The first time I ate at the Blue Colony Diner--late one Sunday night--was the result of a big mistake. I was applying to take the Connecticut Bar exam, but had waited too long to request a driving record. It arrived Saturday evening, too late for me to overnight my application materials, so I had to make the drive from my home to Hartford to deliver my application in person on Monday morning.
I live in Maryland, just outside DC.
It was very late, well after midnight, when I crossed into Connecticut. I made it a little ways up the Interstate when I realized how much I needed coffee and dinner. I passed a billboard for a diner promising "E-Z off, E-Z on" access, and, being both hungry and a connoisseur of diner breakfast fare, I decided to pull off at the Blue Colony Diner, exit 10 off of I-84.
The place was fairly empty at that late hour, so I sat near the counter. My waitress was chatty and personable, and the menu was all I have come to expect from a quality Greek diner: three-egg omelettes, twenty tons of pastries and cakes, house specialties in dizzying quantities, and coffee freshly brewed in an oversized Bunn machine. The placemats were labeled "The Doodler," and had pictures of cartoonish monsters. The children's menu was decorated with SpongeBob pictures.
At some point while reading the omelette options, I noticed there was a jelly omelette listed on the menu.
Now, it was late, and I wasn't at my sharpest, but I knew better than to walk into something like a jelly omelette without checking things out first. So when the waitress returned to take my order (mushroom and Swiss, rye toast, potatoes well done), I asked her about it. She seemed genuinely confused, as if the idea of creating such a thing would only occur in the drug-addled mind of a collegiate pothead with a jar of Welch's Grape and no urge to go to the grocery store. She was shocked when I showed it to her on the menu itself. She told me she'd been working there for years, and never knew it was there, since nobody had ever ordered it. I asked if she'd check with the cooks to see if they knew what it was in more detail, but all that came back was a promise to ask the owner about it when he came in for the morning shift the following day.
Such a mystery cannot go unsolved.
After dropping off my application and spending a day with my sister, her wife and their then-newborn baby (who just had her first birthday party this weekend), I drove back to Maryland via the same route. I timed my departure to land me at the Blue Colony Diner just in time for lunch, and I was prepared to face down whatever they had to offer.
Let me just skip to the denouement here: it was absolutely delicious. It reminded me of the blintzes that my mother used to
make order at restaurants when offered. The filling was jelly with cream cheese, and the eggs were fluffed a little differently than the standard omelette. And while the potatoes could have used an extra minute and another squirt of oil on the griddle, the meal was definitely a winner.
That jelly omelette is what I was thinking of when my wife and I drove past a big billboard for the Blue Colony while driving home yesterday. We had been back up around Hartford for the first birthday party for the aforementioned niece, and yesterday was the long ride back south.
Bad diners are depressingly common down here in the mid-Atlantic region, so being able to treat my wife to a good one seemed like an opportunity that shouldn't be squandered.
What I hadn't noticed before, and what I didn't realize until we were pulling off the Interstate, was that the Blue Colony Diner is in Newtown, almost exactly one mile from Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The joint was, in a word, jumping, but the manager found us a booth in the noisy main room. Our waitress was handling at least four full tables, and it took a few minutes before she made it to us. That's usually fine in a diner with a seven-page menu, but I knew what I wanted before we sat down, so I spent the time surveying the dining room and the other guests.
Children's voices carry. I had noticed that all too well when my niece had fussy moments around 7 a.m. both mornings we were staying across the hall from her nursery, and I noticed that again at the Blue Colony. I started counting how many kids were elementary school-aged (seven that I could see), and how many of those appeared to be in kindergarten or first grade (three).
I began scanning the tables without children at them, to see if any looked like...Christ, there really isn't a way to finish that sentence without sounding ghoulish, is there?
I looked out the big front windows, overlooking Church Hill Road and one of the I-84 off-ramps. I thought about what it would have looked like out those windows, with Christmas decorations hanging down. (While writing this, I found a New York Daily News op-ed about the diner that had a few photos of these windows with their white Christmas lights hanging down like they did on the day of the shooting.) People working there, and the few customers who were having breakfast there when the emergency responders started swarming the town, they must have pressed up against those windows, watching Hell unfold around them through their own reflections in the thin, cold glass.
I listened in on conversations, trying to pick out sentences amidst the din and clatter of forks on plates and fifty voices talking at once. The first one I heard clearly was someone complaining about the UCONN game from the day before (whether it was the men or the women I'm not sure). The waitresses at the nearby station were joking about how one of them thought she'd heard the boss say to "'take ten,' like we were making a Hollywood movie or something."
Take Ten was our waitress. She took our orders--me the broccoli omelette with Swiss, my wife the vegetable panini, coffee for us both--and hustled back to put them in. I caught my wife up on the parts of the audiobook she had slept through. We made the sort of idle small-talk universally known by married couples. The food came, and the waitress asked if she could bring us anything else. "No, we're all set," I said, "go ahead and take ten."
She laughed. "We don't take ten at the Blue Colony."
My wife happily declared that "my panini restored my faith in diner food." The vegetables in her sandwich were marinated in balsamic vinegar before being pressed in the cibata for just the right amount of time to melt the cheese and give the bread a toasty crunch. High praise following the very disappointing diner experience we had on the way up while still south of Baltimore. As for my potatoes, they were right on the cusp of being burnt, as crispy as possible. And the rye toast had the perfect amount of butter.
On the way out, I overtipped our waitress, bought two black-and-white cookies for the road, and checked the license plates of every parked car we passed. As close as we were to the New York border, ours was the only one from out of state.
We forgot to buy the wristbands that all the waitresses were wearing and that were being sold behind the cash register. The cookies were really good, though.