Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Gem in Hillsville

Since 1946, the Hillsville Diner has been operating in the heart of Hillsville, VA, about 25 miles south of Wytheville. Moved from Mt. Airy, NC, where a young Andy Griffith was a frequent customer, the beautiful O'Mahoney diner has just about all of the original equipment. The Hillsville Diner was manufactured by the O'Mahoney Diner Company in the 1930's. It is the "olderst continuously operating streetcar diner in Virginia" and is believed to be one of only six O'Mahoney's still operating in the country. It's a gem.

This diner has been in the McPeak family for many of these Hillsville years--"Mac" McPeak's uncle sold it to Mac's father in the 1960's who sold it to Mac (the present owner) in the late 80's.

I love old diners. They are the heart of a community. A successful diner is a meeting place for friends who can trace their first conversations back several decades, has a conference corner where the elders of the community meet to discuss local and national political issues, and boasts of having an owner-chef who has been making the daily specials for people on whom he has complete family histories.

Meet Mac. His friendly welcome greeted us as we took our seat at the counter. One question from us about the age of the diner led Mac into a proud documentation of all the original features of the busy diner. From the pocket door at the entrance to the floors--"Look at that floor by the door; it hasn't been touched since it was built," Mac announced. We discussed the windows, the roof, and the stools before coming to the most noticeable part of the diner--the grill.

Ah, the grill, this well-seasoned, mission-control instrument makes "music" comparable to the best bands in the area. In answer to another question, Mac noted, "No, these indentations in the griddle are not original. My uncle was not able to get the griddle hot enough, so he put these "pockets" into this replacement griddle so the eggs were closer to the heat. It's been that way ever since."

Next to this griddle was a regular, flat one just large enough upon which to make three large pancakes. An order of three pancakes and a slice of country ham presented a combination of sweet syrup and salty ham that was a wonderful way to start the day. We were both surprised at how light the pancakes were.

As we left, we asked about the tomato with the knife stuck in it. Mac, again, supplied the background. It seems one guy brings his own tomato each time he and his friends come it. They pass it around with their meal, and each takes whatever they want. They then leave it here for anyone else to eat.

Nowhere but the neighborhood diner.

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