Review: Park Wood Diner
The food's great, but that's only half the story.
Diners are tricky restaurants to review. The diner experience is based half on the food, and half on the atmosphere. Because diners attract off-hours patrons and how it's acceptable to only order coffee, their crowds range wildly, drawing everyone from senior citizens to coffee-drinking emo teenagers to their counters. They’re more than restaurants; they are windows into communities large and small.
Also, maybe it’s the effect of having patrons lined up next to each other in booths, but diners tend to be friendly places. People seem more likely to strike up conversations with strangers than they would at a more formal restaurant.
Maybe I’m wrong. But it’s my impression that the Park Wood Diner is the heart of Maplewood. Whenever I eat there, half the people in the restaurant seem to be friends. The wait staff and patrons greet each other with the familiarity of people who see each other every day.
The first meal I had at the diner was the turkey triple-decker club sandwich ($7.75, $8.75 with fries). I was eating with a town official at lunchtime, and our table quickly became a receiving line for township employees and voters. The turkey was thick like thanksgiving leftovers and the bacon and lettuce where perfectly crisp; I liked it so much I ordered it the next time I went there.
On my third visit, I got the cheeseburger ($4.50 regular, $6.60 for the supreme, which includes lettuce, tomatoes and onion rings). Burgers are like the Elvis impersonators of food. They’re everywhere, and they’re often interchangeable and lackluster. But every once in a while, the right one comes around and you realize why it’s an American classic in the first place. The burger was basic—like the club, it was just a matter of putting the right pieces together—but extremely satisfying.
I came back the next week and got the grilled chicken breast sandwich ($7.50, $8.95 with bacon and cheddar—which is how I had it). The chicken was crisp, yet moist—a neat trick, if you can pull it off—and smothered in cheese.
While I was eating, a woman ordered breakfast with her young daughter. A man walked up to the counter and ordered coffee, and one waitress explained to the other that the man lived in the neighborhood, and came in several times a day. A guy about my age was telling his parents about a guy he used to work with who was featured in a recent newspaper story.
If it’s not the heart, it’s at least close.