If you want to make a friend, walk into a local diner and sit down at the counter. If you don’t wanna make a friend, better not sit at the counter.
On Saturday, I found myself in need of a quick lunch and in the neighborhood of K’s Hamburger Shop in Troy, Ohio. They’ve been in business since 1935 and they clearly know their way around food and hospitality. How do I know? Because in a town with plenty of food options, the place was packed at 2:45 on a Saturday afternoon.
Families packed into booths and a couple across the counter from me were clearly lost to the world as they chatted and sampled food from each others plates. Small kids ran to the counter with cash in hand and ice cream on the mind while the place buzzed with conversation and laughter.
It was chaotic and not one person behind that busy counter noticed that I was standing there looking lost.
A booth of locals took pity on me as I stood at the front door trying to figure out what the heck was going on. One gentleman waved me over and told me to order at the cash register and find a seat.
Turns out the only seat to be had was at the U-shaped counter. If you sit at the counter, you order from your seat. If you sit in a booth, you order and then go sit and wait for them to call your name.
So I grabbed a stool at the counter where I had a front row seat to the friendly banter among staff and customers. The daughter of the original owners was scurrying about alongside a white uniformed fry cook, waitress and waiters. There were four or five of them headed every which way.
Regulars popped in for white sacks of burgers and it sounded like the people at a booth down the way were solving all the world’s problems over plates of breakfast. Like any good diner, they serve breakfast all day.
I made friends with the couple next to me. She is a substitute teacher at the high school and their son works at K’s so they were particularly helpful in interpreting the protocol of this place. Among other things, I learned that the person who takes your order makes your food. That’s why there’s no dinging bell or cries of “order up.”
That conversation actually began with my favorite small town phrase – “you’re not from around here.”
It’s rarely posed as a question and is mostly stated with confidence. The woman said that anyone local would know how to order there because everyone goes to K’s.
I was seated right in front of the guy frying the burgers – not the best place for a vegetarian but I was so fascinated by the process so it worked out ok. They said he cooks their burgers in water, dropping them in as balls before flattening them with a metal spatula and giving them a blanket of cheese. They look greasy but they seem to be the most popular item on the menu.
A woman working at the WACO Air Museum down the road recommended the chocolate malt so I got a malt with my egg salad on white bread. It was a delicious lunch. They bring the malt out in the stainless steel mixer cup which makes it feel like an even greater treat.
The folks next to me recommended stopping by sometime on a weekday when it’s less busy. Evidently Saturdays are always like this. Truth is, I really didn’t mind how busy it was. It felt like a quintessential American experience.
Maybe it’s because I was starving, maybe it’s because the food really is good but I think there’s some magic to eating at a place like this. There’s something special about a meal enjoyed at an 87 year old diner.
If you’re ever in Troy, Ohio, stop by K’s at 117 East Main Street and be sure to try the chocolate malt.