Fine Diner-ing

  • Visit North Central

Sometimes, you just need a little comfort food. Meatloaf. A grilled cheese sandwich. Scrambled eggs with a side of crispy fried potatoes.

Feeling nostalgic? Pack up your appetite — in Johnny Appleseed Country, you’ll find real diners: originals produced by the Worcester Lunch Car Company.

Across New England, these legendary dining cars can now be counted in the dozens, a far cry from their heyday in the post-World War II era. Times have changed; today’s families are accustomed to drive-up windows, airy spaces and even indoor playgrounds when looking for a bite to eat.

But if you love history, down-home service, comfort food and a cozy atmosphere, you’ve come to the right place.

These old-time diners can be easily spotted, with their curved roofs and long  line of windows set comfortably at a level for diners to watch the world go by.  Once inside, customers have the option of settling into a window-side booth, or perching on a stool at the counter to order familiar food.

Ready to start a diner tour of the region? Here’s a sampling to help you hit the road.

Not Just Once in a Blue Moon

Tucked into a tiny space next to a bike shop in downtown Gardner, the Blue Moon Diner is a classic. Originally located in Winchendon, Worcester Lunch’s No. 815 was known as the Miss Toy Town until it landed in Gardner in the 1980s. Placing it in a spot formerly occupied by the Blue Moon Coffee Shop, its then-owner renamed  it the Blue Moon.

If you get a nagging feeling that it looks familiar, don’t worry; you may be recognizing it from its role as a student hangout in the 1992 movie, School Ties.

Today, owner Jamie Floyd mans the grill, keeps the coffee flowing and chats up regulars and newcomers alike with a smile. Stop in for lunch, and your sandwich options include a some throwback names: Chubby Checker, Elvis Presley and James Dean — any of which you can enjoy while playing tunes selected from a tabletop jukebox.

Enjoy  a Square Meal

moran-sqare-dinerIn Fitchburg, the Moran Square Diner has stood sentinel over a busy downtown intersection since 1940. Named after  Fitchburg resident Pat Moran  (who played major league baseball for 14 years,  and as a manager led both the 1915 Phillies and the 1919 Cincinnati Reds to the World Series), the diner is a classic. Still bearing its nameplate — Worcester No. 765 — its bright red exterior with yellow lettering stands like a beacon, welcoming locals and travelers at the nearby Fitchburg railroad station to its red-topped stools and wooden booths.

Taking a Turn

east-side-dinerSitting handily near Fitchburg State University, a freshly-painted diner bears a new name and a menu that takes a distinct turn from traditional items like corned beef  hash. Over the years, the Lunenburg Street eatery has undergone a number of physical transformations and name changes; locals still remember it as the East Side Diner or Carmen’s Diner.

In its latest incarnation, the lunch car is named William’s Southern Soul; if you’re looking for comfort food with a twist, this may be the spot for you.

Want to explore more Worcester Lunch Car originals? Other locals listed in a nifty paperback guide, Classic Diners of Massachusetts (American Palate), include the Airport Diner in Shirley, 50-50 Diner in Fitchburg, and the Main Street Diner in Athol. For more information about the manufacturer of these dining icons, check out The Worcester Lunch Company, a photo-packed paperback published by Images of America.

Thinking Outside the Box

tims-dinerOf course, other manufacturing companies hopped on the diner bandwagon in the 1920s and ‘30s. The Peterson Wagon Company in New Jersey, later known as Paterson Vehicle Company, churned them out from 1926 right into the ‘60s.

Tim’s Diner in downtown Leominster, Silk City #4921, was built in 1949 and remains at its original location, just a block off Main Street. You’ll have to use a little imagination, though, since brickwork that was added to its exterior to repair damage from two vehicle impacts hides the familiar diner look.

It’s small — one of the smallest made by Silk City — but size isn’t everything. Tim’s has been a favorite with locals for generations, and it’s easy to see why.

Hungry? Take your appetite for a ride, touring some great diners in Johnny
Appleseed Country.