Young and Hungry

A Sneak Preview of This Week’s Young & Hungry Column on Diners

You can't escape the wailing over the economy. It's everywhere you turn: the radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, blogs, boards, even on your own tongue every time you check your stocks. It feels like half the country is living in fear that they could lose their jobs tomorrow. It's enough to make you want to dig your own spider hole and crawl in it until this mess is over.

All the bad news has made me want to seek out a known survivor of America's economic turmoils: diners. They've been through the worst that America can dish out—the Depression, the energy crisis, the recession of the early '80s, you name it. They're the cockroaches of the dining industry. You can take comfort in that. I think.

Here's what I want to know: What are your favorite diners in the area? And are you frequenting them more often, now that your portfolio has taken more hits than the Allies at Omaha beach? As for my current favorite, I've written a short review of it after the jump. Look for the Young & Hungry column on diners this Thursday.

The Amphora Restaurant in Vienna—not to be confused with Amphora's Diner Deluxe in Herndon, that gleaming homage to the classic American roadside eatery—is, by far, the most ambitious diner in the area. And it has little to do with Amphora's 350-item menu, which requires serious speed-reading skills if you plan to zip through all the Byzantine international offerings before you waiter grows impatient. No, the Amphora's ambition has to do with its kitchen, which produces the vast majority of its food in-house, from sauces and salad dressings to breads and potato chips. I guess I should say Amphora's kitchens produce the food, since much of the restaurant's goods are prepared at the Diner Deluxe, the younger sibling with the far larger cooking area. Regardless, the house-made products are immediately apparent on the palate, whether with the hand-cut French fries or the tzatziki sauce that comes with the decidedly delicious Grecian meatballs on the meze platter. Going Greek is, in fact, the smart play at Amphora. The owners are Greek, and somehow they've been able to translate their homeland's cuisine to the Latinos who mostly man their kitchens. The avgolemono, for instance, delivers the sour-eggy flavors you want, without weighing down the soup with excessive cornstarch, and the spanakopita is a mouthwatering mixture of spinach and feta wrapped in a flaky pastry that tastes like it has enough butter to sink Manhattan. Just as important, the Amphora feels like a ‘70s-era diner, which it is. The place has a sort of dated elegance, all etched-glass and dark woods, which recalls an important period in diner history: a time when, in attempt to compete with fast-food chains, they were designed for homey comfort. Today, that homey ambiance is a little frayed at the edges, perhaps just like your parents' house.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery