Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The Lawrence Park Dinor
4019 Main Street
Erie, PA

Hours: 7 AM-3 PM
Alcohol: None
Food: Limited menu and smaller portions than a chain, but cheap and very good

The nice part of globalization is that the best things from different parts of the country can now be found all over the place.

I remember when I walked into a Wal-Mart in Harper's Ferry, WV in 2002 while I was on the Appalachian Trail, and I was shocked to see they were selling giant blocks of Cabot Hunter's Cheddar Cheese.

Similarly, Wal-Mart now sells Blue Bunny ice cream, which until recently, was an Iowa thing. And there's now a Five Guys in Manchester, NH, whereas even ten years ago, it was strictly a DC thing.

But unfortunately, for every great regional product that Wal-Mart takes national or local chain that goes national through franchising, there are probably ten regional products that get crowded out.

When I drove into Erie, PA last night, my mom told me to go to a dinor (that's how they spell it in Erie) while I was there.

This morning, I set out from my hotel to go to the local Peninsula Dinor for breakfast, but unfortunately it had succumbed to the pressures of competing with the nearby Perkins and Eat 'N Park.

So after my morning meetings, I trekked over to the Lawrence Park Dinor on the other side of town, which is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The dinor recently changed hands, but it was purchased by lifelong Erie resident who, as far as I could tell, wanted to keep a local institution going, and who was working the grill when I walked in -- always a good sign. When I walked in

Like the rest of Erie, the place looked like it had weathered the Rust Belt's downturn better than most places, unlike, say, Cleveland.

Like a lot of things in Pennsylvania, it was out of the past. This is no New Jersey super-diner with giant portions and a ten page menu.

Rather, the menu just a small tri-folded laminated sheet with breakfast on the left (served 'til 11) and lunch in the middle and on the right. And the portion sizes are from back when a quarter-pound burger was what you ordered when you were hungry, with prices to match.

I asked what a Greek hot dog is, and was told that it had mustard, onions and "Greek Sauce," which is a slightly spicy meat sauce (or beanless chili), similar to what is served on Zwiegle's white hots in Rochester, NY. And it was only twenty cents more than a regular hot dog, so that's what I ordered, along with a glass of chocolate milk and a bowl of chili.

The chili was more soupy than I usually like, but it came with crackers, and it was very tasty. Not super-spicy, but you definitely know you're having chili.

Then there was the hot dog. They serve Smith's hot dogs, Erie's answer to Zwiegle's or Hofmann's from Rochester and Syracuse, NY. It was a nice, big hot dog that the Greek Sauce made even better. Definitely worth the $2.20 I paid for it and the two pickle chips that came with it.

It was the tail end of the lunch rush, and service was a little on the slow side. After finishing my meal, I waited a solid ten minutes before one of the waitresses came over with my check, only to have me say, "actually, I was thinking of dessert."

The piece of French Silk pie I ordered was on the small side, like everything else, but it was quite good, especially the crust.

After finishing, I sat and did the devotional reading that I'd not gotten in earlier because of my fruitless trip to the Peninsula Dinor and the attendant hunting around. The place cleared out, and the owner struck up a conversation with me. I asked for the check, and was surprised to see that a drink, soup, the Greek hot dog and a piece of pie had only cost $10 (plus tip).

Obviously, in a way, this place isn't too different from places you'll find in most old industrial towns -- reasonably cheap breakfast and lunch joints that serve tasty but unpretentious food to the locals -- but I definitely think the Lawrence Park Dinor gives a nice Erie flavor to the whole thing.

After lunch, I went down on the public dock, where my dad used to go fishing when his father worked in Erie for General Electric, and then I ambled around the neighborhood he used to live in. Erie's still mostly keeping up OK, just like the dinor.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying the Shirt

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