The 3-course meal comes with our choice of 1 lb. sirloin or 1 1/4 lb. lobster; chowder or salad; and a rotating dessert tray, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
It’s just their way of saying thanks for keeping them busy for more than a decade in the community.
Back then, on March 4, 1997, Sol Sidell, then 26, took his experience working at the Palm and the Hyatt and bought what was the Blue Diner, at the corner of South Street and Kneeland Street. The diner was built by Worcester Dining Company in 1947 to serve local factory workers; when Sidell took over, there were plenty of Big Dig workers looking for comfort food.
“The neighborhood and the diner were completely different back then,” he said. “The Euro kids were in Boston in full force, and kids were dancing on the tables. It was more of a party atmosphere. He started out doing 600 meals a week with 6 employees, 7 days a week. Today, the diner employs 27, who make 600 meals a day. . “Back when we started, I used to cook 17 hours a day 7 days a week,” he said. “Now I’m in the restaurant 1am to 5am every single night, for the last five years. The only time I cook is when someone’s on vacation.”
Most of the staff have been at the diner for 5 to 10 years. “They are family,” he said. “We aren’t related but we have a great group.”
They put in all new booths, counters, ceilings and bathrooms, added beer and wine, and some bistro-style dishes. “It’s come a long way,” he said. It’s now the last active 24-hour restaurant license in the city, which helps it to attract long lines during the wee hours. That’s the busiest time of the day for the 24-hour diner, so Sidell will take orders from the 100 or so in line, “so as soon as they sit down, the food is ready.”
Being a 24-hour venue, it helps that a lot of the customers are police — Boston, MBTA, environmental — along with nurses, firefighters, and other 24/7 personnel. “Very rarely do we have an issue,” he said. “We have security to maintain the line. In 15 years, we have had very, very few instances of having to call the police. Most people are very respectful. Otherwise, he’s going home hungry, and he’s very upset. The easiest way to solve it is we don’t let trouble in.”
The diner does all of its own butchering and baking, including its famous banana bread, which gets shipped all over the country in little lunch boxes. “I don’t know if they like the banana bread or the lunch box,” Sidell said.
They make their one-pound burgers fresh every day, with deliveries six days a week. “We make them big, 80 percent lean beef and 19 percent fat, to be able to keep the burger juicy.”
They added beer and wine, now up to 22 beers, 6 on tap, and premium $20 bottles of wines, including a Prosecco imported specifically for them. They’ve added a “bistro” menu for the 5 -10 pm shift, including mussels, lamb burgers, fries with Poutine gravy, and other “things that go with beer and wine.” The diner is part of the room service offerings at W, Revere Hotel, the Radisson and the Charles Hotel.
But the popular menu is still the all-day breakfast menu, including the number one pick, the Diner Special: three eggs, choice of meat, choice of pancake or French toast, and home fries.
“I’m always excited when people try new items on the menu. We try a lot of things,” he said, but admits, “I know who we are, we are a diner. It’s comfort food.”
And that’s what people come back for, again and again.
“We have regulars, whose parents took them here before. It’s a memory. The next time, they’re coming back with their parents or somebody else. It’s different than most restaurants. Most of our customers are regulars and they become friends, and friends become family. It’s different than most restaurants.”
So maybe the diner maybe hasn’t earned a few Michelin stars, but it has earned Boston Magazine’s “Best G-rated table dancing.” It’s been a co-star in 25 movies, including “21” with Kevin Spacey, and was the star of an award-winning documentary, 24 Hours at the South Street Diner, and has even been featured on billboards for British Airways.
“Pretty good for a local diner,” Sidell said.
Famous customers? One day he was nearly speechless when Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin came in for the Diner Special. “I looked over at the waitress, she’s 18 years old, I told her who it was. ‘Stairway to Heaven’? I’m shaking … this guy sang my prom song, and she had no clue who he was.”
Artists performing at Boston Garden come over for lunch. Morgan Freeman came for a burger. Captain America’s Christopher Evans, an area resident, takes many of his meals here. Governor Patrick likes the chicken kabob salad.
“We have a celebrity who comes in every night, but we don’t treat them any differently,” said Sidell. “The Grateful Dead and every financial wizard and sports figure have eaten here, but the celebrity is the diner.”
The diner is also an iconic member of the ever-changing Leather District/South Station neighborhood. Sidell is very active in the community, throwing an annual block party in September, complete with free burgers and face painting. He also serves as a VP with Boston Senior Home Care, and is on the executive board for the Chinese Cultural Connection.
Goals for the next 15 years? “To continue to be a stronger landmark of the city,” he said. For now, they host their $10 dinner this Thursday, and will offer giveaways such as T-shirts and beer koozies.
“Maybe we break even, it depends on the lobster price. But people talk about it before and after, and they want to know when the lobsters are coming back.”
Best time to come? “We get a steady flow all day. The longest wait is one or two tables. It’s not our Friday-Saturday 75-person-long line.”