Published in April 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
Living in Boston, I wake up every morning to an enviable American dilemma: what to do for breakfast? Diner food, the great American breakfast, is a wondrous down-home institution: eggs sunnyside-up or over-easy, crispy bacon, thick pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, maple syrup poured liberally over everything. Served all day and any way you want it. But there’s a new kid on the block: the artisanal coffee house where your day begins with single-estate espresso or a bitter chocolate cappuccino so carefully made it beats the pants off anything you drink in Rome. I am eternally torn between the old and the new.
Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe was established 1927 in Boston’s South End and has never changed. Four children of the first employee, Christi Manjourides, a Greek immigrant who came through Ellis Island as a child, still work there every day. The floor is the original tile; Norman Rockwell red vinyl stools line up along a Formica counter, worn white in places with decades of wiping. On the wall framed memorabilia track American history: a telegram from Duke Ellington asking them to keep the coat he left behind so that he could pick it up next time, Obama on the campaign trail ordering a hamburger to go. The South End used to be a working class neighbourhood of boarding houses and immigrants. It has gentrified, but still, on a frigid February morning, the regulars are much as they have always been, local Boston.