These roadside oases sprang up in the days when travelers would rather stop for a plate lunch than clock how far and fast they could drive between Big Macs. The joints stayed open 24/7, served bacon and eggs at any hour and boasted coffee urns so big that the wooden floors sometimes buckled under their weight. A chalkboard or hand-lettered sign announced the day's specials -- pot roast, say, and "crow slab" (chocolate pie) for dessert.
Purists insist that, by rights, only factory-built eateries can call themselves diners. The Goody Goody, with its utilitarian white-brick facade, doesn't even try (nor should it) to mimic railroad-car styling. An immense red-and-white sign spells out the restaurant's name in gay, chubby letters. Inside, stools and a lunch counter are the only noticeable diner trappings. An added-on seating area features slope-shouldered terrarium windows, making the room look for all the world like a Wendy's. Call it what you will, say the strict constructionists, but it's not a diner. I'll side with the folks who believe that it's the spirit of the place that counts. But there's one point on which I won't give an inch: If the sign says it's a diner, the mashed potatoes and gravy should be made from scratch.