Liberty Elm Diner

Neighborliness and buttermilk pancakes
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  June 4, 2008

Liberty Elm Diner | 401.467.0777 | 777 Elmwood Ave, Providence | Tues-Sun, 8 am-3 pm | Cash only | BYOB | Sidewalk-level accessible
Every neighborhood should have a diner like the Liberty Elm. Didn’t the Founding Fathers make things like that our birthright? There it is in the heart of Providence’s Elmwood section, a 1947 Worcester Lunch Car, expanded with an addition in the back so that you don’t have to rock-paper-scissor over booth service.

The atmosphere is comfortingly retro, with cream and black tiles under the windows, soda bottles atop a chipped old Coke cooler, and cutesy signs from the time of Rosie the Riveter (“Free Beer! Tomorrow).” The imaginative, psychedelic paintings of Tamara Diaz fill the extension room.

Being a diner, it’s obliged to offer grilled cheese sandwiches and BLTs, but it stops short at meatloaf and hot dogs. It’ll go so far as to purvey lox and cream cheese, and even hamburgers (a proudly signature Liberty Burger, 100 percent Black Angus, $6.95), but can’t resist serving it on a ciabatta roll. This here is Neo-Retro; nostalgic, but not knee-jerk.

Thought and care has been taken in assembling a menu sprinkled with items that will prompt an “Oooh — look what they’ve got!” — if not by you, then by somebody at a nearby table. Your sandwich can be prepared as a grilled, pressed panino. As well as RI-made Yacht Club sodas, you can get a Classic Coke in a real glass bottle. The coffee is organic and Fair Trade, from Pawtucket’s New Harvest Coffee Roasters. And give up, Starbucks, the wi-fi is free.

Perusing the menu reveals something for every taste: a grilled Fluffernutter sandwich ($3.25), with banana for half a buck more; not just coffee milk, but espresso shots for your coffee; not just home fries, but cheese grits.

On your sandwich, as well as such usual suspects as mushrooms or red onion, you can have red beets. Buttermilk pancakes are served with pure maple syrup. The juices are fresh-squeezed. The eggs are local, which is a priority; the Swiss cheese is imported, but the cheddar is from Vermont.

We arrived late morning on a Sunday, so one of us went for breakfast and the other lunch. Johnnie’s omelet ($7.95) came with a cheese and choice of two veggie fillings. She appreciated being able to complement her spinach with kalamata olives. The side of home fries ($2) didn’t get as much of her love, despite containing onions and a hint of garlic, because of its odd combination of being both nicely browned and harboring some undercooked chunks. But that was the only negative of our experience.

I stepped over to look up at the chalkboard to consider my choice. Judy, behind the counter, touted her special sandwich creation, the Mayflower ($7.25). Its turkey is “house-roasted,” and moistened with roasted sweet potatoes and orange-soaked cranberries. She was especially proud of making its sweet and savory stuffing with leftover zucchini muffins. Later, back in our booth, we learned that it tastes as good as it sounds.

The atmosphere of the place is just as delicious. It was Sunday and the zoo is nearby, so there were several families with kids. Instead of toothpicks holding your sandwich together, you get a paper parasol, one of which a girl across the room sported behind her ear like a flower.

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