Futuristic Diner Luxe in New Milford is a land of chrome, mirrors and great comfort food
The first time I laid eyes on Diner Luxe, I burst out laughing. I was driving along the congested strip of road in New Milford, home to all the big-box stores. I do not usually burst out laughing at the sight of Best Buy or TJ Maxx, nor do I find traffic jams funny. What caused this reaction was seeing Diner Luxe.
I am sure, like me, you are all familiar with diners. The charming old vintage jewels, the aspirational ones that call themselves hybrid names like “dineraunts” and the perennials that stick around despite the fact that they have never served anything but bacon, eggs and coffee.
What I found so amusing about Diner Luxe is that it is an original. It is futuristic in a delightfully retro way. You could imagine the the Jetsons dining here or see it as an exhibit at a long-gone World’s Fair where people gasped at modern marvels like self-cleaning ovens and color TVs. Diner Luxe glows from the roadside, promising a back-to-the-future land of chrome, mirrors and great food.
It was about a million degrees out the day I ate there. Predictably, as things in the future are supposed to do, the air conditioning turned me from a sweaty mess to totally chill in less then a minute. The hostess directed me to my choice of spacious tables and booths, but I lagged behind. I was mesmerized by the pastry case.
Diners are known for their over-the-top cakes and pies. The portions are gargantuan and proudly overreaching in how high and mighty they stand with clouds of whipped cream and waves of meringue capping them. I am not enough of an OCD nor pedant to have counted all that was on display, but it would be fair to say that whatever you want is there, sided by things you didn’t think you wanted, but now do.
I was nicely surprised by how abbreviated the menu was. Not short, but as we food critics say, “well edited.” As regular readers of this column know, it boggles my mind that diners feel the need to serve everything. I have been to good ol’ American diners that featured sushi and Fra Diavolo. Diner Luxe has plenty of choices, but they focus on what most people come to a diner to eat: burgers, milk shakes, omelets and square meals like pot roast, turkey dinner and roast chicken.
I ordered all three of the dinners. The pot roast was a standout. Pot roast seems like a simple thing to cook, but it isn’t. A good pot roast needs to be well-seared and then braised long and slow until the chuck steak goes from tough and stringy to soft and dark brown, bathed in its natural gravy. In the process, the pot roast slowly absorbs the flavors of the onions, carrots and other vegetables. It is a labor of love. This pot roast was just as Mom made it, or you wish she had. It is perfect Sunday dinner fare.
The roast chicken was also nicely cooked, flavorful and well browned. Like the pot roast, it was sided with good potatoes and came with a nice little side salad. The turkey dinner was for the most part fine. The waitress explained it as just like Thanksgiving dinner, meaning roast turkey with all the trimmings. The turkey itself was white breast meat cut in thick slices, an eye-wash-sized cup of cranberry sauce on the side, and decent if slightly bland mashed potatoes, but if I served my family the white bread stuffing that came with the dish I would be collectively beaten over the head with turkey drumsticks. It was truly flavorless and folks, stuffing is pretty easy to make. Even (dare I say) the kind that comes in a box is acceptable.
I made quick work of the hot meals because I could not get the cornucopia pastry case out of my head. I wanted to say, “Bring me one of everything,” but thought that was overkill.
Instead, I said, “A slice of apple pie, a slice of Boston cream pie, and a slice of banana cream pie.” The best of the lot was the banana cream. It had a nice vanilla custard that held freshly cut bananas. There was whipped cream on top and I finished it off as if I had not just eaten three big dinners. The Boston cream pie was OK, not memorable, and the apple pie looked sad and bare sitting on its plate. I had said no to ice cream, and looking back wish I had asked for it. It tasted fine, but was just a generic slice of apple pie.
As I left, I looked again at the pastry case and realized that I had ordered wrong. I wanted a do-over. Next time I will order the amazing looking chocolate layer cake, or the fudge brownies, or the plate-sized chocolate chip cookies. The sad fact was that I still wanted one of everything.
108 Danbury Road, New Milford
It is easy to go slightly mad inside a cool diner. I saw people eating desserts before their main course, a guy at the next table ordered three milkshakes for himself, and a tiny 3-year-old laid waste to a huge hamburger and fries with the speed of a competitive-eating champ. I was among people as food crazy as I am, and once I walked back outside into the blast furnace of a summer day I felt like I had left Shangri-La.
Jane Stern co-authored the “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern.