In a city that was once celebrated for its 24-hour culinary delights, the diners of yore are on the decline.
In the ethereal childhood memories of every New Yorker’s youth, mom and dad would pack the family into the station wagon and head down the boulevard to the local diner for a Sunday breakfast. Patrons would slide into those booths and a nice lady would call you ‘honey,’ bring crayons for the kids and serve you pancakes with a smile. It’s an iconic scene that Hollywood has preserved on celluloid for years.
Briarwood’s Flagship Diner is one of the last bastions of the city’s old school diners. Vinny Pupplo, one of the diner’s four owners, looks around and sees it as “the classic New York diner.”
“Most of the classic New York diners have gone the route of cutting corners,” said Pupplo as his nine-hour selection of 1950s and 1960s pop music plays overhead. At the Flagship Diner, everything is made in-house. He said that the owners still buy their own beef for the diner’s classic cheeseburger, grind it and press it to make sure that the customer is getting the very best.
The eatery has a baker on duty nearly 50 hours a week to make fresh desserts.
“Everything you see, [our baker] makes it,” said Pupplo. “And it’s not like cardboard, it’s actual good stuff.”
He said that Forest Hills residents come in every day to buy a couple of his baker’s prune Danishes since they can’t find the level of quality anywhere else.
Pupplo said that all of the seafood purchased by the diner is fresh. He added that he would never outsource picking out the food for the diner.
“You lose all quality control,” he said. “Most diners are not making their own stuff. You get institutional preservatives. Here, what you see today is in the garbage tomorrow.”
Pupplo points out that each of the owners have more than 30 years of experience at Flagship Diner.
The restaurant opened in 1965 and has seen many changes, but the menu has not been altered too much.
“The old staples are still there,” Pupplo said. “We make them the way they’re supposed to be made.”
Younger patrons from the neighborhood come in on the weekend for the diner’s $13.99 brunch entrée.
Pupplo said he is proud of the long list of styles that the eatery has created for eggs Benedict, homemade challah bread or homemade whole grain French toast.
“We do everything well, breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Pupplo said. “Our Greek food is authentic. It’s made by Greeks. Our Italians food is authentic. I approve of it. We make baked ziti properly. It’s the way it’s supposed to be made. The way you would make it at home.”
But not everything lasts. The Flagship Diner is running strong today—but, last year, local media ran with the story that the land owner sold the property to a developer and the diner would be forced to vacate when its lease ran out in 2019.
“It was like a knife in my heart,” Pupplo said when he saw the coverage. “Everyone thought we already closed. I still get 10 calls a day [asking if they are open].”
There is a still chance to enjoy the Flagship’s service. Pupplo said that many of his staff have been serving at the diner for 20 to 30 years, know the menu by heart and eagerly await their daily customers.