Seventy years ago, car No. 806 came off the assembly line of the Worchester Lunch Car Company in Massachusetts and was shipped immediately to the business district in Providence, RI. Six year later it was relocated almost 3 miles away to 777 Elmwood Ave., it’s current address. It’s had numerous owners and names but was always a place for a bite to eat.
In 2014, Zoe Neves and Paul Smith purchased the diner, changed the name to Elmwood Diner and started cooking breakfasts and lunches. Eggs (all ways), wonderful omelet specials, bacon, sausage, French toast, pancakes, waffles (one with fried chicken), gluten-free expressions of the above and corned beef hash are just some temptations on the menu for early risers. Lunch features soups, salads, sandwiches and award-winning grass-fed burgers.
Accompanying this classic menu (with some modern tweaks) is the nostalgia that smacks you in the face as you enter. Wham—you’re back in the 1940’s! It is a time warp pre-dating The Twilight Zone, a popular TV series from 1959-64, which also toyed with people suddenly finding themselves in a different time and place. But the Elmwood is not mirage. The food is generous, fresh, good and hot. The service is attentive and deferential. The owner, Zoe, is cooking and supervising her little kitchen. Whether plating a dish, making fresh donuts with names like S’Mores or Strawberry Short Cake, checking the griddle or deep fryers, she must have her pilot’s license as this chef flies around her kitchen. With one assistant, she pretty much turns out meal after meal with speed, aplomb and an infectious positive, happy attitude. She even has time to talk to the diners.
When in Providence, the Elmwood Diner was always a “must stop” for breakfast. It was like entering a different era complete with stainless sunburst back splashes, a solid marble counter, mushroom-like “bar” stools, pale yellow tile with black accents and blue and yellow tiny-tiled floor. The shiny blue arched ceiling simply added that patina of an eating car from the 40’s.
Breakfast was enjoyable as it always is until Zoe dropped the bomb—she told us that, “Today is our last day.” It was April 2nd so I knew this was no joke. “Why, how, really?” The questions kept coming from me (and others) who heard the distressing news, but the answer was simply that the place was now for sale. It apparently was so much work for the current owners who have several irons in the fire and several children to look after that they are closing at the end of the day after a successful 3-year run.
This relic of another age, this little food time capsule was being mothballed. Perhaps some entrepreneurial, young graduate of Johnson and Wales cooking school nearby, brimming with expectation, vision and a little naïveté, will scoop the Elmwood up and give it new life.