As a longtime Tom Waits devotee, I know a thing or two about the great American diner. I know it’s a catch-all for salt-of-the-earth characters undergoing identity crises while ogling the wait staff; I know it’s a place for misery and sardonic self-reflection.
But it’s also where you belong.
From David Lynch (and more specifically, Twin Peaks), I learned that a cup of coffee and slice of cherry pie is good for what ails you, and that you can escape the surreal world outside by taking refuge at the counter of your local greasy spoon.
So it was thanks to a fellow member of the Reporter crew — graphic designer Christy Sisneros — that I finally made the three-minute walk to the dimly welcoming embrace of Vagabond Coffee Shop.
Vagabond, locally owned and operated for over 40 years, has all the trappings of a classic roadside diner: the smooth beige vinyl booths, the counter with swivel seats, the dessert case (sadly absent of pies and cakes, which are still on offer). But at odds with all my roadside dining experiences, the food is actually dependable (for all my diner-romanticizing, I had few happy diner experiences to call my own).
My current Vagabond staple is a cup of coffee and the tuna melt. If that smacks of the lazy or unimaginative, know that a good tuna melt is hard to find, and on the nutrition scale it delivers me everything I need in one fell swoop. On a more adventurous trip, I ordered the day’s special, a chicken fajita platter. I had yet to have a good experience ordering Mexican food outside of the hallowed Spanish mission-style eves of an actual Mexican establishment, but I was more than pleased with Vagabond’s offering. The vegetables were expertly grilled, the chicken seasoned to perfection. The effect was not at all at odds with the BLT Christy had ordered, or the savory vegetable soup I had as a starter.
Depending on what set of friends I’m with, I might also introduce a split order of classic mozzarella cheese sticks to the palette.
I have many Vagabond endorsements from my various dining companions. According to my friend Jarrod, the place serves up one hell of a juicy steak sandwich; my father reports that their chicken pot pie is a gold standard for the dish (flakey, buttery crust with a creamy filling); Christy has thrown in more than a couple good words for the fresh and crisp BLT sandwich, and thanks to my mother’s generosity (and tolerance for my tendency to snag food off her plate), I’m satisfied that the fried chicken is a golden, crunchy reminder of a picnic institution. I have yet to be warned not to order something off the Vagabond’s menu.
My previous diner dealings had placed me on the receiving end of excessive oil, the grease of rushed cooking or just plain lazy food preparedness. The Vagabond, however, has mastered the gourmet traditions of The Coffee Shop.