Monday, March 12, 2012

With this New York Diner, the more it changes, the more it stays the same?

Last Tuesday, upon returning to New York's Penn Station after a family visit in New Jersey, I had limited time and needed to get some dinner before an evening music rehearsal. So I went for old reliable, the Tick Tock Diner on 34th Street and 8th Avenue.

I've been going to Tick Tock on occasion for around 10 years. And I've seen it go through some changes in that time. For example, the bathroom used to be in a hallway between the diner and the New Yorker Hotel, to which the diner is connected and affiliated; but now, it is in the rear of the restaurant. However, I do not recall ever seeing any substantive change in the menu, at least not until I walked into the diner last Tuesday.

Gone are the tall fold-out menus typical of New York City diners, replaced by small many-paged spiral-bound colorful menus. Each page is a different category: breakfast, salads, sandwiches, etc. And this menu is very colorful, full of bright red and blue.

I was puzzling over what had prompted what is radical change for a diner, when I returned to the front page of the menu and found an explanation: the title clearly indicated "Tick Tock Diner & GRILLE". So, they are trying to ride the coattails of a perceived grilling fad. I mean, I get it: we all know that frying is bad for us, so if we think we are getting things that are grilled, which is I guess not quite so bad for us, we will be happy. The only problem is, that for a diner, which does the majority of their cooking on a grill, adding this name to the diner's name does not indicate a change in how they do business. It is, to my eye, a cosmetic change at best.

But, getting back to what I ordered - or expected to order - there was a big difference. Since around 2004, my favorite item on the menu at Tick Tock was the spinach salad w/grilled chicken added. A huge salad with lots of spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado, red onion, bacon and hard-boiled egg, with some tender strips of grilled chicken laid over the top. A hearty, but also what I considered healthy, option for a diner. And it was always very filling, and reasonably priced too. Well, such a salad no longer exists at Tick Tock. How sad!

I was forced to opt instead for a BLT club sandwich with grilled chicken, with added avocado. Let me explain. On their menu is a BLT club which has of course bacon, lettuce and tomato and mayonnaise with grilled chicken, and then there is a Grilled Chicken club which has chicken, swiss cheese and avocado. I was torn whether to order the BLT and add avocado, or to order the Grilled Chicken and ask them to hold the swiss cheese and add bacon. I chose the former, just because I reasoned that it might be easier to just add one item. I am not sure if my reasoning was correct, though, because it is completely possible that the sandwich-maker is eminently adaptable to whatever the customer wants or doesn't want on his sandwich.

In any case, here came my BLT club with avocado (on multi-grain bread, a nice option), and the four quarters of the sandwich, cut into triangles, were set in two rows, lying on their backs, pointy side up, covered with the accompanying french fries. Well, presentation-wise, this may have been a great way to put the dish together, but unless I was expected to eat all the french fries first, this was not a practical presentation. Instead, it required work, namely I had to remove the french fries from on top of the sandwich and move them to their logical resting place alongside the sandwich, before I could begin eating the sandwich.

After that, the meal proceeded smoothly. The portion was so huge that I could only eat half - great - and the sandwich was so big I could hardly fit it in my mouth and lived in fear as I bit into it that it was going to spill all over my plate but it didn't - very good. I had leftovers for a late-night snack, and still at a reasonable price. So, overall, I would have to say that despite my consternation at the change in the menu, my experience at Tick Tock still turned out to be a typical one. A mountain of affordable food at a decent price. Now if only they could reinstitute the spinach salad...

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