Summer 2013: The Eat Drink Local Issue

I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember the first meal I ate at Diner, but there have been plenty since that I’ll never forget.

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Like the night Irene and I planned Amy’s wedding over grassfed steak and chocolate cake.

The night a waitress brought me Advil on a bread plate and Rachel’s album played over the sound system.

The day Jane tried to break up with Martin, necessitating rare burgers and lots of housemade mayo.

The night Kolby and I shared a dinner so good that after cake and coffee, we decided, like young lovers, to do it all over again, ordering a second round of chicory salads, then more rabbit ragù.

The times I got a lunch-hour jones in my lower Manhattan office and rode the JMZ back to BK for an impulsive midday meal before returning, rejuvenated, to my inbox.

The magical night my newborn daughter somehow slept straight through dinner under the table, granting me and my husband our first date as parents.

And those mornings when I’d barely slept—and hadn’t showered—but eggs and a biscuit on that paper-covered table made everything seem right.

In short, to me, Diner has long been like a diner, one that just happens to serve food as good as you’ll find on many a white tablecloth.

I’m in good company. The restaurant’s been the stage for many Brooklynites’ memorable moments—not a special occasion destination to take your parents, but a home-plate place you want to roll into every night for years, and leave feeling full in more ways than one.

Turns out that’s precisely what owner Andrew Tarlow had in mind when he opened the place back on New Year’s Eve, 1998. As you’ll learn in our feature about his accidental empire, Tarlow didn’t have grandiose visions of farmy feasts, multiple outposts or breathless reviews. Rather, back when Williamsburg had a break-out arts community, he just wanted a place where he and his friends could break bread. The killer food was an afterthought, brought to the table by chef Caroline Fidanza whose menus came to define the Brooklyn food scene.

That scene has exploded in the 15 years since, as has Tarlow’s business. Diner is as bustling as ever, but he’s added Marlow & Sons, Marlow & Daughters, Roman’s, and last year, Reynard in the uber-chic Wythe Hotel (plus Achilles Heel in Greenpoint, where the paint is drying as I type this).

At first glance, posh Reynard seems a world away from Diner. But the two restaurants, built more than a decade apart, share Tarlow’s uncanny ability to predict—or perhaps write—Williamsburg’s future.

Here’s one more memorable meal: New Year’s breakfast with Carrington and Jessa. A Tarlow table, it turns out, is a perfect place to look back, and look forward.

In East Flatbush, a 250-year-old farm. Photo credit: Emily Dryden. 

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Gabrielle Langholtz is the former editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan.