Thus, the Diner

PHILADELPHIA — Often, we try to locate a decent diner early in any multiday stay. On our own, we stay at Hampton or Comfort inns that include a regrettably starchy breakfast. You still need a diner. For conferences, like the one of last weekend, you reside on-site. The Sofitel here had a terrific and expensive restaurant. No mini-coffee maker in the room but complementary morning coffee and tea downstairs was welcome and unusual in this class of hotel. We still needed a diner.

My Beloved spotted it on our first walk through the hotel’s neighborhood: Little Pete’s, 219 S. 17th St. at Chancellor, 24/7. On our first full day, we had wonderful short-order-grill omelets — cheddar, mushrooms and peppers for her, feta and spinach for me — with decent hash browns and an unexpected treat, rye toast. This was not breakfast or even a weekday brunch but a late lunch (mid-afternoon) that we do so often, at home or on the road, that we have named this very early dinner as “linner.”

We ate at Little Pete’s two more times. Once comprised salads and sandwiches late in the evening because linner at 3 will leave you hungrier than a dessert will take care of at 9. And we had a breakfast-time breakfast, though they already had run out of oatmeal, which M.B. was counting on. Cash-only, and Little Pete’s is not listed in any of the tourism guides — it’s a local joint.

Price is part of it, but convenience matters more. Travel also forces an economy of time, along with realizing while fine dining is a delight of travel, it can deaden the senses. If you’re spending 50 minutes looking at guidebooks, chatting up the concierge or Googling on the lobby PC to choose a place where you’ll be eating — for 70 minutes — that can start to feel depraved, especially if done more than once a day.

A decent all-night diner — though more than once we’ve used a Panera Bakery Café instead of the ol’ greasy spoon, and Whole Foods Market was a revelation last fall, being a pricey grocery but a moderately priced cafe full of healthy food — helps the traveler better place priorities. Economy of time: Add up all the travel expenses and divide into the number of hours you’re away. Time is what you’ve saved for all year, and yet you need sleep and other down time. A taxi thus can make economic since (though in Philly the inexpensive train/subway can be faster by missing traffic). And the diner cuts out the recurrent discussion, “Italian or pizza?” “Chinese or Thai?” that not only blows minutes but makes hungry people cranky.


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