[Sidebar] July 22 - 29, 1999
[Food Reviews]
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Jigger's Diner

Venerable eatery finds new friends

by Johnette Rodriguez

145 Main St., East Greenwich, 884-5388
Open Mon-Sat, 6 a.m.-2 p.m., Fri dinner 3-8 p.m.
Sun, breakfast only, 6 a.m.-1 p.m.
No credit cards
No access

The country's first diner started right here in Rhode Island, in 1872, when Walter Scott began dispensing sandwiches, pie and coffee to night workers in Providence from a horse-drawn wagon. Jigger's Diner got its start in1917, with Vilgot "Jigger" Lindberg building up such a successful business from his hot dog/hamburger eatery that in the '30s, people would stand three deep behind the stools and even pass meals through a diner window to the small restaurant next door. After 1941, when Jigger sold the business, Jigger's had a succession of owners until 1983, when the diner closed for almost a decade.

Enter entrepreneur and natural foods enthusiast Carol Shriner, who saw the potential of this abandoned diner (the building stored paint for a nearby hardware store during the '80s), and she began restoring it in January '92. Booths and woodwork on the walls were stripped and varnished. The light green tile that formed a border under the countertop was matched for cafe curtains at the windows and for the floor tile. The green stools, beige refrigerator locker doors and red clock came from the original Worcester Dining Car Company diner, whose front end faces Main Street in East Greenwich.

Stepping into Jigger's is truly a step back in time, and the food recaptures those real home-cooked meals that are so hard to find in this era of powdered eggs, muffin mixes and frozen fruits and vegetables. The cooks at Jigger's prove that "cooking from scratch" is worth the effort.

Despite the plethora of great breakfast choices -- including omelets with everything from provolone to pepper jack; cranberry pancakes, with or without walnuts, and pure maple syrup; and a Vermonticristo, three pieces of raisin French toast sandwiched with ham and cheddar cheese -- Bill and I chose two blackboard specials: a ham and portobello strata ($6.25) and a Florentine omelet ($5.95). It was left to the expatriate Rhode Islander in our party, visiting from Nantucket, to order the "Jigger's Special" ($4.50), which was two eggs, three jonnycakes and two diner-made sausage patties.

Born and bred in Little Rhody, our friend was genuinely enthusiastic about the jonnycakes, pronouncing their creamy insides, crusty edges and non-sweet, flint-corn taste to be just to her liking. I agreed, and I'm fussy about my jonnycakes. She praised the hand-formed sausage cakes as spicy, but not too peppery.

Bill was in cholesterol heaven, so to speak. Professional duties impelled him to order a side of diner-made corned beef hash ($2.55) to accompany his very filling strata -- bread slices soaked in milk and eggs, then layered with veggies and ham, and baked. He kept exclaiming over the smokiness of the ham and the spiciness of the hash. The strata was accompanied by home fries and a fresh fruit cup, including blueberries, fresh banana and kiwi slices. Bill's only disappointment was the home fries -- he likes them much crispier.

My omelet was delicate and tasty, filled with a spinach-and-herbed cream cheese mixture. Some of the herb cheese also filled two tomato slices atop the red-leaf lettuce that garnished my omelet. In addition, we all sampled a gingerbread pancake ($1.50), with its side of homemade applesauce, a delightful concept that was as good as it sounded.

When Bill and I returned for lunch a few days later, decisions were tough again -- sandwiches, salads or blue plate specials? Bill was very satisfied with his meat loaf and gravy, served with steak fries, mixed fresh veggies and a toasted dinner roll ($5.50). I opted for a cup of squash and apple soup ($3.50), which came with a few Ritz crackers, and a pita pizza with mozzarella and mushrooms ($3.85). The squash soup was delicious, redolent with onions. The pizza had a nice homemade sauce, though I would have liked it baked a bit longer, so that the pita was warm.

All around us, people were devouring fish cakes, burgers, turkey croquettes and jumbo club sandwiches. But most enticing of all were the homemade pies -- strawberry-rhubarb and lemon meringue ($2.25). We can vouch for the lemon meringue as being definitively lemony, zest and all, with a flaky crust as well. We also sampled the vanilla-raspberry ice cream ($1.75), which had fresh raspberries frozen into it.

To say that we're Jigger's converts is an understatement. Why were we so late in finding Jigger's, we asked ourselves, when food writers Jane and Michael Stern wrote it up in a November 1996, Gourmet article and included it in Eat Your Way Across the USA, their '97 book on diners across the country. Don't let the same thing happen to you.

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