In Praise of Diners

When you come from New Jersey, you know exactly what it means to go to diner. Not just the food or the atmosphere to expect, but what it means– especially a 24-Hour Diner.

This morning, I was walking around Southeast Portland and found myself craving diner food. More than that, I was craving the diner vibe that I thought I’d left behind on the East Coast. Food doesn’t have to be the best or fanciest or prettiest plate in existence for it to be the best food for that moment.

A breakfast on a diner table. An omelette with feta cheese is on top in the foreground. Behind it is a plate with two fluffy pancakes and cups of butter and syrup. Behind that a cup of tea, and a copy of “The Art of Eating” by M.F.K. Fisher.
Late Friday morning after a brisk walk, this was perfection.
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What Makes Good Food Writing

Food is a form of communication.

When someone cooks for you, the food can tell you where they came from, what’s important to them, what influenced them, and what they dream of being and doing. On one plate, everything from the ingredients to the cooking methods to the service style can give you a veritable masterclass in the entire culture the dish came from.

Then there’s people like me who try to write about all of that and what’s more, make a buck off of it. It takes no small amount of hubris to assume you can summarize a multimedia, multi-sensory experience to words on a page. Sometimes the only thing that encourages me in trying to do so is that 1. Someone has to, and 2. People have.

When your office is wherever you want it to be, things usually wind up delicious if a little unglamorous.
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Ex-Pats, Food Trucks, and The Portland Culinary Zeitgeist

If you had asked a lot of Portland small businesspeople back in 2019 about the future of Portland’s lauded, Wild-West food scene, they would have told you that food carts and food pods were on their way out.

“How could they justify such a stance?” I wondered. Portlands’ Weird ™️, eclectic, and pioneering attitude toward food business put it on the national map. The entrepreneurial, low barrier-to-entry, “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” attitude embodied by the food truck and food pod (outdoor food courts comprised of several carts on the same property) has led to an absolute blossoming of fine food in the city for all cultures and classes.

Alas, they say, the laws and fees required by the city to maintain such a business (some seemingly to protect brick-and-mortar businesses, others just nickel and dimeing,) as well as rising property values encouraging landowners to kick out food pods in favor of development had made running a food cart involve a bit more investment, anxiety, and heartache than a lot of prospective entrepreneurs were prepared for. The rise of delivery services- accommodating of which is sometimes overwhelming for the small team of a common food truck- have also deprived newer food carts of the all-important foot traffic exposure they get from people coming into a pod to visit more-established neighbors.

Then COVID-19 came to town, and food carts were the best and safest way to do business.

A working lunch at Lady Latke, a food truck the the Eastport pod built around potato pancakes.
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“Finding the Others” and The Life-Changing Magic of Talking to Strangers

If you grew up in the late 80s and 90s like I did (and probably before,) your parents warned you not to talk to strangers. Strangers were strangers. They could be anything or anyone. They could hurt you, or steal from you. They could follow you home.

Then we grew up, and we quickly found that strangers are friends you haven’t met yet. They can also lead you toward your next great steps in life.

The author in a green face mask waiting for his sandwich at House of Banh Mi
Waiting for the best Banh Mi I’ve ever had.
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