Counter Culture

A retro diner that will take you back in time

CaseysPhoto: Brooke Russi

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ood luck finding Casey’s Diner. The tiny retro lunch car, oldest and smallest of its kind that’s still in operation, sits amid a stretch of auto-body shops, and it doesn’t have a sign. Then there’s the trick with the door: It doesn’t open in or out, but slides sideways to save space. “You can always tell a rookie,” quips Pat Casey, of the fourth generation in his family to own the place, when yet another newbie fumbles with the handle. You won’t be a stranger for long, though. There are always likely to be locals whiling away an afternoon on one of the 10 counter stools (“I’ve been coming here since his great-grandfather ran the place,” one pipes in), enjoying burgers from the flat-top vintage grill, flavored with 70 years of seasoning and served on slightly toasted Wonder Bread buns, or great hot dogs, with a dessert of apple, lemon custard, Boston cream, or rhubarb pie.

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Diners were invented in Providence by Walter Scott, who in 1872 started selling food to workmen from a horse-drawn wagon. So popular were these mobile restaurants that lines would form outside them in the streets, so towns passed regulations prompting them to operate from permanent locations.

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