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It may look tiny...but it's worth the squeeze!

A “Real” Blast From the Past

Most of us are probably familiar with new restaurants employing an oldies theme, chains with names like: A Blast From The Past, Johnny Rockets, or Rock and Roll Diner.

But imagine walking into a place that has been in the same spot for almost 90 years. A real, honest, oldie but goodie that is still up and running, still welcoming in hungry local customers. Although under new ownership; the train car has been feeding the citizens of Biddeford, Maine since its original opening in 1927.

You wouldn’t notice it at first, a tiny red train car hidden in the back streets of Biddeford. Ivy cross-hatching one side, and the words “Palace Diner”  stenciled on the front– with a subtle “Ladies Invited” slightly underneath.

Walking in might be hard; with only 15 seats at the counter, things can get crowded, but finding your way to an available seat is worth the squeeze. You will be greeted and handed a modest menu with dishes made from recipe books almost 100 years old.

It may look tiny...but it's worth the squeeze!
It may look tiny…but it’s worth the squeeze!

Owners Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell, are two down to earth chefs who love the environment of the small diner.

Conley cooked at a place in New York, and before that learned the ways of the kitchen at Hugos, a much- acclaimed Portland, Maine restaurant. Mitchell on the other hand, learned to cook while on a farm in Maine. After that he also moved up to New York.

Mitchell and Conley were looking for an opportunity to open up a place together, and their original location plan was Portland, but they were struggling to find the right place. That is  when they saw the Palace Diner was for sale.

Conely said, “We fell in love with it as soon as we saw it, we thought it was a great little spot.”

They didn’t really know too much about the history, just that it had been in its original spot for a long time. Going in, Conley and Mitchell knew the struggles they would face with the lack of seating. They keep a light heart, however, and figure the smaller environment makes it is easier to control the quality or food and service. Due to the short seating, the servers at the Palace Diner have to make sure things move quickly. This involves giving the check to the customer halfway through their meal, but insuring that the customer never feels rushed.

At first glance, the dishes Mitchell and Conley make may seem like everyday diner meals; but if you were to take a look at one end of the diner, you will notice old cookbooks lined up beside the refrigerator. These cookbooks aren’t just decoration, Conley and Mitchell use these traditional cookbooks for some of their recipes.

“A lot of what chefs do in any creative endeavor is reinterpret things, and so as opposed to reinterpreting something that has already been reinterpreted; we like to go back to kind of old cook books and find original recipes for flapjacks or French Toast or custard and do our own updated version of it…Our pancake recipe came from an old cookbook that Chad’s wife had a copy of called the Boston Cooking School Cookbook originally published in 1896, and t the copy we have is from 1941.”

Mitchell and Conley, though now both fully involved with the culinary practice, didn’t start out wanting a life in food.

“I don’t think either of us have the classic chef story, of standing by our grandmothers’ side while she made, you know, Veal Ossobuco (A dish of cross-cut veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine, and broth) on a Sunday afternoon with the whole family…but, we both grew up enjoying food,”

Their love of food led from one thing to another, and now they run a pleasant little diner that feeds the young and old.

As you leave the past and walk back through the squeaky screen door into the present, food with the warmth of a home cooked will leave you dreaming of your next visit.

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