Local diners vie for the title of Silver Spring's culinary hot spot
Friends has Central Perk. Doug has the Honkerburger. Saved by the Bell has Mac's. Every important TV group has its own place to lay aside its cares and dig into greasy food and good conversation. Likewise, Blair's 3,200 hungry stomachs and gossiping mouths need their own cultural Mecca.
There are hundreds of local eateries, but only one can stand out.
Two of Blazers' favorites, Silver Spring's Tastee Diner and Four Corners' McDonald's, face off in a battle of corporate vs. nostalgic, quality vs. quantity.
After a few rounds of coffee, junior Kat Clark and her friends start singing. The waitresses hang out at the table, listening and clapping along with the teens' folk renditions and sea shanties. "We like having them around," says night-shift manager Daisy Clark. "It adds some spice to the place."
The night shift is often the busiest time for Tastee on Fridays and Saturdays. On Mar 22 between 9 p.m. and 2:30 a.m., 27 current Blair students and eight Blair alumni come in for milkshakes, plates of fries and cups of coffee.
Since the Tastee Diner opened a one-room eatery at its first location on Georgia Ave in 1946, families have come expecting hearty breakfasts and friendly service. When the diner expanded and moved in 2000 to its current location on Cameron St, its loyal customers followed. "Generations of parents and grandparents have come here," says afternoon-shift manager Jose Ramos. "It's the old standby."
In the wee hours of the night, the diner takes on its moonlight identity. No longer occupied by families and gray-haired men, the diner fills with teenagers crowded around the touch-screen game machine to play PhotoHunt, girls fighting over the jukebox and waitresses bent over laughing. "People come here to meet and have fun," says Clark. "Just don't go to sleep, because we will wake you up."
"Is that my Spanky?" calls "Mama" Rosa McCraw, using her pet name for one of Kat Clark's fellow songsters. The relationship between the kids and waitresses is "love," says Kat Clark, who eats at Tastee five or six times a week. Mama Rosa can rattle off not only what each teen will order but also how they are doing in school and whether or not they are going to prom.
Of the many orders that Mama Rosa has memorized, a few really stand out from the crowd. While Tastee is best known for its breakfast foods such as the ham, egg and cheese Tastee Muffin, the most popular nighttime meals are the $9.95 chicken tender platter and $1.95 french fries, with a $3.50 milkshake.
From the black-and-white photos on the wall to the smiling waitresses calling you "baby" and the clock that says it's 2 a.m., the relaxed community of the late-night shift is the reason so many Blair students would rather spend their sleeping hours at Tastee than in bed.
A far cry from soda fountains and nickel Cokes, McDonald's seems a bland choice for a teen hangout, despite its billions served. However, powers of the empty stomach and the empty wallet bring gaggles of Blazers flocking to Four Corners daily.
The average American eats at McDonald's 1,811 times through the span of his or her life, according to rookiesworld.com, and the 43 Blair students eating there at 2:30 p.m. on Mar 19 confirm the statistic. Freshmen Edra Brisbane and Sarah Kenney say they visit the land of the golden arches daily for their standard Fish Fillets and Quarter-Pounders.
According to sophomore Makonnen Brown, so many students use McDonald's as a place to "just chill" that the manager put a 20-minute time limit on the teens' stays. The limit has made little difference to the crowd that sometimes sits for up to two hours socializing, eating or waiting for the bus.
Sophomores David Cheam and Rachel Boehm tease each one another over their french fries, joking that MacDonald's is a favorite for people who simply have nothing better to do but "mix it up." "We have no life," Cheam says bluntly before bursting into laughter.
Other Blazers also use their afternoon trips to Mickey D's as a time for joking and de-stressing. Sophomore Stephanie Mazariego comes to McDonald's to enjoy time with her friends after she picks up her infant from the nanny. Mazariego's friends pass the child around over piles of ketchup and burgers, making googling noises and laughing with delight. "She's so cute," they squeal. "And she's always hungry," adds Mazariego.
The cheapness and saltiness of the McDonald's dollar-menu double cheeseburgers, chicken McNuggets, fries and other greasy treats are definite enticements for Blair students. "We're just a bunch of kids getting our grub on," says Brisbane.
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