Best Of 2004

Best Lunch Counter: Tiffany's Original Diner

The place: A 24-hour greasy spoon, so narrow it contains only a classic countertop with vinyl-topped stools to the left, and to the right, a pinball machine, a cigarette machine, a few video games and a poster of Johnny Cash flipping the bird. An old TV hangs from the ceiling, broadcasting game shows. The time: Friday, 12:45 p.m. The lunch rush -- that is, if a place like this could ever feel rushed. The characters: Jean, matronly despite her take-no-shit attitude, is the sole employee on deck, marching to and fro behind the counter as she jots down orders, fixes sandwiches and breakfast plates and soaks used plastic dishes; two grungy early-twentysomethings, flirting over smokes and a copy of Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith; a man who could be a truck driver or a serial killer dining alone on the farthest stool; a senior citizen scarfing down a plate of unidentifiable meat, reminiscent of every old man who eats by himself at a restaurant. The scene: A no-frills diner that couldn't care less about the downtown Maplewood dining renaissance taking place outside its doors, Tiffany's serves up a straightforward menu of hot cakes (no, not "pancakes"), hash browns, burgers, tuna melts, BLTs, cole slaw, pie, etc. The average price of a meal is about six bucks; the only thing that costs more than $10 is the twelve-ounce T-bone, which comes with either a side of fries or two eggs. Wheat and white are the only breads on the premises. And if you feel like the most white-bread customer on the premises, just sit down, shut up, and take it all in.

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