Several years ago, I received a book called “Save the Deli.” The focus was on the dwindling number of authentic delis in the country, which made me long for the days when real Jewish delis dotted the American culinary landscape.
I think someone should write a book called “Save the Diner.” Top-rate comforting diner foods count among my favorites but, alas, many cosmopolitan diners have fallen by the wayside. The menus are too large, and some of the dishes they serve are prepared with frozen so-so ingredients.
I have good news to report. Silk City Diner, located on Spring Garden Street, has renewed my faith in diner fare. I have not been to Silk City in a number of years, and I heard it serves a first-rate brunch.
There was a line of people waiting for a table or counter seat on a cold Sunday morning. Edward and I slid onto comfortable stools at the long Formica counter and immediately warmed up with mugs of rich strong La Colombe coffee ($2.50).
Silk City looks like the diners of yore. It is red and silver on the sleek outside yet has a friendly funkiness inside, and the counter also serves as a bar. Booths run along the windows facing Spring Garden Street, and there is a television if anyone wants to watch the Eagles win.
One might think it is easy to make pancakes and omelettes, but it is not. Many diners present patrons with sweet malt-like flavored pancakes or a flat egg dish doubling as an omelette. It is sometimes dry, brown and a little rubbery.
Edward ordered Silk pancakes ($9), and I was curious to see if Silk City could rustle up a perfect cheddar cheese omelette.
It was obvious from the first bite that the chefs who make griddle cakes prepare the batter in house and know when to flip them. As soon as bubbles form around the edges and they appear a bit golden, they are flipped over and served. Edward received three large pancakes that were made special by adding strips of smoky bacon to the batter. They were light and fluffy, and thank goodness Silk City offers real maple syrup! No Log Cabin or Mrs. Butterworth’s in sight. Scrapple is a Pennsylvania Dutch creation. When it is bad, boy, is it bad. It tastes like bland mush. The scrapple here ($4) is nicely seasoned and seared just right.
I ordered a cheddar cheese omelette with grits instead of roasted potatoes. It was plump and golden-filled with first-rate white cheddar cheese that oozed when I took a bite. Nobody serves flat, brown, rubbery omelettes at Silk City.
Grits take me back to Southern cafes and diners that I have visited. Silk City uses Anson Mills grits milled in the South. They are stone-ground and absolutely heavenly when they arrive piping hot. I topped them with butter and a little salt and pepper and immediately felt if an award were given for grits, Silk City would win hands down. Texture is important; they were smooth and creamy. Seeded marble rye toast was a treat. I’m pretty sure it came from a local bakery and not from a plastic sleeve.
A number of years ago, I enjoyed breakfast at a family-owned diner in western Pennsylvania. The family made its own sausage patties. Silk City does not make its own sausage patties. It serves Fiorella’s.
Any diner that offers me sausages from Fiorella Brothers Sausage, which has been in the Italian Market for more than 100 years, has earned a new fan. It was crisp, well-seasoned and hit the spot. It makes me smile when a restaurant supports local merchants.
Service was first-rate even though the place was packed. The Sunday brunch menu features lunch options as well. The woman sitting next to me at the counter was tucking into freshly-made hash topped with poached eggs while two women in a nearby booth tucked into burgers and fries.
Now that the cold weather has arrived, Silk City is offering hot chocolate made from scratch. I wondered if it uses Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder.
Three-and-a-half tips of the toque to Silk City Diner. ■
Silk City Diner
425 Spring Garden Street