From Grease to Ashes

The greasy spoon. Everyone had one in college, some beloved hole-in-the-wall that never seemed to close, a place where the waitresses knew everyone’s name and the cups of coffee were bottomless. (Restaurants that serve breakfast all day were perhaps invented with the sleep cycles of college students in mind.) The greasy spoon is as much a fixture of college life as torturous all-nighters, rainy afternoons in the library, and bizarre roommates.

In college, the greasy spoon I called home was O’Rourke’s, an unrestored steel dining car. A landmark for more than sixty years in the small New England town where my university was located, O’Rourke’s was famous for being open at five in the morning, for its elaborate omelets, its original jukeboxes of forty-fives (complete with speakers at every booth), and for a chef who made the students try his new recipes before he put them on the menu. In an age of franchises and corporations, it was comforting to know that O’Rourke’s was a family business as well. John O’Rourke was the owner and cook until 1978, when his nephew Brian took over the business and the kitchen. Brian O’Rourke has been there ever since.

Starting at dawn, people would line up outside O’Rourke’s, sometimes waiting for close to an hour to get one of the dozen or so seats inside. And for good reason. It was perhaps the only place I know of where you could get a trout-and-peach remoulade with a...

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About the Author

Stephen Aubrey is a former editorial assistant for Commonweal.