Sept. 14 2011 12:00 AM

Fleetwood Diner is a haven for coffee lovers


Diner on Cedar St. looks like one of those Airstream trailers from the
1950’s with rounded edges, a low profile and a glinting chrome exterior. 

In reality the atmosphere is much more nuanced (thankfully) than that.  Fleetwood is the kind of place a novelist might visit for character research, especially after midnight.

The retro exterior is reinforced inside
with a black and white checkered floor, bold, lipstick-red bench seats
and chairs, and even more chrome.  Stools
line a breakfast counter where eggs any way you like them are available
24 hours a day, cracked, fried and flipped on a grill in full view of
diners — no walls separate Fleetwood’s cooking space.

A couple of big screen TVs are mounted
in juxtaposition to vintage Coca Cola, Texaco and Black Cow
advertisements lining the walls.  Cylindrical containers with enough sugar to choke a horse join jelly packets, hot sauce and other condiments on each table.  

The sugar, we assumed, was for coffee
drinkers, and for them Fleetwood is a haven: during our meal the
waitress — no-nonsense yet affable — must have topped our cups off a
half dozen times.  The coffee tasted like standard supermarket-grade but it was fresh.

The menu offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and as much cholesterol as you might ever want.  It has a Greek influence so we started with the saganaki flaming cheese ($5.99).  Our server brought a piece of cheese on a hot plate to our table, lit it on fire, yelled (half-heartedly) “Opa!,” then extinguished the flame with a few squeezes of lemon.  A couple of warm, triangle slices of soft pita accompany the cheese.  Gooey
on top and crispy on the bottom, it’s everything you want from melted
cheese with a nice electric touch of acidity from the lemon on top.  

The Greek spirit wasn’t so strong in our
waitress, but we supposed it might be difficult to be too festive as
one of only two servers in the joint, bussing their own tables and
filling coffee cups left and right.  I nodded in agreement and sympathy when Mick Jagger started singing “Beast of Burden” on the radio.

The hippie hash is well known, so I went with it as a breakfast ($5.49) with over-easy eggs, which were cooked exactly that.  The
hippie hash is a medley of diced onion, tomato, broccoli, green pepper
and mushroom over a bed of hash browns, all topped with a layer of feta

It’s a fun, unique dish: the broccoli
and green peppers kept some of their crispness; the potatoes were soft
in places, crunchy in others like they should be off the grill; and the
feta added just enough saltiness to bring everything together, along
with a nice contrasting creamy texture.

My toast was so loaded with butter it looked like marmalade spread; next time I’ll ask for it on the side.  A side of bacon ($2.59) was more chewy than crispy.

My companion ordered a club sandwich ($5.99) which was a pleasant surprise.  The meat was sliced thick, and the lettuce was nice, too — big whole leaves, fresh, crinkly and crisp.  Not too much mayo (which can destroy some sandwiches) and the bread was toasted evenly and just enough to brown.

menu proclaimed fresh-baked pie so I was looking forward to dessert
until our server clarified that it’s not homemade, just baked here.
Against my wiser self I went ahead with a slice of apple pie ($3.49).  There were slices of what was presumably apple in the pie, but my taste buds would not be able to confirm that.  There
was a nice touch of cinnamon, but the crust was over-cooked and the
canned whipped cream added little other than a wet spot.

Fleetwood is a mixed bag — part retro, part ethnic Greek, part greasy spoon, but all-American.  And not all-American in that sanitized, captain of the football team and prom queen kind of way I initially imagined.  

Fleetwood is more the kind of place
where hard work begins its day with a plate of bacon and eggs, where
night-owl misanthropes nurse a cup of coffee for hours, or where old
friends realize more days have passed than lay ahead over a slice of
cherry pie.