Sunday, June 16, 2013

29 Diner -- Fairfax, VA

A Coffee Maven Review 

What could be more geographic than this? 29 Diner is located in the center of Fairfax, Virginia along U.S. Route 50 -- the great east-west road that connects Ocean City to Pasadena, and the road where my father's family were pioneers of the western suburbs of Washington DC in the days before Dulles Airport. It is located in the middle of a two-mile stretch of Route 50 that is conterminous with Route 29, and it is for this north-south thoroughfare that it was named in 1947.

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The history of this diner exemplifies the intertwined history of transportation and diners that characterize the mid-twentieth century. Establish in 1947, 29 Diner is a registered historic landmark located directly on Route 50 near the center of Fairfax. It is significant not only to the Commonwealth of Virginia, but also to my family.

This car has seen a lot of diners and cafes, but few as authentic as this!
My Aunt Jeannie’s mother was known as “Grandma Sue” by most people in the extended family, of whatever generation or bloodline. Over the years, one or the other or both of them had owned a variety of restaurants in northern Virginia, including this one near the center of Fairfax

Today, it would be difficult to find a more authentic diner experience in Virginia or anywhere. The experience, in fact, borders on the cinematic, as the banter of the waitress and short-order cook is alternately sweet and abrasive. As with any genuine diner, an amazingly diverse menu is served in a small space, amid Art Deco flourishes and an impressive amount of gleaming steel and chrome.

Though the menus appear to have been in service for decades, the dingy appearance signifies prices that have probably been in place since the Reagan administration --- which is when our waitress began her shift.

As fans of the program Twin Peaks know, with diners it is all about the pie. Although pie goes with coffee, we did not risk the "nostalgic" flavor of Maxwell House, but we could not resist sharing a piece of warm cherry pie.We are on vacation, but showed enough restraint to order just one slice among the three of us. It was delicious -- and gone so fast that our waitress thought she might have forgotten to bring it, because she turned around and it was gone!

New Deal Cafe -- Greenbelt, MD

A Coffee Maven Review 

I was brought to the New Deal Café in aptly-named Greenbelt, Maryland by a genuine champion of the New Deal. The pro-labor motif won me over instantly when we arrived. I later learned that the café is in the even more aptly-named Roosevelt Center!

My father-in-law John Hayes moved to Greenbelt at the start of his tenth decade, and this café exemplifies the value of having moved to a community of kindred spirits. The spacious café is situated in a walkable neighborhood, centered in a plaza that provides the community with many kinds of nourishment, gustatory and otherwise. Within the café – and without, in its covered patios – is plenty of room for sharing healthy foods prepared on site, along with beverages – including juices, coffee, and craft beers – along with conversation, poetry, and visual arts.

Though we were indoors with the sculptures, the patio is quite inviting.
While we were in the café, a friend of John’s approached to say that she had chosen the route for her daily bike ride so as to arrive in the café for a better look at his sculptures currently on display (and for sale). It was great to see that in just one year he has become a bit of local celebrity, both for his poetry and his visual arts. Learn more about each at his Bluebat poetry blog and his John Hayes sculpture site.
Greenbelt News Review June 6, 2013
The artist posed with his granddaughter (my daughter), who fortunately gets her artistic genes from the Hayes side of the family!

The pieces chosen for this show, incidentally, are but a few of John's smaller works, chosen for this particular installation. I am particularly fond of this blue piece, as it appears to float in a sea of blue.

In the café itself, the emphasis seems to be more on the food than the coffee, so I played it safe with some iced coffee – I plan to do some research with a chemist friend to find out why mediocre iced coffee is more tolerable than mediocre hot coffee. Anyway, the iced coffee was decent though not exceptional, the variety of soft drinks was impressive. My baklava was good – how can it go wrong? – and made with both pistachios and walnuts. Our daughter scarfed down a lentil soup that she found delicious.

In the hubbub of the greater DC area, this café and the surrounding Roosevelt Center – which includes a full-service cooperative grocery – is a welcome oasis of good food, tranquility, and the arts. As a geographer, I am particularly intrigued by the emphasis on circles in the planning of Greenbelt, a community with plenty of radial symmetry.