Naturally lots of things popped to mind but one of my most vivid memories is of my first trip to New York in the 1980’s. We stayed at a friend’s apartment in Secaucus, New Jersey and drove into the Big Apple each day which I think is where my love affair with the city and its people began. We did all the usual tourist stuff which was fantastic and yet we also experienced a real slice of American life.
If there's one thing that Americans are good at (and they are exceedingly good, if not great, at lots of things) it's breakfast.
I’m not talking toast and cereal at the breakfast table – I’m talking diners and the whole going out to breakfast experience. There are lots of American-style diners popping up around the UK and while the food is good and reasonably priced, no matter how hard we try, we will never, ever come close to the style and vibe of an East Coast American Diner.
Ordering food in that part of the world is an art. New Yorkers are busy people and know what they want. You’re in there to eat, so order your food already. Don’t hang about and dither trying to engage the waitress in pleasantries – she hasn’t got time and she’s got a gazillion orders to take. And to be honest, are you that interesting? Just make your decision, speak clearly and confidently - and order!
This is how you might order in England:
‘Um, could I have the Big Breakfast please? Could I order some toast as well? Oh yes, and a coffee please? Lovely, thank you.’
The New York way:
‘I’ll have the Big Breakfast, eggs over-easy/over-well/sunny side up/scrambled, wheat/rye/white toast (hold the butter), hash browns, orange juice and coffee. Thanks.’
(Just a couple of notes here – it’s sausage not sausages, ketchup not tomato sauce which is for your pasta, you won’t get baked beans with breakfast as Americans think that’s weird, French toast is like eggy bread but it’s covered with icing sugar so you have it with maple syrup and not ketchup and you usually get endless refills of freshly brewed coffee at no extra charge.)
See the difference? The American menu has lots of choices, including the way it’s prepared and if the waitress held your hand for every single decision you have to make, you’d be there till supper!
And so my one-thing-to-do-off-the-tourist-trail recommendation to my friend is to find a local diner for breakfast. I’m pretty sure the diner I visited all those years ago is still there, just off the I95 in Secaucus and is now called Legends Diner (aptly named, I think) - hopefully I’ll make it back there soon. Now, should I mention dinner?