Originally published in the November 2016 issue of Dispatch Magazine
Not long ago, after a particularly nasty bout with depression and relapse into very heavy alcohol use, I woke up one morning and decided to stop punishing myself. I needed restoration, a kind of satiation beyond hunger. I wanted to reconnect with reality and to awaken my senses from their whiskey-induced stupor, and the only thing I craved was the Deluxe Sandwich from the Palace Diner.
The griddled, buttery, and slightly crispy Thomas’ sandwich-size English muffin is laden with a perfect square of baked egg omelet, in turn covered with melted cheddar, creamy mayo, and spicy pickled jalapeno. Though the menu suggests bacon, I have trouble resisting the siren’s call of the famous Taylor Pork Roll, akin to Canadian bacon and very common in the South Jersey/Philly part of the country. Every time I take the first bite of this sandwich, I experience a pleasant confusion. How it could possibly be this good?
I have spent $300 on meals (for just myself) that have not satisfied me as much as this one simple delight. It’s to the point where I can’t help wondering if I actually deserve something this special (yes, that is somewhat of a fat kid mentality, but there is more to it than that). Why is it that so many diners serve the exact same kind of food, yet fall so tragically short? Why is it that when people ask me where my favorite place in Maine to eat is, my only response is this small diner car in the middle of Biddeford?
Well, I’ll tell you exactly why.
First, given the fact that coffee is the cornerstone of the American diner, why are so many places content to serve watery plonk that is barely fit to be poured down the drain? Palace exclusively uses beans from Tandem Coffee Roasters in Portland, a complex and acidic brew that really sings alongside a plate of perfectly scrambled eggs (the true litmus test for any diner in my opinion – if they can’t get that right you should go elsewhere) and toast.
The pancakes are not only the perfect ratio of crispy-to-cakey, but they also utilize lemon juice and zest to brighten up the flavor, a welcome departure from the heavy and often cloying flapjacks found in most breakfast institutions. Their French toast deploys challah bread and is more akin to crème brulee with its bubbly, sweet layer of sugar on top. No need to be upsold for quality maple syrup here. It’s all they offer.
Few things are more disappointing than a plate of anemic, limp-dick home fries that need half a bottle of ketchup to taste like anything. At Palace, they use red potatoes, which are boiled with herbs and spices before being smashed, and then fried. This results in delicate, crunchy morsels that are seasoned perfectly and not the least bit greasy.
I have never had a disappointing meal here. I don’t think I can say that about anywhere else. This is because they keep the menu small and do not overthink what they serve. They pay attention to each element, and the “Palais Royale” burger is a prime example of this. They use Martin’s potato sesame buns, which are lightly griddled, and well-marbled beef in the kind of thin patty smothered with cheese that we associate with fast food nostalgia. The lettuce is shredded iceberg, as it should be, and the pickles are sweet and tangy. Though it is a double cheeseburger, it easily conforms to your hands, and the first bite will ruin you on all others.
Even mundane diner classic like the tuna melt become an object of desire at Palace. Thick slabs of toasted bread, surprisingly complex house-made bread and butter pickles, and tuna salad with the perfect ratio of mayo to fish are layered with melted cheese. A layer of iceberg lettuce somehow stays super crisp, bringing the texture of the sandwich to the next level.
Despite all of this, there are a surprising number of my peers that have not yet made the pilgrimage to Biddeford. Rather than re-explain to each of them how insane that is, I wanted to write this one ultimate review to clearly illustrate all of the reasons you need the Palace Diner in your life. This is the last time I tell you that diner food does not have to be constantly drowning in a sea of mediocrity; from here on out,I’m just going to stay quiet and order the fried chicken sandwich at 8AM on a Saturday if I damn well please.
When simple food is treated with care, and not overcomplicated, it can emerge as one of the finest gastronomic treats imaginable. It can also serve as a reminder that no matter how dark the night gets, you’ve always got a reason to weather the storm until morning.
18 Franklin St | Biddeford | (207) 284-0015 | palacedinerme.com