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Cobble Hill Coffee Shop, Still Doing The Hustle

A neighborhood staple stays relevant by remaining largely unchanged.

There are a few rules of thumb to follow when searching for the quintessential diner experience: good coffee, grease-stained walls, vintage integrity and a little sass. Show me anything else passing itself off as a diner and I'll show you a café dressed in ironic retro clothing. 

Thankfully, has got authenticity to spare.

Opened in 1970 under the name The Donut House, this diner has remained largely unchanged over the more than four decades since.

The laminated menus feature typical Continental American fare such as omelets, burgers and fried food, mixed with an accessible range of Greek and Mexican dishes that reflect the staff's predominant ethnicities. 

The no-frills decor is basically a study in brown, and the storefront window is mostly obscured by large hanging signs that advertise specials and delivery services. But look closer and you'll soon realize that they may as well be a velvet curtain. Any aesthetic elements that exist inside the Cobble Hill Coffee Shop are merely a backdrop for the intricate choreography taking place on the floor.

Like a school of sharks, the waitstaff never stop moving; instead, they are constantly swirling from behind the long dining counter around to the dozen or so four-tops and back.

Before you have even settled onto your spinning barstool, a waitress has passed you a copy of the day's paper. Another server pours your coffee en route to pick up an order from the kitchen. On the line, styrofoam takeout containers are quickly and calmly packed then distributed to a runner, who invariably refills your water on his way out the door with a smile.

This is the dizzying footwork of waiting tables in a diner. The music that they dance to is the accented voice of the owner, who manages to call out orders ("bacon cheeseburger, medium-rare, no bun") to the cook on the grill and greetings ("Hello, my friend!") to regular customers without ever missing a beat. 

Fall into the rhythm of the employees' cadence and understand that you'll never go wrong with diner dishes that likely come from family recipes. The Spinach and Cheese Pie—a spanakopita by any other name—will arrive dense with layers of filo, feta, greens and the lightest touch of lemon. Despite its rich appearance, one wedge will leave you feeling sated but not stuffed. Which is fine because the traditional Greek salad—heaping with lettuce, tomatoes, kalamata olives, cubed feta and sliced raw red onion—beside it ($9.95 for the combo at lunch) should take care of the rest of your hunger. If you still have room, a single, meticulously wrapped, stuffed grape leaf has been thrown on as garnish.

As you plow your way through this plate of Grecian sustenance, trust that your cup of joe will be unendingly refilled until you pay the bill. Enjoy the familiar chitchat between the waitress and a septuagenarian enjoying his usual "bowl of Special K and a banana." Smile to yourself when the 9-year-old girl behind you says this is her favorite restaurant. She may be young, but she already gets it. Now, so do you.

Jenny May 02, 2012 at 12:10 PM
this sounds great
Carmen May 02, 2012 at 01:04 PM
i remember getting the meatloaf and cheese sandwich for lunch when i was a teenager working for the cobble hill movie theater! mmmmmm!
Jenny May 02, 2012 at 03:47 PM
that's the thing about food. it makes you remember so much else...

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