My tummy had been tamale-ed and frijole-ed and pummeled for weeks. There is nothing wrong with lively foods, but it was time for comfort food.
A diner to the rescue.
Dining companion Johnny P recalled we had recently visited the Circle Diner in Latham, but it was closed. Reopening as Diner Time, the polished silver of the original structure was still present but the glass bricks accented with red had been replaced with an entry in gentler hues of beige and turquoise.
The lot was nearly full, a good sign. But the only object that greeted us in the sparse new entryway was a dead congratulatory plant (the diner had opened in June) — not a welcoming sign.
We were met by the host and turned over to a staff member with two menus. As we walked, I noted a large glass case displaying the usual diner desserts: cheesecakes, crumb-topped pies, cookies, carrot cake, rice pudding.
Led to the large room on the left, the first thing I noticed was that instead of tables being sprinkled throughout the space, the room had been carved into at least a dozen high-sided booths — some large enough to accommodate six people. Designed for privacy, they repeated the soft beige and turquoise of the front of the diner.
Although it was a particularly cool evening for early September, the air-conditioning was cranked up full blast. When I mentioned this to Lindsey, our server, she said she would take care of it — and did.
We both ordered soup. My cup of homemade chicken noodle ($2.75) arrived steaming and full of flavor from carrots, celery, onions, chicken and quarter-inch-wide noodles. Tiny glistening golden puddles of melted chicken fat swirled on the surface of the soup.
John’s split pea was among the “best” he ever tasted. Served piping hot, it was not too thick, had a hint of garlic and was generously sprinkled with croutons.
Our soups were among the high points of the meal. The chicken in my Buffalo Wrap ($8.95) was not crispy as promised. The wrap was accompanied by a small paper cup of excellent cole slaw and a dill spear that was crispy.
John was impressed by the number and variety of dinner entrees. He opted for Yankee Pot Roast (14.95) served with two potato pancakes and warm sweet and sour red cabbage. Generously blanketed with brown gravy, the thick slices of meat were fork tender. The slightly pickled red cabbage added color, texture and eye appeal. But nothing could rescue the potato pancakes. Two flavorless thick disks of potato chunks and filler sat gloomily on the plate, so unlike the crispy brown-edged grated potato herbed treasures Johnny P remembered from childhood.
Diners are smart. They position the desserts at the entrance, or in an eye-catching revolving display that lures you into choosing your end-of-the-meal reward before you’ve even been seated. Clever subliminal marketing.
Rice pudding reminds me of my Norwegian grandmother. Her rice pudding was rich with heavy cream and drowned in maraschino cherry juice. The cherry on the top was almost superfluous. Diner Time’s rice pudding was delivered in a traditional tulip glass and not as luscious as Gramma’s. As I reached the narrowed bottom of the glass, I poured in a tiny container of half and half — a tribute to Elna Smith.
I often enjoy dessert with a Lilliputian cup of espresso, and was surprised and pleased to learn that Diner Time served it. I requested a twist of lemon peel with it. Sadly, the espresso arrived lukewarm, no crema (the fine froth on the top of the liquid), no baby spoon and no lemon twist. I mentioned these omissions to our server, who immediately removed the item from the tab.
Desserts often look better than they taste. This was the case with John’s carrot cake. “I tried to choose something nutritious,” he said with a sheepish grin. A usually moist confection, the cake was on the dry side. Fortunately, the abundance of fluffy cream cheese frosting alleviated the dryness of the cake. I heard no complaints from the other side of the booth.
People often stop at diners on their way to someplace else. Diners are generally dependable. The menu is varied with something for everyone, and the service is generally caring. And this description would certainly include Diner Time.
WHERE: 813 Loudon Road, Latham, 518-785-0200 and 518-785-3324, www.dinertimeny.com
WHEN: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday
HOW MUCH: $39.85 without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Ample lot parking, accessible (long ramp in front), credit cards accepted, breakfast served all the time, takeout, online ordering, family friendly