Jane Stern: A rainbow of delights at the Stamford Diner

The first person I know who clued me into the Stamford Diner was NPR host Faith Middleton. We were having coffee and she erupted in her Faith-like ebullient way. “You will not believe this, but I ordered tuna salad at a diner in Stamford and it was made with REAL TUNA, not canned!”

This had to be at least 10 years ago when using “real tuna” in tuna salad was like finding the eighth wonder of the world.

Since then, I have been a regular customer at the Stamford Diner, and hope you will give it a try.

First, let me tell you that this place is hard to find. Harvard Avenue is not one of Stamford’s main drags, but then again for those of you who read my column regularly I am always lost even with a map and a working GPS.

The Stamford Diner

135 Harvard Ave., Stamford

The Stamford Diner looks celebratory from the outside, unlike the usual chrome-wrapped diners. When you walk inside the front door, to your right you will see the pastry case, and (10 steps in) I am already smiling. The reason is a cake on display (one you may buy a slice of) is the prettiest cake ever. it is a rainbow cake and has layers all a different color of the rainbow. I want this cake daily; it is better than Prozac.

But I have come here not for cake, but to eat a main meal. My first visit this month was for breakfast. Diners and breakfast go together like a hand in glove. The pancakes, french toast and waffles are all terrific (and real maple syrup is available), but I felt like giving the Stamford Diner a more elaborate task, and so I ordered Maryland Lump Crab and Lobster Cake Benedict. This is a dish I deemed too scary to cook for myself. I was pleasantly surprised by the size (huge) and taste (yummy) of the dish. To add to its wonder it was lavishly drenched in Hollandaise sauce. If it would not turn heads I have been tempted to order a bowl of Hollandaise sauce at restaurants (with a bowl of Bernaise sauce on the side).

My next sophisticated breakfast choice was a chorizo sausage and egg quesadilla. Also a large portion and made more delicious with salsa verde, jalepeno jack cheese, salsa rojo and guacamole. I have spent a good deal of time in New Mexico and realized if I were there the dish would be “topped with Christmas,” the playful term for something with both red and green salsa.

I love corned-beef hash and when it is on a menu I usually get it as at least a side order. Great corned-beef hash is always worth the money and calories; bad corned-beef hash reminds me of a can of Alpo dog food. Happily, the corned-beef hash here was very, very good.

Good diners also serve good soups. The Stamford Diner makes a mean chicken noodle, and a highly respectable chicken matzo ball soup. The matzo ball might not have been the airiest one around, but the broth and shreds of real chicken was a treat.

Choosing an entree here is hard because (in true diner fashion) there are so many choices. Paninis, wraps, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, Greek foods, and big salads. I am in a comfort-food mode and so I order the hot open turkey sandwich. It is slightly disappointing. The turkey is fresh from the oven and thickly sliced, but the gravy is natural jus, not the heavy duty Thanksgiving-like stuff I prefer and the mashed potatoes taste reconstituted. I find this odd, as the Stamford Diner boasts about its mashed spuds.

I have better luck with the Stamford’s crusted chicken, a large breast of chicken that has been coated with a thick crust of Romano cheese. On the side is a nice helping of warm baby tomatoes, fresh basil and sautéed orzo. I liked this far better then the mashed potatoes.

A nice and very hearty dish (winter is coming!) is the Kentucky burger. A nice sized beef patty topped with barbecue pulled pork, onion rings, cheddar cheese and barbecue sauce. I have never seen a burger topped with barbecue pork, but it was good enough to order again.

Suddenly, although it is 9 p.m., I want breakfast again. The Stamford Diner closes at 11, so I feel no rush. I order the onion rings hasher, a big gloppy melange of corned-beef hash, onion rings, two poached eggs, cheddar cheese and Hollandaise sauce. To say this dish is rich: words fail me. The best I can do is to say if I were a bear, I could go through an entire winter hibernation after eating this.

I could not leave without a slice of the pretty rainbow layer cake. I am so stuffed that I ask for it to go. Ten miles from home and my appetite is back with a vengeance. I open the container and use the plastic fork. By the time I hit my garage door button there is nothing left but sweet rainbow memories.

Jane Stern is co-author of the Roadfood book series.