When I received an invitation to join other food bloggers in testing out the Silver Diner’s new “Fresh and Local” menu, I figured the word ‘diner’ was probably an ironic usage. Like a typical DC food snob, I’d never been to the Clarendon restaurant before (likewise, I didn’t know it was part of a Virginia/Maryland chain). And the idea of a sustainable, locavore-friendly menu at an actual diner simply did not compute. So I assumed the diner thing was some kind of gimmick masking a more earthy-crunchy kind of place. But no, as I walked up to the event I realized that it’s seriously a diner, right down to the chrome plating and display case of home-made pies. And they really are instituting a surprisingly large slate of fresh, local, and healthy menu items – the usual suspects of the season (asparagus, strawberries, greens, local eggs and cheese, etc.) were all there in spades. Color me impressed.
Full disclosure, they treated us well, with generous tastings of a great many of these menu items as well as their featured local beers. I also won a pie. (The contest was to correctly guess the weight of the massive apple pie, and my four and a half pound guess was closest).
But what impressed me about the event was the sheer novelty of seeing the owner and chef of a chain of diners speak about local, healthy food with such genuine commitment. Despite some survey research showing that people claim they would pay more for things like local ingredients and hormone-free meat and gluten-free pasta, it can’t have been easy to make the leap. Some other attendees raised valid points about various aspects of the menu remaining not-quite-Pollanesque (corn syrup in the desserts, for instance), I think the chain should be applauded for going as far as it did. Changing the food system is an incremental process.
The food itself was, for the most part, well-executed and light while still hewing to general principles of comfort food. I particularly liked the gluten-free pasta with goat cheese and asparagus. Ironically, I was less of a fan of the apple pie I won, but then I’ve never been much of an apple pie person (my friends, however, devoured the pie and declared it fabulous). I hope the chain continues to institute more local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients in its everyday menu. Definitely a step in the right direction.