BEST DINER - 2004
American as apple pie? Hey, how American is that? Even the French have tarte Tatin. You want American, try this: In the shadow of downtown sits the Band Box, a rail-car-diner made by a grain-bin manufacturer--the place is so significantly Americana, it's a registered historic landmark. More American than that, though, is the crew that cooks and runs it, with their punk-rock hearts, communitarian spirit, and fancy restaurant training (the chef and co-owner, Brad Ptacek, led the kitchen at fondly remembered Caffe Solo.) And even more American still is the menu--a strawberry short stack, for instance, with buttermilk pancakes as fluffy as clouds topped with fresh strawberries and real whipped cream, or the famous baby burger, griddled to crisp perfection and served with real lettuce, tomato, red onion, and a sweet grilled bun--and it all still costs less than $3! What we like most about the Band Box Diner is that it's American and Americana in the best ways--in addition to the great grub, the place showcases true neighborliness and friendly, functioning multiculturalism--the coffee is brought in from a neighbor's family farm, back in Africa, and the diner has been a cornerstone of this sometimes-down, sometimes-up urban neighborhood for generations. Is that why families from all over the metro have been making pilgrimages to the Band Box lately, setting the little ones on stools by the counter, or rolling carriages up to the outdoor tables? Got to clue in the next generation about what it means to be American, before the television beats you to it.