★ Outside the landmark It’s Tops Coffee Shop the marquee proclaims, “Voted Best Burgers.” Inside, the diner preserves all the details of it’s 79-year heritage. Its knotted, wood-paneled walls are covered with historic photos, framed newspaper articles, pin-up girls, and old signs. Vinyl-seated booths feature tabletop juke boxes, and behind the counter there’s a full soda fountain. By all appearances It’s is a classic American diner; the only things missing are customers, customer service, and a decent burger.
When we walk in the waitress is on the phone (her’s, not the Top’s), but acknowledges us with an upward tilt of her chin and motions toward an empty booth in the back (actually, we’re the only ones there, so in point of fact they are all empty). From behind the counter she asks if she can get us a drink. I order a Coke, Nathan asks for a root beer. A few minutes later our drinks arrive and the waitress takes our order—Don’s Bleu Cheese and Bacon Burger. Bleu cheese can be a bit intense on a burger and in this instance its presence is overwhelming. Thick and pungent, the cheese dominates an otherwise bland experience. The tomato, pickles and shredded lettuce—all of which are cafeteria quality—do little to fill the vacancy left by the flavorless patty. The bacon adds some dimension but if blue cheese and bacon are all you’re after, the Cobb salad from Chow is a more satisfying choice.
The diner, meanwhile, is eerily silent. Not only are there no other customers, but the waitress has now abandoned us as well. For several long minutes we wonder where she’s gone. Could she be on a restroom break? Did she step out for a smoke? Is she collapsed behind the counter? Perhaps our intrusion has driven her to a more private location to continue her call. Though it was clear when we entered that she was mentally checked out, we weren’t prepared for actual truancy. After perhaps nine or ten minutes she reappears like a nomad in the deserted space to present us with the bill. We paid it, then left feeling emptier than when we arrived.