Silver Diner: A Review
Amber Dunton ‘23
8150 Porter Road, Merrifield VA. To most, this would seem like an arbitrary address, but to me and my family, this is a place of memories. The place in question? A Silver Diner. Characterized by its black and white checkerboard floors, 1960s style murals, retro seating, and jukeboxes, it is the closest to pure Americana one can find in metropolitan Northern Virginia. Open from 6:30 to 12, –or 2 on Fridays and Saturdays– this restaurant is home to grouchy old men grabbing a plate of eggs in the morning, drunk crowds looking for fries, families looking for a kid-approved meal out, truck drivers looking for a slice of pie, and everyone in between. This admittedly average, faux-vintage chain restaurant is a retro time capsule full of timeless memories.
As you walk up to the restaurant, before you even can think about what type of food you would like to eat, you first register the building. It’s shiny silver, lined with strips of red neon that trail all the way up to the elevated sign, the logo, as if it’s a steeple calling passersby to worship. As you approach the steeple from the back lot, towards the front of the building the first thing you find is a bench. To most this bench is nothing special, but it’s my grandparents’ seat. This is where they would sit waiting for us to arrive, and this is where they would sit to smoke as they waited for us to leave. Once you pass the bench and open the doors, you are immediately transported to the ‘60s. As you step onto the salt and pepper linoleum tiles you are engulfed in “The Beetles” type ‘60s music and ambushed by even more neon. If there’s enough of a line to be seated, you bump into the giant, fully functioning jukebox. On the way to the booths, past the ’60s murals and authentic cafe seating, kids play with balloons, paper cars, and drop their crayons. Once everyone slides into the squishy red booths, and quarters are dished out for the mini jukebox, it’s time to order.
When I was a young child, my palate (as well as my sisters’) could only be described as childlike. For years the only dish I would get was the kid’s mac and cheese, sometimes with a side of bacon to crumble up into the creamy cheese. It was warm and gooey, and the soup spoons laid it perfectly in my mouth. This set a precedent for my sisters’ ordering habits, only differing when they wanted chocolate chip pancakes. After I grew out of my mac and cheese habit– only because I could tell they changed the recipe– I moved on to a slightly more grown-up version of cheesy carbs: sandwiches. The most important part of the sandwiches is that they are on the adult menu, and thus come with an adult portion of french fries. The fries are thin and crispy but somehow are still full of starchy potato that melts in your mouth. The best and final part of any visit to Silver Diner was, of course, the milkshakes with massive straws and bright red cherries.
Perhaps the member of my family who was the most consistent in his ordering was my grandfather. Every single time without fail he would order a steak with potatoes, most importantly, with no vegetables. If it was a brunch or breakfast outing, he would sometimes get the steak and eggs. My sisters and I would always swipe a few potatoes off the plate, but only if they were good and crispy. Sometimes we would swipe half a slice of toast so we’d have an excuse to pile jam packets into our flimsy cardboard cars without my aunt getting suspicious. My grandfather would always wash the steak down with coke if it was anytime after noon, or with a black coffee if it was anytime before. Once my aunt special ordered him a chocolate malt. To this day I still don’t quite know what malt is.
My family’s unique vibrancy was only never banned because we were quasi-regulars, and the waitstaff didn’t care all too much because they were getting paid. They put up with children crawling under the table, the spiderman theme playing on repeat, my aunt telling the waiters that she used to work “at this Silver Diner” and that she was there when she got the call that her I, her eldest niece, was being born, dietary restrictions, my grandparents complaining about the reasonable wait time, crayon wars, and carrying fancy salads that my parents insisted on ordering, despite an endless supply of quality carbs available to them. I never understood that last part. They would never order a milkshake, not even vanilla.
No matter who wound up cramped into a booth, whether it was 3 of us or 14 of us, those laminate tables were always lined with family. Within those silver exterior walls a certain chaotic, tranquil atmosphere lay. Between near food fights, “Yellow Submarine,” face painting, milkshakes, and smoke breaks we were together and we were happy. No matter what had happened, or what was to happen, that was always enough.