The NYC Diner Crawl I Didn’t Know I Needed

As tv and film work (finally) started to pick up in NYC around September, so did the amount of COVID tests I was doing. Every production requires at least one COVID test prior to working on set in addition to being vaccinated. If I booked a day of work, I had to hold a whole other day (usually the day before) for my COVID test. While unpredictable, most of my tests were scheduled for the morning hours and in all different locations throughout the city. At first, I was frustrated because we only receive a small stipend for this “day of work” rather than the full paycheck I might have received in the past for actual work on set that day but I made the most of it. It was kind of nice to knock out a quick test and then have the whole rest of my day available to spend as I pleased. 

One October morning, I finished my COVID test in Chelsea and was jonesing for breakfast (though, to be honest, I’m not sure when I’m not jonesing for breakfast). A quick search on my phone revealed that I was close to a diner called Star on 18. “I LOVE diners!” I thought. I actually wondered why I hadn’t been to more during my time in NYC but quickly realized it’s because when I’m busy working a lot, I get all of my meals on set. I walked in and immediately felt cozy and warm; it had that authentic diner feel I was hoping for and I could have spent hours nestled in my booth drinking endless coffee. Speaking of coffee, theirs was fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed the nice touch of the “less Monday, more Coffee” cups. My server had an equally fun sense of humor and the menu was extensive. I went with the special protein wrap, consisting of egg whites, turkey, avocado, and choice of cheese in a whole wheat tortilla. This thing was a monster! A delicious monster. I could only eat half and my amiable server happily wrapped up my other half which was just as delightful later.

It was about a week later when I found myself in Long Island City, Queens, for another morning COVID test for a different project. The studio where I was testing was quite a walk from the subway and during my walk, I passed by Van Dam diner. I made a plan to stop in on my way back. Inside, I discovered another textbook diner atmosphere, complete with celebrity photos posted up on the wall over the bar, and they were slammed. Almost every booth and table were occupied. I decided that I had to try their coffee and was really feeling a turkey club, as it was now lunchtime and I love sandwiches as much as I love breakfast. The coffee wasn’t anything to write home about and the cup itself was basic but the turkey club was TO DIE FOR. I have literally named it the best turkey club of my life and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since. Van Dam had a lot of character. And what a standout moment when I learned that the servers shout the food orders out loud at the cooks for everyone to hear!

Next up on the tour of my new favorite hobby, diners after nasal swabbing, is Manhattan 3 Decker Restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I fell in love with this spot immediately. The service was top notch and there was outdoor as well as indoor seating available. I chose to sit outside as it was a particularly nice day and enjoyed people watching over yummy coffee served in a cute round cup that reminded me of ‘Friends.’ The menu included all of the staples at very reasonable prices and they even offer breakfast specials from 6-11am. I decided on an egg-white turkey omelette and was overjoyed that I could choose fresh fruit instead of potatoes; there’s usually an unjustifiable upcharge for such a request. Let me tell you, this side of fruit blew my mind. There were strawberries, blueberries, banana slices, and melon, it was substantial, and they were the freshest I can ever remember having. This was not your standard bowl of melon we’re accustomed to getting when ordering a side of fruit. I also can’t get over how incredible the wheat toast was. I’m normally pretty low carb and limit my bread intake but I went for it all with this buttery treat. When it’s worth it, it’s worth it. Okay, Kate Moss? Some things really do taste that good and life is for living. The omelette was satisfying and filling but the fruit and toast were the real stars of the show and I don’t know if I ever thought I would say such a thing. My dining experience here gave me Euro vibes which flooded me with positive emotions and memories of meals and quality time with my family in Belgium. When I went inside to pay, I had a lovely conversation with a staff member about the history of the restaurant – how it’s still the original building, established in 1928, and the fourth oldest diner in NYC. I can’t wait to go back.

I lived in Astoria, Queens for eight years and somehow never made it to this next diner. It’s been on my list ever since I saw the classic photo of one of my all-time favorites, legend David Bowie, dining here with Catherine Deneuve on a break from filming ‘The Hunger’ in 1982. I’ve kept some of my Astoria doctors so when I was in the neighborhood for an appointment, I jumped at the opportunity to add the Neptune Diner to my tour. I was handed a colorful Poseidon menu while comfortably seated in my seashell booth and I’m not lying when I tell you, they have everything your heart could possibly desire, including a full bar. I overheard a customer behind me call it a “never-ending menu,” perfectly echoing my sentiments. I guess that explains my choice to order the turkey triple decker club with a calamari appetizer, not your typical pairing. Everything was delicious – tasty coffee which was kindly refilled several times, crispy, not over-fried calamari, and my sandwich contained thick slices of juicy turkey and was accompanied by fresh, homemade potato salad and an always welcome pickle. 

As I’m sure you’ve deduced, I’m no food connoisseur, just a regular diner-loving gal. And the diner crawl will not stop here! I’m a big advocate of trying new things and I love how this spontaneously became one of my new favorite hobbies and honestly, one of the highlights of my year. It can be easy to fall into the trap of being lazy or doing what you know, what’s comfortable, but think about what you could be missing out on. Most of my best days are the unplanned ones, where you go with the flow, just walk around, pop into places that speak to you, and meet new people. I’m not much of a New Year’s resolutions kind of person but I’d sure like to incorporate more of this attitude in 2022.

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