Morning’s At The Corner

20 Dec

I have had the good fortune to be writing for the magazine Idlewild over the past year.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be reprinting some of the pieces originally published there.

When my daughter was very young, and I was sorely lacking in sleep, I would carry her mornings down to Family Corner.  In need of coffee, food and adult voices, I’d drowsily listen as the regulars traded insults with George.  Back and forth, hilariously, they would ride each other.  Warm, raucous and working class, it was the New York of my dreams.

Having just celebrated their 27th anniversary, it’s the kind of place where a young woman brings her own gluten-free pancake mix and they make them for her, and shortly thereafter just add them to the menu.

The kind of place where George, at the end of his day, takes the time to lead a table of out of town visitors to their New York Islanders game.

The kind of place where, on a hot summer’s day, they turn off the ceiling fans to calm a scared little girl.

Along with his father Spyro and brother Phil, George is co-owner and proprietor.  Coming from Greece, after much travail, they settled in Astoria when the brothers were young.  Neighborhood kids, they know a little something about food, home and family.

“That’s my dad, it comes directly from him,” says George.  “He always said ‘get out there, talk to your customers, get to know them.’  In this way your customers become friends.”

As if all this weren’t enough, the food is outstanding, whether you pop in for a cheeseburger, sit down to savor the Pastichio and a bowl of warm Avgolemono, or just treat yourself to two eggs over with a side of hash.  It’s not foodie, pretentious or expensive.  It’s just good.

And if you’re very lucky, there’s Jenni.  Smart, funny and occasionally profane; tough on the outside and all heart within, she is their secret weapon.  Lily and Kristina are wonderful, but Jenni is magic.  She makes bad days good.

My son loves her for the early morning milkshake she made on his 12th birthday, complete with the hand decorated cup we are not allowed to throw away.

My daughter loves how she patiently takes her order, the same thing every time:  pancakes and eggs.

And my wife and I love her for those sleep deprived mornings when we call ahead and she has our favorite booth waiting for us, silverware laid out, coffee poured.

Diners are fading.  In Astoria alone there are whispers that the stately Neptune and gleaming Bel Aire are on their way out.

“Oh yeah, Neptune is gone,” George says, “Gone.”  And he goes on to explain that even a diner doing very well cannot handle the rents a commercial bank will pay, or make nearly as much money as a high-rise apartment building.

But Family Corner remains.  For now.

“What makes us special?” George asks, raising his eyebrows before turning to a young man a couple booths down.

“Hey you.  What do you like about Family Corner?”

“It tastes good.”

“It tastes good.”  George smiles, shrugging his shoulders. “There you go.”

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