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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The best and worst of the diners of Waltham

Published: March 23, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

So food, glorious food. This week, well the past two weeks anyway, has been dedicated to the diner. Waltham has three on Main Street: In A Pickle, Joseph's II and Wilson's Diner, near the Watertown border. My favorite remains Joseph's;

something about the fresh-squeezed OJ, the strawberries and cream, the cranberry pancakes Anyway, it's all good. My least favorite, for the food anyway, was Wilson's, though that may be attributed to its being the third diner experience within about 10 days. They all serve that quintessential heart-choking American cuisine, featuring various meats and breads and eggs swimming in butter and cholesterol and encouraging even the least-athletic among us to jog, bike, swim the afternoon away.

My personal favorite diner ever is called Ellison's and is at the crossroads of a 600-person town in northern Illinois. It's been there forever and makes, among other things, stupid milkshakes (frappes) that account for many, many hours at the gym.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere is small but mighty, the building old and crumbling and the patrons pretty much the same every day. The food isn't great, but it's varied, breakfast and lunch fare with nothing particularly local or extraordinary I go mostly for the atmosphere, also because it's the closest food to my houseabout a fifteen-minute drive.

Back in Waltham, however, we have the three I've mentioned.

Wilson's Diner: I went to Wilson's as the capstone of my diner-ing experience here. Lots of diner atmosphere, complete with '50s style chrome-and-blue vinyl stools, a long bar, and a trolley-car-type structure similar to a dining car (gasp). The cook is Greek and runs the place with his wife;

they switch seamlessly between languages and know the names of a lot of the patrons. When I was there, they were teaching a new waitress how to tell orders to the cook, which he then somehow remembered and prepared.

To beat the eggs, he had an interesting two-fork technique that I have yet to master;

very efficient. I still prefer the whisk, probably because I'm used to it. All I could think of was some show on the food channel talking about how people who work with high-heat stoves all the time have no hair on their arms. He didn't have any hair on his arms;

apparently it burns off. The stove is right behind the counter, so if you're mentally twisted, you can watch the various processes behind cooking diner-fast. It's all appetizing and such, if you don't think about butter and grease. The food is m'eh;

I had the Wilson's special, with sausages and hot chocolate (from a packet, no whip cream) for $7.50. It was all well done and normal, and I was amazed at the sheer quantity for the priceI found it impossible to eat all the food. Environment-wise, it was the most dinerish, and therefore the best on that end;

food, not so much.

In a Pickle: I went to Pickle one day, primarily because I noticed it was open whilst I was coming back from Wilson's, which was not. Past roommates proclaimed it “The Diner” and went fairly regularly. It's in a long skinny room, the dcor is green and once again, there are a lot of stools, though less-nifty than those at Wilson's. The restaurant is much bigger than Wilson's, more tables, and more college students were there when I was eating. The place is supposed to close at 3, but they were still seating people at ten to on a Sunday. The pickles, which I expected to be awesome, were merely mediocre, the one I had in particular quite soft in the middle, with very little crunch. Of course I ate it on top of my breakfasttheir blueberry pancakes (very blueberry-filled), hot chocolate (mediocre, dust-based) bacon, toast, eggswhich was probably not the best move. I spent the rest of the day regretting the pickle. The staff was mediocre, not particularly interested in working, but I did get there at the end of the day for a sort of brunch. There are two main cooks and mysterious staff occasionally popped up out of the back, adding a bit of intrigue to sitting at the counter, but the staff dynamic as a whole was somewhat off-putting. The food was a little better than Wilson's, in retrospect, but I don't know if I'll be going there again if given a choice. I think what I had cost about $10, and was way more than enough food for one.

Joseph's II: Joseph's has biased me against all the other diners in the neighborhood, mostly because the food is consistently the best of the trio. The atmosphere is dark and a little dingy;

it would very easily revert to smoke-filled if Massachusetts were to unban smoking in restaurants, and the lighting is yellowish and sort of dark. It's about the same size as Pickle, but laid out in a restaurant fashion, no stools. The waitresses have been there for ages and know the menu by heart;

they're great guides to what you really want. The best drinks run neck-and-neck, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and hot chocolate with dolloped whip cream, while their best breakfasts include cranberry pancakes and mountains of French toast, as well as various omelets. I'm not a coffee drinker, but the coffee is rumored to be very strong and black. It is diner food, on the high-end. One person can eat there for about $13, though with all the extras I usually spend about $20, mostly because of the orange juice and hot cocoa. Joseph's is also a comfy place to spend the day;

it would be even better if they added caf-style wireless internet as their hours are much better than any of the other similar sitting-eating-talking establishments in Waltham.

Joseph's II: 805 Main St., Waltham 781 899 4754

In a Pickle: 655 Main St., Waltham 781 891-1212

Wilson's Diner: 507 Main St., Waltham 781 899-0760