American food takes many forms. There are plenty of chefs doing Fine Dining American as well as an uprising of up-scale casual restaurants to fill the gaps. Then there is the ultimate in Americana. The American Diner.
In all countries, one can find cheap food so manipulated that the lack of fine groceries can be ignored. In France it's the brassiere. In Asia, it's the noodle house. In the middle east, it's the shwarma hut. And in America-the Diner. All of these places have the same general guidelines. Low cost, huge selection and Deliciousness!
The past fifties years have seen a spreading of the diner in franchise form. Denny's, Mel's and the greatest of all, The Waffle House
. At The Waffle House, you can purchase a two egg plate with hashbrowns, toast and coffee for around five bucks. All of these restaurants offer quick service and standard menu selections including the traditional "eggs any style," the Patty Melt, The Reuben and Burgers with a dozen options. There is a lot of cross over on the menus, so the toppings on the burger and fillings for the omelets will probably look familiar. Since the margins for profit are so low in a diner, you can expect very fast service and pretty consistent preparations.
Out here in the SF Bay, there are a lot of independent diners as well, but they tend to be at a bit of a higher price point. A good example is Orphan Andy's on Market St. in the Castro. They don't offer hashbrowns (a deal breaker for this eater) and you can expect a large egg plate to run around 8 bucks. Not going to destroy your wallet, but a little higher than I'd like to pay. One of my favorites is in Napa. The Soscol Cafe (on Soscol, near First) has a nine seat counter and five booths and there is a line out the door every morning. The chef/owner, Mr. Ceja, comes from a family of great cooks. The food is consistent, not overly greasy, and cheap, especially for Napa. A perfect start to a day of wine tasting.
I mentioned above the Reuben and hashbrowns. I tend to use these as yardsticks for a diner. A Reuben is a sandwich of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on rye bread. It's origin is debated. There is evidence it was first created in Omaha, Nebraska by Reuben Kulakofsky around 1937, but the Reuben family of New York claims to have invented it
. Either way, it is a great American sandwich when prepared correctly. Thousand island dressings is found on many reubens these days, but the sweetness of salad dressing tends to kill the sandwich for me. One of the best recipes for Russian dressing I've tasted is from Chefs Phillip Wang and Jamie Prouton of the Boonfly Cafe. The horseradish adds a great bite to the salty corned beef. The recipe is below.
Hashbrowns are a touchy subject with me. They are simply griddled shredded potatoes. Perfect hashbrowns are crisp and brown on the outside and salty, buttery and soft on the inside. Just lacking one of these traits can make good hashbrowns bad. There are a million different ways to make hashbrowns that can yield acceptable results. A good solid recipe follows. If you want restaurant quality without the hassle, there are lots of frozen alternative available that come out pretty good if griddled properly. Med to High heat, fast enough to not steam in the potatoes, but be careful not to brown the outside before the inside is cooked through. I find a pile a half inch thick is workable and cooks through well. Hashbrowns are best cooked in clarified butter. Canola, olive oil and sprays can rob the potato of some taste while whole butter will brown and burn too fast for this purpose.
Enjoy these American diner classics and Happy Eating!!!
Aprox. Four ounces of slice corned beef is a good portion for one sandwich. The meat can be heated in pan with a little water and butter. Place the 'kraut on the meat and the cheese on top of everything and place in a 400 degree oven until the cheese is melted and starts to brown. The bread should be a nice fresh, sweet rye. You can griddle the bread in clarified butter or toast it. Jarred Saurekraut works fine for this application. You can rinse the 'kraut in a little cold water if you find it too be too briny or tart. Here's a good spread recipe from the Boonfly Cafe (adjusted for home quantities):
Slice six Roma tomatoes longways.
Toss Tomatoes in a little olive oil, just slightly coating the outsides.
Char Tomatoes over a gas flame or in grill pan. Tomatoes should be slighly black on the outside, but still hold shape.
Place Tomatoes into Food Processor and pulse to a rough puree.
Mince four Dill Pickle Spears and add to Food Processor with tomatoes as well as four cups of mayonnaise, two or three tablespoons Prepared Horseradish (depending on your taste for heat) and one teaspoon Honey. Pulse the mixture. It should be slightly lumpy, but without noticeable large chunks. Season with salt and black pepper. Yields appr. one quart. Spread should hold well in the fridge for two to three weeks. Spread liberally on rye and enjoy.
Place 8-10 russet potatoes on bed of salt and place in a 400 degree oven. Cook for appr. 20 minutes and check potatoes with a small pairing knife or other "poking" device. When potatoes are cooked about one half inch in from the skin, remove from oven. You don't want the potatoes to be fully cooked. This is just to par cook the potatoes enough that they will not 'rust' and bruise after they are shredded. After the potatoes have cooled, peel the potatoes along with the half inch of soft flesh. Grated potatoes on a coarse cheese grater into a large mixing bowl. 1/4 holes will work nicely.
Once potatoes are peeled, add 3/4 Cups Clarified Butter and incorporate into the potatoes. Season with salt and black pepper. Potatoes should be slightly salty. Place griddle pan or large saute pan over med-high meat. Be sure pan is hot and add a small amount of clarified butter in the pan before placing potatoes on. It should be hot, but not smoking hot. There should not be a large amount of oil in the pan, as the clarified will come out of the potatoes as they cook. Put potatoes in the pan and do not move for 2-4 minutes, or until the outsides start to turn goldenbrown. Moving the potatoes too much will result in steamed and mushy hashbrowns. Flip the potatoes and brown the opposite. Potatoes will be cooked through in about 6 minutes. Season again to taste and enjoy.