I've been called a food snob more than once, and it's a label that always makes me prickle. I don't think my food preferences are snobby so much as skewed towards local and artisinal products. Wherever I am, I want to eat locally and sample food that is specific to that place and season.
Which is partially how I ended up at the Post House, in Wilmington, Delaware. I have an ongoing fantasy of taking a road trip and stumbling into a hidden treasure of a restaurant, a roadside shack serving the best fried oysters in the world, a dive with amazing chili, the perfect donut from the perfect coffee shop, and so on. When I'm at home, I like to eat seasonal and reasonably healthy food but when I'm traveling I like to eat whatever is good, and by good I mean restaurants packed with locals, and food that is unavailable anywhere else.
The food at the Post House was certainly not anything I'd never encountered before -- it's a tiny diner with a classic diner menu -- but sitting at its counter felt as if we were privy to a reality TV show (Fry Cooks! or Short Order, now on Bravo, check your listings!). The Post House is tiny -- no tables, just one long counter, manned by 2 women in their late 50's or early 60's, both of whom had probably been taking orders since long before my breakfast companions and I were born. There were two short-order cooks, and the cook staff squeezed past each other and maneuvered around the griddle with familiarity and expertise that was completely engrossing. I had a BLT for $3.95, and it came on plain white bread toast, served on a little paper plate. The end. Other diners ordered scrapple with egg and cheese on toast, heaping omelets, or chipped beef. A mountain of home fries - diced potato with a light dusting of paprika - came with everything. Juice and sodas were served in Styrofoam cups and coffee came with little single-serve tubs of Half-n-Half.
If I had been less hung-over and less bacon-oriented, I might have tried the grilled Cinnamon bun -- a giant Cinnamon roll fried on the griddle. If I had been more adventurous, I might have sampled the chipped beef, but as it was, I happily ate my BLT and listened to the woman behind the counter explain that she writes "Wheat" when a customer wants wheat toast, because while some people indicate wheat bread with a WW for "whole wheat," it can be easily confused with a single W for white bread. As my friend Emilie said, Our waitress was a perfect example of someone who takes legitimate pride in her job no matter what the work is.
The Post House first opened its doors in 1948 and I'd venture that not a lot has changed since then, nor should it. In an era of faux-dives and contrived retro styling, it was eye-opening and entertaining to visit the real thing. The fry cooks asked about customer's kids and grandkids, toast fell out of the revolving toaster in front of me at a steady rate, and egg after egg after egg was cracked and expertly fried or scrambled on the ancient griddle. The butcher block counter below the griddle dipped deeply in the middle, worn down from generations of toast being cut into triangles, and dented fry pans were wrapped in duct tape in place of long-lost handles.
My only regret, aside from the grilled Cinnamon roll, was that I didn't take a picture, because the Post House is the kind of place that seems to exist only in memories, movies, and derivative diners build recently but meant to evoke the authentic coffee shops of the past.
The Post House is located at 105 N Union St in Wilmington, Delaware and is cash only.