Rekindling the old flame
Not more than two years have passed since that hallowed of diners, Mel’s, went up in smoke in the great University Plaza fire of 2010. I recall the plumes in the sky during the twilight that night, riding my bike trying to clear my head of the vice grip of a thesis that attempted to analyze cooking shows as a kind of food pornography using Deleuzean theoretics.
Granted, though I never really was a staunch supporter of the place, I knew it held a flame in the hearts of all the students that depended on it for late night bites, or morning after binges. Yes, lest we forget, Mel’s Diner was a moderately okay place.
So, you could imagine my intrigue when I spotted such a simulacrum elsewhere in the world. I hoped it belonged to someone else, someone fired up enough to exploit that honored name. Why? I kind of like being the bearer of bad news, especially to the patriotic. We live in a culture that feeds on drama, after all. Think: reality shows. Think: Glee. So, you could imagine my trepidation. Yes, I was doused with disappointment. It was Mel’s reborn, but in the vast wilderness of development and big box stores.
There it was, brand new, looking fresh with photos, strangely enough, from its old location, hung on its walls, not damaged in the slightest. No yellowing, no broken frames, no fixed glass. As if nothing had ever happened. I was having a Twin Peaks experience.
Calm greys, navy blues, neon pink lights, and glass tiles decorated the space, making it seem to me a more elegant place from what it was before. The red booths were still there too. I liked it.
Yes, Mel’s deserved its new location, it deserved a little self respect; it deserved its antithesis crowd of octogenarians. No rowdy students here, unless you read this and decide to go.
Know this: if you do, you better have a way of getting there. But don’t let that deter you, it seems more nostalgic as a destination farther than a stone’s throw away, as if located back in time. That also said, I was no veteran of the Mel’s before it. This visit, for me, was a kind of baptism by fire, because I had no recollection of price and no recollection of menu. My only recollection was that it was a popular breakfast place, and if you want to know about any deals, you better bring a seasoned veteran, because they don’t tell you about them on the menu. My company made it his business to ask about Mel’s Favourite, an affably affordable $3.99 breakfast platter of eggs, pig, and toast. To the point, he had no qualms about the stuff, and from my end, it did look pretty alright.
I went another route, opting for a monte cristo sandwich, stacked with ham, turkey, and cheese.
That, and the best iced coffee around, or so the menu insisted; a huge claim, in my opinion. Though not unappetizing, it was far from setting the world on fire. A familiar syrup stirred with ice was all it was, sweeter than I would have liked, but ironically tempering my salty meal quite well. Not that that is a particularly good thing. The dualities of Mel’s seem to rest in the appetence of salty or sweet.
Translucent fries crowded my plate, sodium bearing against whatever earthiness the potatoes wished to impart; no doubt a symptom from dusting every single batch fried and thrown into the fryer’s shared oil.
The ham in my sandwich was no different, nor the cheese, its glassy edges making me wonder how old it may have been. And as I peeled it off, I wondered about the lukewarm, chalky, dry turkey that thickly set itself between egg battered bread that was so soft it need not be softened by egg at all.
But, hey, who knows such food lore? Who cares about standards? Mel’s exists. And, as I was cheerily told, I, as well as all of you, can rest well. For someday, that old lot will be rebuilt with Mel’s third incarnation. And if you can’t wait, you can always come here. I can only hope, however, that Mel’s tries a little bit harder. Because you know, moving three times is as bad as a fire.