Timeless R.I. Diner Nourishes Body & Soul
A Journey into Hidden America - A Narrative from On the Road
In the midst of an assuming block in an old neighborhood in Pawtucket, Rhode Island lies the Modern Diner. Anything but modern, it welcomes hungry locals and travelers alike with solid food and an atmosphere that harkens back to an early place and time.
Where we come from diners have come to be more like ornate restaurants than the classic roadside eateries they started as. There is an endless selection of items with prices that have seemed to have no limit as well.
By comparison the Modern Diner is classic. The diner structure (there is an add on that houses the kitchen and restrooms) dates back to 1940. It is one of two known surviving Sterling Streamliner diners still in operation. (The other is the Salem Diner in Salem, Massachusetts. Another lies abandoned on Hix Bridge Road in Westport, Massachusetts.) It was manufactured by the John B Judkins Company of Merrimac, Massachusetts, and originally placed at 13 Dexter Street in Pawtucket. It operated at that site until 1984, when it was moved to its present location (364 East Avenue, just a few blocks to the south of I-95) to avoid demolition.
The diner was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, the first diner so honored.
In an era of faux-retro, this is the real deal. Outside it look like a locomotive. On the inside, it is striking as well. Tile counter, wooden booths, vintage tile floors. Real 1950's "faux" wood above the counter area.
The formal printed menu entries are fewer but solid ranging from eggs to grilled cheese and burgers and something called a "Jimme Gimme", two poached eggs on an English Muffin with sliced tomatoes and topped with melted cheese and bacon (one of the "pricier" items on the very reasonably priced menu at $8.80). But as one walks in there is a substantial list of posted offerings taped to a doorway and nearby wall - these eclectic items include Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, Fresh Fruit Crepes, Lobster Benedict and a Custard French Toast that was profiled on Food Network.
As I had just partaken in some food another legendary eatery nearby I was not too hungry. So my eating and travel partner contented himself with a grilled cheese and fries with a coke, and I enjoyed the official drink of Rhode Island, Coffee Milk, more than coffee and milk it is a unique mix of coffee syrup or coffee extract and milk together in a manner similar to chocolate milk. I am told that Coffee syrup is a sweetened coffee concentrate and key ingredient in coffee milk, though it tasted like Bosco or Cocoa Marsh to me. I was transformed into youth from decades ago by the long lost taste.
In all, the food and service were solid - the timeless atmosphere was rejuvenating. Speaking of time, not far from the flat screen TV (a nod to today), there over the counter was a classic old fashioned clock (with hands) embedded into the wall. Just below it was a plaque reading "Sterling Diner" - as if anyone still needed any proof of authenticity.
It was all too brief. Then we had to leave. It was time to turn back onto the Interstate and into 2018.