At Mom’s Diner, Mom is, in fact, a twenty-four-year-old single man whose averred passion is “less about cooking. For me, the raison d’être of Mom’s Diner is to create an authentic experience.” For Mom, authenticity is a mania, and whether you love his food, hate it, or find it just kind of so-so — and people run the gamut — Mom’s is eerily authentic.
My first time at Mom’s Diner was a brunch meet-up with some old friends. The first thing I noted was that everyone was given a different menu. I found this weird — and annoying, because all of my friends’ menus looked better than mine, particularly Lucy’s, which was full of homemade compotes, scones, eggs Benedict, and a brioche French toast.
My menu had only three items: pancakes, oatmeal, two-egg breakfast. Never having liked oatmeal, and not in the mood for sweet, I got the two-egg breakfast. The meal came with a side of blackened Wonder Bread, cooled to room temperature, two eggs sunny side up that were shrivelled and firm, and bacon so hard I cut my gums on it.
Looking around at my friends’ breakfasts, I couldn’t help but sulk, and afterwards my friends, surprised, asked if I hadn’t enjoyed my meal. When I said I hadn’t, Lucy said maybe I just got a bad menu. She said there were bound to be some, since everyone got a different menu.
A couple of weeks later, I decided, on a whim, to give Mom’s Diner another try. Lucy and another friend, Younes, were still raving about how much they’d enjoyed their food, so I went for lunch.
The lunch menu was a little bigger. It included two hot dogs with fries, peanut butter sandwiches without the crusts, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken noodle soup, and Kraft Dinner.
I ordered the hot dogs. What I got were two tubes of meat, boiled until swollen, like a fish that’s been floating upside down for a week. The fries looked like McCain Crinkle Cut Superfries. They were clearly oven-baked rather than fried. Half of them were soggy and the other half were burnt.
This mess was twenty-two dollars before the tip, and I decided to complain to my server. I said I had eaten there twice now, and both times I had received overpriced shit. I said I knew everyone got a unique menu, but why were some of them so bad? The server shrugged and said they were sorry I was disappointed. They said they personally had never had a bad meal there, and maybe I should come back and give the dinner menu a try.
I did go back for dinner, with my girlfriend Leila. She hadn’t been to Mom’s yet and really wanted to try it. The place had become so popular that I had to book three weeks out to get a reservation for two.
We were seated at a table by the window with a lovely view of the street, but my menu once again looked pretty bland. I settled on the lasagna and garlic bread, however, after they brought it out to the man at the next table. The lasagna looked rich, meaty and saucy, and the garlic bread was a focaccia made in-house.
The table next to us finished before our meals came up. The man who’d ordered the lasagna insisted the server bring Mom out so he could thank him personally. Mom came out, and the man raved that it was exactly like his mother used to make it, and how, since she’d passed away a year ago, he’d tried over and over to make a lasagna as good as hers, and now, here it was. He said he’d never eat at another restaurant again.
I rubbed my hands together and smiled. Finally, I was going to have a good meal at Mom’s, but then it came. Leila had ordered the shish taouk. It looked okay, which is exactly how Leila described it afterwards. My lasagna, on the other hand, was a congealed mess of noodles doused with what tasted like Cheez Whiz and ketchup, and the garlic bread had a little bit of parsley on it, but no garlic that I could see or taste.
An hour later, when the waiter came by, he looked at my barely touched plate, smiled and said, “Defeated, eh?” It was my turn to demand to speak to Mom. When Mom came out, I told him it was the single worst lasagna I had ever had.
Mom looked taken aback. He asked if I was sure. I said it was disgusting. I challenged him to taste it. Mom said he tasted everything before it went out, and he agreed that the lasagna I had been served was gross, but he was sure it was authentic.
I glared at Mom and took another bite. I gagged on the cold semblance of a meal, but Mom had been right — it was exactly like my mother used to make it.
I kept going back to Mom’s Diner. I ate everything on the menus offered to me, and everything was awful. There was real butter on the peanut butter sandwich, and the bread was stale; the Kraft Dinner had pancake mix in it as a thickener. I hated every bite, but I couldn’t stop.
After each meal, I’d demand to speak to Mom, and I’d scream at him, and each time, I could see a slight smile on the corner of his lips, and I wanted to kill him.
Then, out of nowhere, Mom’s closed. Apparently, a woman named Eleanor died after she ordered something called A Special Meal Just for Daddy. An autopsy revealed that Eleanor had ingested a lethal dose of strychnine, which was also found in the remains of her final meal.
In the video of Mom’s arrest, you can see that slight smile. When the police ask him if he’s insane, he says he’s not, and he plans to beat the rap. He says he’s always served up authenticity, and if he’s set free, he will continue to do so.
Mom didn’t beat the rap, but Eleanor’s mother was arrested sixteen years after the death of her husband and charged with his murder.
Sometimes I miss Mom’s, but I’ve found a new diner called Pop’s. The food’s not great, but it’s cheap, you can always get a table, and everyone gets the same menu.