see our reactions. “Fries crispy enough?” she asked. We nodded. “Plenty of mayo,” she commented, pushing a filled ramekin in between our plates. “I’ll let you enjoy,” she said, moving off. The sandwiches were more than decent, accompanied with the usual wedge of half-sour pickle and tiny pleated paper cups of mediocre coleslaw. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, knowing we were being watched over by the sweet and kooky Alice. When I waved her over to get the check, she tucked her pad into the black apron tied around her waist so she could easily carry over two pots of coffee to pour our final refills. “It was great seeing ya again,” she said, as she slipped the check onto the tabletop. “You too!” Janet and I chimed.
Serves 2 to 4
This tuna fish salad is delicious as is, but makes a superior-tasting tuna melt if you’re in the mood for melted cheese—and when are you not?
2 5-ounce cans Italian tuna in olive oil, preferably Genova brand, drained well
1/2 small red onion, minced
3 cornichon pickles (or ¼ dill pickled), minced
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 celery stalk, minced (optional)
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill
Mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann’s to taste (I like it creamy)
Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Serve as is, but this tuna is great for open-faced tuna melts.
For tuna melts for two:
Cut a brioche or challah roll in half. Toast until lightly golden. Pile on the tuna fish salad, then top with any grated cheese you like, such as gouda, fontina, Monterey Jack, etc. Broil until cheese is bubbly and serve with good-quality potato chips and sliced dill pickles.
This is not groundbreaking coleslaw. It doesn’t try to be exotic or fancy, but it’s still way better than the tired, tasteless, wilted stuff you get in most diners. It’s colorful, crunchy and perfectly suited to accompany any sandwich, fried chicken, or hamburger you serve.
1/2 pound green cabbage, cored and sliced as thinly as possible
1/2 pound red cabbage, cored and sliced as thinly as possible
2 carrots, peeled, cut crosswise into thirds, then finely julienned
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley or snipped chives, for garnish
3 tablespoons Champagne (or good-quality white wine) vinegar
1/2 teaspoon honey mustard
1/4 teaspoon honey
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann’s
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. This is a slightly sharp vinaigrette, so start with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and add a bit more if you like it less vinegary. Put the slaw ingredients in a big bowl and pour the dressing over it. Toss well and adjust seasoning. Add the herbs, toss again, then chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the fridge about 15 minutes prior to serving.
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