By Mike Hulter
If you find yourself on the corner of Hampton Avenue and the 606 in Reston, Virginia, stop in for some timeless, traditional fare at the Silver Diner. There's no better place to get caught up in nostalgia than this staple of American tradition. The diner has a long and rich history which receives proper amounts of reverence from the local community. Owner Robert Giaimo and chef Ype Von Hengst have taken utmost care to reference and maintain what the diner has always meant to Americans, which includes a unique and comforting ambiance and cooking style. The Silver Diner shines with its traditional stainless steel exterior, and the tradition doesn't stop there.
The term diner comes from the railroad term dining car, which is often times what the early forms of diner literally were. In 1872, a man named Walter Scott built what many consider to be the first diner. It was, in actuality, more similar to a horse drawn food truck. This model was soon modified to incorporate indoor seating and bathrooms, eventually becoming a full prefabricated building modeled to look like a diner car. During the great depression, these efficient buildings modified their menus to be affordable for the average Joe and the standardized, simple and affordable menu was realized. Since then the diner has gone from food wagon to stainless steel stylized prefab architecture to the modern yet nostalgic "Next Generation Diner" known as the Silver Diner, which regularly reinvents itself while refusing to become coarse, impersonal or excessively commercial.
Reston locals have been recently treated to the Silver Diner's latest cycle of regeneration which has taken the form of their new Fresh and Local menu, which uses local ingredients whenever possible and has incorporated vegetarian, gluten free, and low calorie options. For his modifications to the kids menu, executive chef Von Hengst was awarded the Menu Master's Healthful Innovations award. Some of those additions include salmon and quinoa, two items which heretofore have been unbeknownst to the kids menu. Drawing from forty years experience as a chef, Von Hengst was uncompromising in his goal of incorporating health and variety into the menu.
It's in the details that their efforts can really be noticed, for example their use of unbleached flour in the pancakes, their milkshakes made with milk from local farms, and their antibiotic and hormone free beef burgers. One of the most pleasantly surprising elements is how they manage to offer high quality comfort food such as the bbq bacon cheese burger along side more unexpectedly fancy fare, such as the lamb or the bison burger.
The Silver Diner was the brainchild of Robert Giaimo and Ype Von Hengst who envisioned a restaurant that bridges the gap between fast food and table cloth restaurants. This proved to be no easy task, but since opening their first location in 1988, they have more than succeeded at raising standards and lowering overhead until they found the approachable price point that keeps people returning. Robert and Ype pride themselves on having taken the rather generic American Diner model known for mid quality American comfort food and raised it to an unprecedented standard to the point where they regularly set records for being the busiest restaurant of its size, largest chain of diners in America, and highest average sales per store of its kind. Giamo and Von Hengst have more than succeeded at their original goal of creating a new American classic. A welcome addition to Reston, the Silver Diner keeps them coming back.
Silver Diner is located at 11951 Killingsworth Ave., Reston, and has additional locations in Tysons, Clarendon, Fair Oaks, Innsbrook, Merrifield, Potomac Mills and Springfield. There are additional Silver Diner locations in New Jersey and Maryland. For further information, visit www.silverdiner.com or call (703) 742-0801.
By Mike Hulter