Thomas Wolfe said you can never go home again, and he was probably right. But in many places in the Northeast you can still stop downtown for the London Broil and a slice of pie and enjoy a more-than-century-old tradition with that cup of coffee.

Before the turn of the last century, horse-drawn night lunch wagons served hot, inexpensive meals to shift workers in Worcester, Massachusetts and other mill towns and cities of New England and Upstate New York. The wagons gradually grew larger, lost their wheels, and were planted on permanent foundations. The makers of the lunch wagons emulated the sleek dining cars of passenger trains, appealing to a wider clientele with the shiny-enameled new "diners."

Just as Rome embraced the cultural gestalt of Greece and made it its own, spreading it across the known world, so, too, Paramount, Kullman, Fodero and other diner builders of New Jersey took the homey Worcester lunch car from New England to feed the neo-nomads of the Mid Atlantic and the entire Eastern seaboard. Enamel exteriors and wood-trimmed interiors gave way to stainless steel and glass inside and out; wooden-benched booths to etched dividers and padded upholstery.

When automobiles and buses carried people further from cities and towns, the diners followed, springing up next to highways and service stations, feeding travelers 24 hours a day, just as their predecessors had served the millworkers around the clock.

Most of the original manufacturers are no longer in business -- all of the New England builders are gone. Their creations remain, anachronistic islands of comfort food and civility on the impersonal post-industrial landscape, largely bypassed by the interstates with their faceless fastfood service plazas, but that just means more room at the counter for folks who appreciate the difference and a bottomless cup.

Some of Our Favorites

Diners Indexed by State
        New Hampshire

Other Diner Links

The Athenian III Diner, Milford, CT

...the glory that was Greece

The New Forum Diner, Bay Shore, NY

    And the grandeur that was Rome.

         "To Helen"
            Edgar Allan Poe