It was the Thanksgiving turkey that summoned my Frenchman and I to Boston this past November, the perfect motivation for our first trip to the U.S. together. And while there, I made sure he would also taste a tranche of authentic Americana. That meant charcuterie boards, mixology, craft beer, late night Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches, stand-up comedy, high-school football, lobster rolls, and the NBA. All those things that are often quite poorly replicated in Barcelona, concepts that just don´t translate from one continent to another. Things like brunch. Oh, and diners.
I wanted to show him the original. A nostalgic memory of America´s past, born in the post-war boom of small businesses and surviving (though with certain struggle) through the fast food takeover. The stainless steel exterior, terrazzo floor, Formica tables, long colorful counter with comfortable stools, the neon sign beckoning you in 24-7. A place to go for a comfortingly familiar and breakfast-focused menu, for eggs and bacon and hash at night or steak tips and Caesar salad at 7 a.m. Luckily Boston has one of these. It´s called the South Street Diner.
Built in 1947 to feed local factory workers of Boston´s Leather District and originally named the Blue Diner, this place has in the past eight decades become a cherished hangout and after-hours watering hole that brings together hungry partygoers, graveyard shift workers, diligent medical students on a study break and homesick local celebrities at 2, 4, 6 a.m. to enjoy a wide variety of hearty comfort food. The neighborhood around the diner has changed; it´s risen. Nevertheless, the place remains a shiny relic of Boston´s past, a venue steeped in 50´s nostalgia that really preserves the essence of the American diner.
We went after a Celtics game and subsequent Faneuil Hall whiskey binge that put us into an even better mood after a last-minute turnaround and win by the home team. Jet-lagged into a sleepy, happy high we wandered the streets, drank the drinks, took the ride in the back seat of my friends´ car and got dropped off at the edge of Chinatown. It was a Wednesday night with no line or wait and we sat right at the bar, hungry. We were´t in the mood for breakfast, so we opted for sandwiches. I already knew I wanted a BLT and suggested a Reuben for him.
I wanted a BLT because it´s simple and light but, when done right, tremendously comforting. After having experienced total BLT failure at Dunne´s Irish Bar in Barcelona a few months ago I had been craving a good one, one made with bacon instead of chewy, tough ¨beicon,¨ with crispy cool iceberg lettuce, juicy tomato and Hellman´s mayo binding the thing together. Simple sliced white bread, not bocadillo loaf leftover from lunch service.
This version was exactly that. Crunchy, juicy, hydrating veg; slightly chewy, soft white bread; creamy, smooth mayonnaise and the perfect layer of salty, smoky and fabulously crunchy bacon pulled sizzling hot off the 24-hour grill. The fat and flavor from the B was balanced by the freshness of the L and T in a sandwich that provided the lightest nightcap, of which I could´ve eaten three more.
The reuben was fabulous, a true American classic I was dying for him to try. Steamy hot slices of corned beef with melted Swiss cheese on one side and sauerkraut on the other, moistened by a squirt of Russian dressing and grilled between two slices of rye bread. Each bite is a burst of juicy meat and kraut, flavored with the tangy, creamy comfort of the dressing. The bread adds a great fermented, slightly acidic flavor to balance the salty, fatty meat and the Swiss bring its mild, nutty funk to the mix.
We sat for a while, silently enjoying the Boston-accented banter of the line cooks, who really didn’t seem to hate their jobs at all. And after finishing off the last of our fries, we skedaddled off to South Street to catch the last train home, feeling stuffed and satisfied and ready to sleep off the jet lag.