Growing up in Philadelphia, we used to travel all around the city to the restaurant that best fit our need for a particular type of food. My parents did this and I later did as a teenager and beyond. We did not have a lot of money but could always get what we wanted by going the extra mile or two.
Of course, everyone in town knew the best Philly cheese steaks were in South Philadelphia, and they still are today. The biggest argument is over who makes the best one, Pat’s or Gino’s. If you never had one of these traditional sandwiches from either of these legendary establishments, you’re missing the taste sensation of a lifetime.
The city and surrounding areas had plenty of diners, as did most of the most of the other mid-Atlantic states. That’s were we went for hamburgers, because McDonald’s and the other fast food restaurants weren’t around when pre-boomers were gobbling down burgers, fries and shakes. Diners were not one dimensional, however, they were great for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as late night snacks. We also liked the juke boxes at each table, so hanging around and use a fist full of nickels to play latest hits after eating was the popular thing to do.
Sometimes, we’d take a ride to the place that had car hop service. We still ordered the same things, but it was fun to have the food delivered to the car, pass around the food, kick back and listening to the car radio while we ate. That was fine in the spring and early fall, but it was usually too hot and humid in the summer and definitely too cold in the winter. The neater your car, the more likely it would be that you wanted to be seen at the car hop restaurant. This was also true of the drive-in movies, but that’s another story.
We sometimes went to coffee shops for dessert, like after a local high school dance. But they somehow did not have the gritty, yet friendly, feel of a diner. Howard Johnson’s, the restaurant with the orange roof, was around then, too. They had more flavors of ice cream than anyone else, 19 I think. HoJos was famous for fried clams, either a clam roll or a platter. The joke was you might as well order the clams because everything else that was fried tasted like fried clams. Actually they had a few other dishes that were good, but the clams were great; plus there were plenty of locations, including all the rest stops on many turnpikes. Whatever happened to that chain?
In a city like Philadelphia there were places to go for a variety of ethnic tastes, but teenagers didn’t have much of a palate for the finer things in foods. As long as there were the four food groups – burgers, fries, shakes and dessert – we were happy. But each restaurant made these items in a little differently from the others, so the tastes varied. To be honest, when it’s all said and done, the best place to go was where the girls were.
The old social gathering places are mostly gone. Kids don’t hang out at coffee shops or fast food restaurants. So were do they connect, online? If that’s it, they’ll miss out on all the fun times we had meeting people and having fun at those greasy spoon diners.