Greasy Spoon River Anthology

Sampling the glories of diner cuisine

One such pocket is the Eat-Rite, a white metal box in the shadow of the Ralston Purina office compound. Here I recently enjoyed, with a pretty decent slice of cherry pie, scalding coffee from a plastic cup inscribed with the catchy "Eat-Rite or Don't Eat at All" slogan. The cook didn't know how old the Eat-Rite was but guessed that the current owner has had it "for 35 years, maybe longer." A matron of regal bearing, she wore a sumptuous turquoise apron dotted with pink flowers and brandished her spatula like a scepter.

Although I would scarcely advocate eating an Eat-Rite hamburger (mine distinguished itself with a netherworldly slime), there was a stirring quality about the place. Indeed, a stool at the Eat-Rite offers many lush opportunities for pithy and poetic contemplations on the naked city. Its windows frame spectacular steel-gray vistas of industrial downtown. I watched freight trains grumble by on elevated tracks to reveal the slick face of the Arch glinting ironically in the distance. Plenty of colorful characters, too. Sitting next to me was a pale, haunted chappie who pored vigorously over a religious pamphlet. I couldn't help noticing his belt buckle, a royal flush fashioned in silver.

No less a sterling example of the breed is Lisa's Diner, which basks in the umbra of a steel mill in Granite City, Ill. (the archetypal diner always basks in the umbra of something). Until recently Lisa's Diner was called G's Grill and resembled a gloriously desiccated old railroad car. A new facade gives it the unfortunate appearance of a lean-to shack, but inside there still flourishes the good, greasy stuff diner dreams are made of. When the gang and I tottered in, still shaken from a harrowing careen across the McKinley Bridge, everybody at the counter turned to see whether we were somebody (we weren't). A country tune jangled on the jukebox. The counter was rubbed thin from a generation of elbows, the floor scuffed from a generation of steel-toed boots. The waitress gave us coffee in Santa Claus mugs and called us all "hon." We had biscuits and gravy (closest culinary relative: library paste). It was an invigorating excursion.

Lisa (owner), Herb and Wayne at Lisa's Diner, a sterling example of the greasy-spoon breed.
Jennifer Silverberg
Lisa (owner), Herb and Wayne at Lisa's Diner, a sterling example of the greasy-spoon breed.

Location Info

Map

Courtesy Diner

1121 Hampton Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63139

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: St. Louis - Dogtown

Lisa's Diner

1623 Madison
Granite City, IL 62040

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Granite City

Hi-Way Bar

2732 S. 13th St.
St. Louis, MO 63118

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: St. Louis - South City

Eat-Rite Diner

622 Chouteau Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63102

Category: Restaurant > Diner

Region: St. Louis - Downtown

Meanwhile, back at the Courtesy ... it was 2 in the afternoon when I returned to conquer the slinger. Gone were the rabble-rousers, profligates and skanky ho's of the wee hours, and with them the sweaty din of urgency and dissipation. Today it was all good old boys and dusky quiet. Down the counter, a leathery ex-Marine was administering burgers and fries to his malfeasant grandsons, and a couple of fry cooks smoked cigarettes in the corner. The place was ripe with, shall we say, the earthy aroma of the proletariat. I traced the origin of this overpowering fragrance to a coveralled personage fresh from his toil, who was scowling emotively at a plate of chili mac.

The cook was an artist. I watched her craft an omelette with the fluid efficiency of a master sculptor, lobbing bits of ham and squares of orange cheese onto an expanse of egg the size of a hubcap, then folding it all up into a neat cadeau with a couple brisk flicks of the spatula. She created my slinger in much the same manner and set the thing before me in about 90 seconds.

The result of this excellent woman's labors is the reason this article really isn't about slingers at all. In the end, I couldn't quite choke it down.

Most everything's under 5 bucks in all these places:

COURTESY SANDWICH SHOP, 3155 S. Kings-highway Blvd., 776-9059

COURTESY DINER, 1121 Hampton Ave., 644-2600.

EAT-RITE DINER, 622 Chouteau Ave., 621-9621.

HI-WAY BAR, 2732-A S. 13th St., 773-8420.

LISA'S DINER, 1621 Madison Ave., Granite City, Ill., 618-876-6000.

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