Located at 601 East Colfax Avenue, Tom’s Diner is a throwback to the golden age of diners. While other similar establishments have closed their doors over time, competing against the likes of Perkins and Village Inn, Tom’s, which I remember initially as the Rainbow Diner when I moved here in 1998, has been serving standard short-order-cook fare for approximately the last decade. Insulated from the chain pressures that inhabit interstate exits and the American suburban and exurban landscape, Tom’s location on a yet another rough and tumble corner of Colfax limits competition. There is little doubt that a Denny’s franchisee would not want the unpredictably of Colfax Avenue and Pearl Street.
The place is all windows, so before you even step through the doors, you know a long wrap around lunch counter, yellow and red formica booths and horseshoe shaped purple naugehyde tables await. Mid-morning sunlight streams through the windows, illuminating the soft yellow walls as any lingering melatonin is chased from your system, as you pass from Colfax Avenue and into the retro-chic bosom of Tom’s Diner.
The repetitive efficiency of lessons long learned are evident throughout, and include the exact same collection of condiments spaced ~4 feet along the lunch counter. A geodesic dome of creamer that would do Buckminster Fuller proud, flanked by salt and pepper and sugar.
And behind the counter, cereal. Two bowls for a few bucks, all economy sizes, none of those single serving boxes from childhood.
The menu, like any 24 hour diner, is extensive. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the menu is multi-page affair, spanning full five pages, and brimming with the expected diner classics: blue plate specials, milkshakes (made on an ancient mint green milkshake machine), club sandwiches and dinner entrees such as chicken fried steak, that come with your choice of two sides.
The coffee is hot, offered fast, refilled often, and in the tradition of diners across the nation, fairly weak. This seems to be a universal truth, whether dining on Colfax or rural Route 29 in Virginia, or anywhere in between. The coffee will be watery, but what it lacks in boldness, it will redeem itself in sheer quantity.
The huevos rancheros featured a full plate that oozed a hansel and gretel drip of green chili from the kitchen to our table. It was what you expect from a diner, a large portion of food, all hot, some of it originating from a can, but completely serviceable.
Eggs and bacon! A staple of the American diet and staple of breakfast menus across the land (Watercourse withstanding).
The omelet was standard three egg affair that elicits alarm at its size, but then is inevitably finished and laying waste to any to-do list motivation for the next few hours. The toast comes heavily buttered and the hash browns a mix of crispy bits and soggy potato, unsurprising given the size of the pile placed on the griddle.
Tom’s Diner offers up classic diner fare in a vibrant environment. Catering to anyone and everyone, the mood changes with the time of day. Quiet mornings were inevitably preceded by a last-call lush rush just a few hours prior, with loud conversations and tipsy excitement evident. If you like food off a griddle you will find something at Tom’s to satiate your appetite.
Other reviews of Tom’s run the gamut, as to be expected, from great to awful. The negative reviews whined about the low quality of the food, but I have never considered diners to be on the forefront of the dining experience. Diners are known for uninspired food that will offend few, not for applewood smoked bacon and buckwheat pancakes. One should approach a diner expecting to hand out a “C” if asked to grade the meal. One should approach a diner expected to be fed for a low cost. If expectations are higher, then one should skip Tom’s Diner, and any other diner for that matter, and make room eaters with more realistic expectations, who will undoubtedly enjoy Tom’s Diner.