“Maybe because it’s not part of your culture…” my writing teacher suggested after I expressed difficulty getting through the rhythm exercise of writing to the tune of The Beatles’ ‘She loves you (yeah., yeah, yeah)’ For a second, I felt offended. Where did she think I came from? I replied through gritted teeth, struggling to smile, “No, no, no…I am familiar with The Beatles because I grew up with them. They’re my dad’s favorite band.”
In fact, I grew up with so much Western culture that it hurts.
Each morning on our way to school, the car was filled with the tunog lata (tinny) acoustics of my father’s beloved foursome: The Beatles, the crooning of ole blue eyes: Mr. Frank Sinatra, the doo-wopping of groovy Temptations, the ear drum shattering bellows of Italian opera, and last, but not the least, the sedative strings of Johann Sebastian Bach symphonies (my personal favorite). He was the driver and so he naturally controlled the choice of radio station.
We had access to Hollywood movies and TV shows. My parents claim that one of the very first words that floated out of my lips was “shipip” in reference to the flying spaceships from George Lucas’ epic trilogy, Starwars. In one of the summer trips to the my father’s provincial hometown, my cousins (all boys) and I marched along the dusty highway, growling as loud as our vocal chords could. We were Dino-bots and nothing could get in our way. And, of course, Back To The Future gave me a glimpse into the hormone charged places and events like the diner and high school dances.
And I started my intense love for reading with Archie comics. I, too, was worked up with the Archie-Reggie rivalry, entangled in the Betty-Archie-Veronica love triangle, and in awe at Jughead’s voracious appetite, eating mountains of hamburgers in his trips to the diner.
For me, the diner has been a quintessential part of the American life. Naturally, I had to get myself into one as soon as I stepped on American soil. And luckily, Atlanta did have a famous diner, one that has been open since 1928.
The Husband did a sharp turn as soon as we saw the Neon “V” sign flashing against the gloomy evening sky. The diner’s façade: burgundy bricks, faded beige porcelain enamel panels, pristine concrete embossed signage, glass block windows and flashing neon letters over stainless steel panels definitely took me “Back To The Future” and into the pages of Archie comics.
“What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have?” we were greeted at the counter. This was the famous The Varsity greeting. “Two chili dog and chili cheese burger combos. One with fries and one with onion rings.” we replied. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the same stomach space as Jughead Jones’. “And one sweet tea please.” We have grown to love this saccharine drink of the South, which was reminiscent of an equally sugary drink from back home, the sago’t gulaman.
This was the American diner: An entire middle school football team, decked in their red and white uniforms, huddled over a teammates smart phone in the corner, an elderly snow haired woman slowly munching her way through the hill of fries on her plate, a bearded middle aged man in his leather jacket enjoying news in the CNN room’s dedicated TV (naturally showing only CNN programs), and us, three Asians – two Filipinos and one Vietnamese dude, sticking out like sore thumbs in the sea of black and white. We didn’t mind because they didn’t mind. I love that about America – I don’t get those intense curious stares…so far. We blended in well.
Our chili burgers & dogs, fries and onion rings came in steaming hot, fresh off the griddle. The sandwiches pre-squashed for our eating comfort. No problems fitting them inside our mouths. No problems making a mess on my face, shirt and lap (Yes, I am quite the clumsy eater.). This is America, where almost everything is made easy peasy! Both sandwiches were beefy, sweet and tangy, and creamy. And pitting the chili burger and chili dog against each other actually felt like the classic Archie Andrews-Reggie Mantle rivalry. Which The Varsity treat do you enjoy best? The Husband and I enjoyed the dog over the burger.
And the sides? The fries were a bit too droopy for my liking, a sign that perhaps the oil was not up to temperature. But the onion rings were perfect. The Varsity was light-handed on the batter, adding a thin, exceptionally crispy savory coating, a welcome contrast to the sweet, squishy onions. If you do not appreciate too much breading on your O-rings, then this is the place to be.
We did another round at The Varsity to go full circle with the diner experience and eat at the drive-in. The Varsity claims to be the world’s largest drive-in restaurant, so we drove through with friend. But instead of being flanked by huge pastel colored Cadillacs with wings on their tails, we were surrounded by vrooming and booming Camaros, super sized SUVs & pick ups. And yet, despite the modern trappings of The Varsity, someone still came to the car window to take our order. We didn’t talk to a drive-through machine, but to an actual person.
So what did we have? What did we have? What did we have? It was an all-around American diner experience, just as I’ve seen in the movies and read in the comic books 🙂
61 North Avenue
Atlanta GA 30308
Hours of operation:
Delirious about delicious,