At the Driftwood Diner in Darien, it’s hard to skip breakfast
After bad surprises (tax bills, stepping on the scale after a holiday), the universe sometimes throws you a good one. I feel optimistic sitting at the Driftwood Diner in Darien.
I assumed by its name that the Driftwood Diner would be a regular old diner like the Silver Star or the other chrome palaces on the Post Road. I like Greek diners very much, love the baroque over-the-top pastries, the speedy service and the fact that they offer every kind of food known to mankind on their enormous laminated menus.
Except for the word “diner,” the Driftwood is a different type of place. “Different” meaning they don’t attempt to serve every item in the world, but what they do have is absolutely delicious. The food is so good that if this column awarded stars, the Driftwood Diner would get a constellation.
Everything about the Driftwood is clean and appetizing. It looks almost nautical in its attention to detail. The tables are immaculate, the booths comfy and the lighting is bright and cheerful. There is a vibe in here that suggests all is right in the world.
The Driftwood has made a reputation for its breakfasts. I’m not an easy mark when it comes to breakfast; in fact, I often don’t bother with “the most important meal of the day.”
I find breakfasts go two unfortunate ways. One is the same old, same old: eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast. The other is hypercreative childish attempts to make breakfast “fun.” The “fun” places fill their bland pancakes with chocolate chips and mountains of ersatz whipped cream. When I see breakfast like this, I only can think of how mothers wrap a dreaded pill in marshmallow fluff to make it palatable.
What I like for breakfast are regular items done really well. I want my berry pancakes to be moist and light and generously filled with fresh fruit. Corned beef hash should be made from scratch using a real slab of corned beef mixed with onions and potatoes. If eggs are alongside, they must have sun-colored egg yolks and come sided by big fluffy biscuits.
I immediately fell in love with the Driftwood Diner when I ordered lemon pancakes, corned beef hash and a yogurt parfait. I asked that the pancakes not have whipped cream on them. All pancakes on the menu have whipped cream, but my intuition told me it was not necessary. What I got was a stack of beautifully cooked symmetrical flap jacks that were liberally coated with a tart lemon syrup and topped with candied lemon slices on top. I am a great lover of anything lemon.
Before I ordered the pancakes I tested the lemonade, which was fresh and homemade. The lemon pancakes were not overly sweet, and the syrup retained the icy blast of summer fruit. I will order them again as soon as I return. I always order lemon ricotta pancakes when they are on a menu. These pancakes scream lemon, which I love.
The corned beef hash was an eye opener. Presented as a side order, it came on a long, white china plate and looked like a photo in a food magazine. Glistening hunks of real corned beef (bearing no similarity to that which comes out of a can) are mixed with onions and potatoes and subtly but beautifully seasoned. The portion was huge, and as I type this the remains are sitting in my refrigerator for tonight’s dinner. My leftovers were too good to leave behind.
Now, the next dish I’ll tell you about sounds like a big nothing but was, in fact, rather amazing. I ordered a yogurt-and-granola parfait, a contrivance so boring that nowadays one finds them at every convenience store or airport takeout kiosk. I had no expectations at all.
In fact, why I even ordered this remains a mystery, but I am delighted I did. Placed before me was a lovely glass bowl with the most delicious sliced red strawberries, thick Greek yogurt the color of old ivory, delicious granola and a slathering of wonderful honey. It was a shock that something so ubiquitous (and frankly boring) could be so delicious. Like all great food, what elevated it was the stellar quality of the ingredients.
The Driftwood Diner also serves full lunch and dinner meals. Their Cobb salad is a study in freshness. The tomato soup (a creamless specialty) tastes like the ripest tomatoes fresh off the vine. The Chinese chicken salad (again, something ubiquitous) is a beautifully composed dish made festive with crisp wonton strips, almonds and a hoison orange dressing.
The Driftwood’s hamburgers come on a high-quality brioche bun, the simple grilled-cheese sandwich has a roasted tomato inside and the same corned beef that makes up the hash is served as a sandwich. The filling is layered with braised red cabbage, pickled jalapeños and a horseradish cream sauce.
I can’t wait to return here. Not only is the food unexpectedly good but the staff could not have been nicer. Usually restaurant reviewers try to keep a low profile; at least I do. On entering the Driftwood I dropped my large professional camera and knocked over a table.
171 Boston Post Road, Darien
I don’t think the staff knew I was reviewing the place; they just thought I was a klutz who liked to take snapshots of her breakfast. No one laughed or pointed. I was very grateful.
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, coauthored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern.