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Sunday Morning Taste Test: Sonny's Blue Benn Diner

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, March 18, 2007
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Spinach and sour cream omelet at Sonny's Blue Benn Diner in Bennington, Vt. [Photo by Sue Bush]
Bennington, Vt. - Sonny's Blue Benn Diner in Bennington is exactly what it promises to be: a diner, in the best sense of the word. "Diners" never promised to be fancy, posh, or "of-the-moment" eateries, but for the most part, diner owners pledged to cook and serve solid meals at affordable prices. The "Blue Benn," as it's known, would be recognized as a "master diner" if there were such a thing.

How 'Bout An Omelet And A Tune By Patti Page?

Entering the eatery is like taking a step back in time. The aqua, black, chrome and cream color scheme is straight out of the mid-1900s. The long lunch counter and the dining booths are the stuff of vintage dreams. Booths host small, wall-mounted jukeboxes that will churn out two songs for a quarter, except for one, which, for reasons no one seems to understand, will deliver three tunes for $.25.

The music selection clearly caters to a multi-generational clientele; choices include Patti Page singing "Old Cape Cod," Toby Keith singing "I Love This Bar," Sesame Street's "Ernie" chirping "Rubber Duckie," Patsy Cline crooning both "I Fall To Pieces" and "Crazy," and Pink Floyd paying tribute to "Money."
Other artists featured include Van Morrison, Don Mclean, Otis Redding, Cyndi Lauper, Fats Dominoe , the Kinks, and Flatt and Scruggs.

<L2>If the music menu seems extensive, wait until it's time to look at the food menu. The diner serves breakfast all day, and the choices extend well beyond eggs cooked up, over, or wrecked and some fruity pancakes.

Our Breakfast

I opted for a sour cream and spinach omelet. The meal was served with some fine home-fried potatoes, cut into chunks and very nicely flavored, and rye toast [my choice, from the usual white, wheat or rye offering]. Muffins, bagels, and sourdough toast are available for an additional charge, and egg substitute may be ordered for an additional $.50 per egg.

I was truly happy with the omelet. The spinach was either fresh or frozen -I forgot to ask- and was very tasty. There was no excessive moisture, no soggy bottom to the omelet. Dollops of sour cream were to one side of the spinach and the ingredients were wrapped in a nice fluffy egg cocoon.

The omelet menu is awesome, and includes such egg creations as salmon, sour cream and fresh dill [$6.50], basil, tomato, and mozzarella [$5.75], the "California," with avocados, tomatoes, sprouts, and sour cream [$5.50], asparagus and cheddar [$6.25], and apple cheddar [$5.25].

Traditional omelets include ham and cheese [$5.95], western, mushroom, and cheese. Cheese choices are American, Swiss, Muenster, and mozzarella.

My husband ordered French Toast with a side order of sausage. The egg mixture was cooked to a golden-brown, thin, coating that is, of course, the number one requirement for good French Toast. He smothered the meal with Vermont-made maple syrup, ate, and pronounced the meal terrific.

The diner staff showed plenty of hustle and bustle; we sat down at a booth at 8:05 a.m. and by 8:45 a.m., we were exiting the premises. I should share that this diner is often very, very crowded on Sunday mornings. There may be a wait to be seated and served when crowds are large. The tax-included price for our breakfasts, which included two free refill cups of coffee, was $15.43.

I Could Have Had....

The diner offers plain and blueberry pancakes, but also tempts folks with blueberry-almond 'cakes, whole wheat "harvest" pancakes, which means a "mix of berries" is added in, whole wheat apple and apple cranberry pancakes, and banana walnut pancakes. All regular menu pancake and French Toast varieties are priced between $3.95 and $5.50. On March 18, signs hanging above the counter advertised a chocolate-chip-and-raspberries version of pancakes, a veggie chili omelet with Monterey Jack cheese and guacamole, and an option to order free-range eggs. The free-range eggs were priced at $.65 per egg more than standard eggs.

Hot and cold cereals, Canadian hash and Canadian bacon, bagels, bacon, ham, sausage or turkey sausage were offered as "sides." A selection of homemade doughnuts and muffins are available.<R3>

The diner offers a full dinner menu that includes meals such as grilled hamburg steak with fried onions [$7.95], roast pork with homemade dressing [$9.95], baked meat loaf [$7.95], and fried haddock [$9.95], fried shrimp [$11.95], and fried scallop [$11.95] dinners.

Desserts include homemade pie [$2.75], homemade crisp[ $3.75], homemade Indian pudding, served warm and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, [$3.75], and chocolate raspberry bash [$3.75]. A "Veggie Corner" of the menu advertises foods such as a Nut Burger [$5.95], falafel [$5.95], spinach melt [$5.75], and a Blue Benn veggie burger [$5.50]. Salads include Chef and Greek salads [$6.95, $6.75], and a "veggie chef salad" [$6.75].

The diner offers a sandwich menu with traditional, open-face, and club-style sandwiches. A "kiddie corner" menu includes child-sized portions of spaghetti [with sauce, $4.50, with sauce and meatballs, $5.50], a trio of chicken tenders [$5.50], grilled cheese sandwich, cheeseburger, hamburg, or foot-long hot dog, [$4.95]. French fries are served with kid's meals for children age 13 or younger.

Made In New Jersey, Opened in Bennington

The food isn't the singular reason to visit the diner. The Blue Benn is an authentic creation of the Paterson Vehicle Co., [also known as the Silk City design firm] which manufactured the the diner's body in Paterson, N.J. during the the 1940s.

According to a history inclided in the diner's menu jacket, "in 1948, [the diner] was shipped and assembled on its present site here in Bennington." Sonny Monroe purchased the diner in 1973 and he, his wife Mary Lou, and the couple's daughter Lisa have been dishing up diner cuisine since.

Cash For The Hash...And The Burgers And the Pancakes...

The diner currently hosts an exterior waiting area that is protected from the elements, and is often filled with folks who will wait to grab a counter seat or booth and eat a Blue Benn meal.

The diner imposed a no smoking rule years before most other eateries were legally obliged to do so, and does not accept credit cards or personal checks.

Good Cookin', Good Eatin'

The Blue Benn has been featured in the "Vermont Life," "Martha Stewart," and "Yankee" magazines, and newspapers such as the "New York Times" and the "Albany Times Union" have featured the eatery on their ink-pressed pages.

Its' place in Bennington history and its' vintage, yesteryear, old-style diner charm adds immeasurably to the diner's appeal but the prime reason to visit the Blue Benn diner is the food. No fancy adjectives needed; the cookin' at the Blue Benn is good, and when the cookin' is good, so goes the eatin'.

The Blue Benn Diner is at 314 North St., Bennington, Vt.. The diner offers off-street parking in a wrap-around parking lot at the sides and rear of the building.

The diner hours are Mon.-Tues., 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wed.-Fri. 6 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sat. 6 a.m. - 4 p.m., and Sun. 7 a.m. - 4 p.m.. The Blue Benn may be contacted at 802-442-5140.
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