2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

I’ll Have the Usual for One More Year

I’ll Have the Usual for One More Year

The Lumberjacques at Tom’s Diner

Tom’s Restaurant at 112th and Broadway in Manhattan is not exactly the diner from Seinfeld. Yes, the restaurant’s neon sign would pop up on screen, usually minus the “Tom’s,” when Jerry, George, Elaine, and/or Kramer paid a visit to a place called Monk’s Café. But the interior didn’t look like Tom’s, and it was really on a studio lot in California.

Tom’s definitely is the diner from the Suzanne Vega song “Tom’s Diner” (I am sitting/in the morning/at the diner/on the corner …), which was written in 1982, first released in 1984 and later remixed with a Soul II Soul beat into a dance song, used to build the very first MP3 digital audio file, sampled by countless hip hop artists, and remade into a minor 2015 hit by Giorgio Moroder and Britney Spears.

Still, it’s mainly the Seinfeld connection that the owners play up. Photos of the stars, framed TV Guide covers, and other memorabilia decorate the interior of the restaurant. Outside, during the warmer months, there are cloth barriers around the sidewalk dining area with “Elaine,” “Kramer,” and such printed on them. By this point, even Jerry Seinfeld himself has joined in; he and Jason Alexander filmed a 2014 Super Bowl ad at Tom’s.

So the place is a TV-certified New York tourist attraction. It is also two blocks from my apartment, and since we moved to the neighborhood three years ago my son and I have been going there for breakfast almost every Saturday morning.

By New York diner standards, it’s good food. New York diner standards aren’t high; if you want a great American breakfast go to Boston or Los Angeles or some other place where people get up early in the morning. Still, it’s nice to have in the neighborhood.

What is nicest of all is that, for the first time in my life, I am able to walk into a restaurant and say I’ll have “the usual.” In fact, I don’t even have to say it. My son and I just respond “yes” when asked if we are having the usual. A couple of times one of the two waitresses whose tables we almost always sit at has dispensed with even that formality and just given the cook his instructions as we walk in the door.

For me, the usual is corned-beef hash with two poached eggs and sliced tomatoes. My son has the “Lumberjack”—normally two eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes, and toast—with French toast substituted for the pancakes. For a while, we talked about trying to persuade the restaurant to name this variant the Lumberjacques, but now that we never actually say what we’re going to have, it seems pointless.

After 10 a.m. on the weekend, the kitchen refuses to poach eggs, so we of course always have to get there before 10. My son and I wait for our usuals to arrive, we eat, and we generally don’t say a lot. I have become less talkative as I’ve grown older, and while my son is capable of great loquacity, he is also a teenager whose body would prefer to be asleep until noon.

He is 17, and we only have one more year of these Tom’s breakfasts before he heads off to college (he has no interest in attending the neighborhood school, Columbia). After that, I will probably stay home on Saturday mornings and eat fruit and yogurt.

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