We began driving up to our house in the country every weekend in 1996. On Route 17B, we passed Blanche’s Diner, a simple building—nothing like the immense, sleek and shiny diners you see …
We began driving up to our house in the country every weekend in 1996. On Route 17B, we passed Blanche’s Diner, a simple building—nothing like the immense, sleek and shiny diners you see in the suburbs or on major highways. We eventually became what I’d call semi-regulars, coming in often enough to stop on our way to our seats to hug the owners and for our favorite waitress, Penny, to remember what we always ordered.
At Blanche’s, there was a relaxed feeling—one of warmth. You could count on having your eggs, toast and bacon exactly the way you ordered them. The regulars who ate there talked across the room to each other from their tables and booths and Bud, the cook and owner, discoursed on baseball with the folks sitting around the counter. One day, he happened to serve our breakfast on square plates, which we loved. After that, those were the plates he used for us, making a good-natured fuss about it and often delivering our food to the table.
Walking into Blanche’s put a smile on our faces every time. I remember one morning there particularly fondly. Blanche was sitting at the counter directly across from where her son, Bud, stood flipping eggs at the grill. Her stiff helmet of dark, teased hair was a constant and comforting sight. The door to the diner opened and a heavy-set man entered. “Holy moly, look who just walked in,” Blanche announced, smiling. “How are you?” she asked. “Good, good. I just came in to see what an old broad looks like,” he responded, affectionately planting both hands on Blanche’s shoulders as they shook with laughter.
My sister, Janet, and I smiled at each other and kept eating. From where we sat I could hear Bud repeating Penny’s last order, making sure he had it. “Forty-two over easy, wheat down, single whisky, short banana stack.”
“Both take bacon on the side,” Penny reminded him.
“What’s 42 mean?” I asked Penny as she was passing the sign on the wall that warned “beware of waitress.” She was balancing four plates on her outstretched arms and clutching a coffee pitcher in one hand. “It’s four eggs for two people. Two apiece. You divide the second number into the first,” she explained as she set the plates down at the table next to ours. “Eighty-four scrambled would be eight eggs for four people.”
She refilled our coffee mugs and headed back to the front of the diner. “Single cake seaboard,” I heard her say to Bud.
“What do you think that is?” I asked Janet.
“Go up and ask,” she suggested. I returned from having leaned over the counter to ask Bud. Janet looked at me expectantly. “One pancake to go,” I told her.
I have always loved this kind of coded talk. It goes on only in good, old-fashioned diners where seasoned waitresses wear black aprons with lots of little pockets for pens, pads and tips. You’re lucky if a waitress in the city even bothers to come over to take your order without you having to flag her down and blessed if she brings the food as requested. Once, Blanche told me that “back in the day” when she first started as a waitress, the restaurant lingo was even more extensive. A G-A-C was a grilled American cheese sandwich, “one in” was the way you ordered a hamburger and a ham-and-cheese sandwich was called “a combo.” If you ordered something the kitchen had run out of, the cook would respond by yelling, “86!” When I was bartending, that was the term we used to throw a disorderly or overly intoxicated customer from the bar. “You’re 86ed!” we’d shout, and everyone knew what that meant.
That morning at Blanche’s, Janet and I went up to the register together to pay our bill. Blanche had moved to a stool behind the register. As she was counting our change, Bud came over, wiping his hands on his apron. He smiled broadly. “You know what a patty melt is?” he asked. We grinned, knowing something devilish was coming. “It’s when you come over and pat the cook on the toosh,” he replied.
And with that, he turned and made a point of sticking out his own toosh as he headed back to the grill. Unabashed and so at ease at Blanche’s was I that I ran after him into the kitchen, gave him a swat on the butt and laughed, along with everyone around.
Makes 12 pancakes
These pancakes are particularly nice served with crispy bacon and a fruit salad of ruby red grapefruit and oranges.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup half-and-half or whole milk
1 large egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 very ripe medium banana
1 small, ripe banana (with no brown spots)
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
Butter for cooking
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and sugar (optional, for garnish)
Maple syrup for serving
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
In a small dry skillet, toast the chopped nuts over a low flame for about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt. In a larger bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, half-and-half (or whole milk), eggs, melted butter and vanilla. Whisk the dry ingredients into the liquid until combined. Mash the ripe banana and add to the batter along with the toasted nuts. Heat a large non-stick skillet or griddle over moderate heat until hot. Add some butter and when melted, drop about 1/4 cup of batter onto the skillet, making 4 pancakes at a time. Cook until a few bubbles appear on the surface and undersides are golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully flip the pancakes and cook until undersides are golden brown and cooked through—about 1 minute. Place the cooked pancakes in the warm oven in a baking dish or sheet pan and continue making 4 pancakes at a time until all the batter is used. Place all the cooked pancakes on a serving platter and cut the ripe, firm banana into slices and place decoratively on top of the pancakes. If you like, sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar mixture over the sliced pancakes and serve with maple syrup.
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