At Diner Nation, we endeavor to present the most positive experiences possible. Every establishment has its ups and downs, sure, but usually the downsides eventually become part of the joint’s charm: sassy waitress, indifferent host, toast that is always burnt no matter what… you get the picture.
We never want to judge an eatery on a single experience; that’s patently unfair. On any given night, there could be a brand-new food server, or the usual cook could be out with the flu, or the coffee pot could be on the fritz. So if we’ve had a less-than-stellar time at a restaurant, we traditionally give it another shot before passing judgment on its merits, and we’re almost always glad we did so.
In May of 2018, we stopped by the Mays Landing Diner. I used to frequent that place often when I was in college, and even when I first started teaching a few miles down the street it didn’t disappoint. For this visit, however, the coffee was good, for sure, but the food wasn’t very memorable. Compound that with an inattentive server and a surprisingly empty dining room, and we ended up with an experience we didn’t want to document.
A few weeks ago we found ourselves in the area again when our stomachs began to rumble, so we decided to give the Mays Landing Diner another go.
We know better; we really do. We’ve seen enough episodes of Kitchen Nightmares to know that if an eatery is empty on a Saturday night, there’s usually a good reason why. As soon as we walked in, we should have turned around and walked out, because there were at most ten other patrons there at 8 p.m.
But we were hungry, and determined. We were seated immediately and handed menus, and waited for our server.
And waited. And waited.
While waiting, we made our selections in an effort to hasten the process. When the waitress finally did show up after about ten minutes, we gave her our drink order and our food orders. Robyn ordered French toast and scrapple, and I ordered a patty melt – reliable diner standards that one must really work to screw up.
The coffee arrived almost immediately, and some of our concerns abated. It was good. Coffee is pretty touch and go, and we don’t always agree on whether or not a place has good coffee – our preferences differ slightly – so when we both make happy sounds with the first sip, it’s usually an indicator of a decent cup.
In short order our food arrived. Robyn set about buttering her French toast, and I was about to dive into my patty melt when I saw sauerkraut.
Then I noticed that my “patty melt” was served open-faced, which, while unusual, I assumed was simply a stylistic choice of the cook. Nope; turns out my patty melt was, in fact, an open-faced Reuben that was meant for another customer. Within a minute or two the waitress returned to take the Reuben away and deliver my proper order. (I do hope they made another one for the other customer, since I had my fingers in the sauerkraut and ate some of the fries.)
I took a bite of my patty melt and was immediately struck by the lack of flavor. There was plenty of Swiss cheese and fried onions to go around, and the rye was grilled nicely. But it was surprisingly bland in taste. The fries, on the other hand, were delightfully flavorful, and I had no problems chowing down on them. Returning to the patty melt, it took a few minutes, but I realized what was the cause of the flavorlessness.
It was black and blue.
Now, when it comes to steaks, I appreciate a little searing on the outside and a bit of redness at the center. But when it comes to burgers, I like medium. I understand a little variation in either direction; that happens. But charred on the outside and pink all the way through? That’s not medium, medium rare, or even rare. That’s a grill that’s up way too hot.
In the midst of this, I noticed that Robyn wasn’t eating her French toast. She had devoured the scrapple, and declared it perfectly cooked to her liking, but she was examining her French toast and trying to cut bits off the crust. Bits of what, you ask?
There was mold on her French toast.
She doesn’t like to cause a fuss, and was just going to be a trooper and choke it down after cutting off the visibly moldy parts, but I couldn’t let her do that. We called over the waitress, who showed it to the host and went to bring her new French toast.
Robyn ate the new order, but only half of that. The bread, she noted, was noticeably on its way out. Not for naught, but stale bread is usually pretty good for French toast – at least at home. But if it’s so stale that you notice it after French-toasting it, it’s got to go.
We finished the fries but left half of my patty melt and half of her French toast. When the check arrived, I noticed with amusement that we were charged full price for her meal. Don’t get me wrong; they delivered and she ate it. But I have been in many establishments that would have taken her order off the check because THERE WAS MOLD ON IT.
When I paid the check, the host wisely did not ask how everything was. He simply thanked me and bid me goodnight, and we left.
As I said, we try to give places a second chance. Usually, we’re not disappointed that we did. In this case, we should have trusted our guts. I don’t believe we’ll be back there again anytime soon.
If you’ve had a different, more positive experience, please let us know. We do try to remain open-minded, and if enough people tell us that our two experiences there were anomalies, we might give it another go.
In any event, until next time, happy eating!