S&S Diner Proves That Not All Change Is Good

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In this city of cookie-cutter architecture and assembly line cosmetic enhancements, "classic" is usually dismissed as "old." S&S Diner, appropriately situated inside Allen's Drug Store in South Miami, is an apple-pie-sweet respite from an otherwise cold, harsh reality...at least for those of us who still consider the word "old" to mean "vintage."

When I was a kid, my mom would take my brother and me to Picnic's Diner inside Allen's Drug Store. It was a treat for us Cuban kids to chow down on good old American classics like meatloaf and macaroni and cheese--food that our dear abuelita could not replicate, no matter how good a cook she was.

I think that is where I first fell in love with American food--or it could have been the counter diner at the old Walgreen's in downtown Miami--but nevertheless, a well-made meatloaf, with mashed potatoes and green beans remains one of this Cuban's favorite meals.

Fortunately for me, S&S took up where Picnic's left off. The owners, Nancy Cajaraville and Carlos Cardona took over the space in August of 2009 on a fluke. The owner of the famed S&S Diner on NE Second Avenue had leased the space at Allen's because the other spot was scheduled to be torn down for condos. The deal, like the rest of the real estate market fell through and he was stuck with a second diner on Bird Road that he didn't need. Mr. and Mrs. C stopped in for breakfast one day and Viola! It was diner serendipity.

I normally try a few different things from the menu when I'm doing a review, but as soon as I saw the section of the menu titled "comfort foods," I knew I was home. The meatloaf ($10.95) at S&S is pretty good. Actually, it's very darn good. And so are the mashed potatoes (homemade) and the macaroni cheese and the Cole slaw. The green beans were fresh, not canned, which is probably the only difference from what I remember of Picnic's, and kind of scanty, but the meal was otherwise exactly what I was looking for. Except for one thing.

Even though the chef/owner, Mrs. C, a Cuban as it turns out, has intentionally tried to keep the menu as USA. as possible, there seem to be some slight variations. For example, the prerequisite brown gravy that smothers most meatloaf dinners is replaced with a tomato-based sauce that seems to have a bit of criollo. This is not to say that it tastes Latino in any way, but it is a definite departure from the gloppy, meaty, heavy goodness that is brown gravy. I admit that I have a penchant towards brown gravy (I even prefer it to giblet or turkey gravy on my turkey and stuffing), and that may be the reason that I wasn't completely happy with the red, meaty mess that blanketed my plate. But, Mrs. C is very accommodating and prepared some brown gravy for me at my request. Everything came into place and the world was all right again.

As I sat surrounded by the gleaming chrome counter and vinyl upholstery, I ruminated about the changes that Miami had undergone since the initial Cuban invasion, and as I thought about how sophisticated and worldly we had become, an "old" saying came to me, "Not all change is good."

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