On the occasion of my 21st wedding anniversary, I waxed about the fine dining my wife and I found at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. The dining there is unquestionably extraordinary. However, like most couples my wife and I cannot often afford to drop $155 for dinner very often, no matter how fabulous. Like you, most of our dining is more pedestrian and far less costly.
How does a $20 breakfast for two compare with a $155 dinner? No one would mistake a $20 breakfast at a Silver Diner for high class eating. Arguably, you get much more value from a breakfast at a Silver Diner than you get a Ruth’s Chris. If you want good “get up and go” food that leaves your tummy sighing happily, especially after breakfast, but you do not want to part with most of your spare bills, Silver Diner is your place.
Silver Diner is a local restaurant chain with all but three of its nineteen diners located in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. When diners were de rigueur during the middle of the last century, they were leftover dining cars from an era when travel by train was as ubiquitous as flying is today. No one would mistake a Silver Diner for a dining car. They do retain the large windows of dining cars, a gleaming aerodynamic silver frame as well as a long counter where patrons can dine alone if they choose. A Silver Diner restaurant cannot be relocated nor does not stand on wheels. Moreover, a Silver Diner restaurant would be the size of at least three dining cars, since two wings extend at either end of the restaurant. I am waiting to see what Zippy the Pinhead’s reaction will be to a Silver Diner. I think he would be disappointed. It is like eating hamburgers at a Fuddrucker’s when you would have been fully satisfied at McDonald’s.
For those old enough to remember the authentic diner experience, Silver Diner would feel too fancy and too artificial. It is too wide and too clean, to start. It is more like a diner for the carhop generation. At the moment it targets us baby boomers as its major clientele. You can tell because at the Silver Diner, rock and roll music from the 50s and 60s comes with the territory. From the videos of the Beatles playing on the Ed Sullivan show in the foyer to the mini jukeboxes on many of the tables (which plays a song to the whole restaurant), Silver Diner tries to epitomize the Breakfast in America experience. The music may be Beach Boys instead of Supertramp and the waiters are more likely to be Hispanic than pasty Caucasians in aprons with slicked back hair, but it hardly matters. Silver Diner is hoping that buffed up nostalgia for a bygone age will keep it profitable. The strategy seems to be working.
My wife and I go to one of the local Silver Diners about once every two weeks. If we went more often, we would probably be sick of it. With my compressed work schedule, I take every other Friday off. This makes for a good morning for us to eat out and reconnect. There is a Silver Diner halfway to her office anyhow, and the shopping I need to do is nearby, so it is convenient for both of us. During the week, the blue-plate meals are the deal. We typically order one of the blue plates each, which come with juice and a bottomless cup of coffee. Usually we can have a tasty and highly caloric meal for two, with tip for $20. What a deal. Moreover, we rarely have to wait for a table. Their breakfast food is uniformly good to very good. The waiters tend to be fast and personable but business-like. At the Silver Diner, you can feel free to bring your newspaper and spread it out on your table if you want. It may market itself as a bit of an upscale diner, but it is still a diner after all.
For $20, I do not expect excellent food. To be clear, there is nothing that would qualify as excellent cooking at these prices. However, the food is of noticeably higher quality than you would get at, say, an IHOP. Whatever you get will be freshly prepared and likely served hot. Your table will be clean and your server, if not friendly, at least will not be surly. You cannot complain that their food is overpriced. It is a typical diner in that if the food cannot be prepared in five minutes or less, it is not worth having on the menu. We Silver Diners want good food and we want it quick. You will not have to wait long to chow down at a Silver Diner.
My one complaint about the restaurant is its music. Maybe the first dozen times you go to a Silver Diner, the 60s songs are kind of fun. When you have been there fifty or more times, like my wife and I, it wears off. It would be more tolerable if they would spice the music up more, but anything on their jukebox will be a Top 40 song. Perhaps in response to this we are noticing subtle changes in the music available at the table jukeboxes. 70s and even the occasional 80s tune are starting to show up. There is less Buddy Holly are more Michael Jackson (at least the early years) than there used to be. No doubt, this is because their demographics are changing. There are still plenty of Baby Boomers around, but we are retiring and the mortality statistics are starting to catch up with us. To stay around in the long run, Silver Diner must capture a younger crowd. There are signs that Generation X is starting to get some of its music on the Silver Diner jukeboxes. Perhaps in a dozen years the Elvis Presley tunes at the Silver Diner will be just a memory as the owners surrender to the financial powers of Generation X.
I have had dinner a few times at a Silver Diner. Dinner has left me much less impressed than breakfast. In fact, I am likely to look for other dining choices at dinner, however reasonable Silver Diner’s prices are. Breakfast is Silver Diner’s optimal dining experience.
Silver Diner is not the only diner experience locally. There is also a “diner deluxe” experience at Amphora’s Restaurant. I know of two Amphora’s restaurants: one in Herndon and one in Oakton. I have eaten three times at Amphora’s. I was under-whelmed on each occasion. Unquestionably, Amphora’s is more upscale looking diner. Their menu selections are much larger. Their waiters are better dressed and their on-premises bakery is impressive. However, nothing I have eaten there has risen above mediocrity. Therefore, my wife and I stick to Silver Diner. We know we will get very good food, good atmosphere and a predictable dining experience at an excellent price.
Try a Silver Diner and you will probably never go to an IHOP again.