Exceptional service in a restaurant means different things to different people. For some, there's a level of doting, pampering and even ego massaging that is necessary for a next level dining experience. Others rest on upscale formalities, carefully placing cutlery parallel to one another at the 5 o'clock position on the plate to signify they're finished eating so no one has to talk to anyone about the unpleasantness of removing dirty dishes. Still more quiz servers, expecting encyclopedic knowledge of each dish's component: Is the salt sourced organically? It's like watching that Portlandia skit in real life.
None of those are wrong ways to approach service, per se. A server should be knowledgeable, attentive, courteous and quick. However, when I think of service in this town that really knocks my socks off, I think of a little diner off Prince and Flowing Wells roads, and, honestly, it's not because of any of the things I previously mentioned. Of course, a diner has different standards of service than a swanky steakhouse, but what Pappy's Diner gets so right is genuine warmth without the feeling that anyone's looking to flip tables.
To be fair, I'll admit I was sold conceptually on Pappy's before I ever went in. It's an old school diner with fare to match and here's the kicker: they serve booze. That's right, folks. If you want a whole pint of briney, spicy bloody mary for just $5 to go alongside your pork loin and egg combo ($7.99), you're in luck.
I will say that, on one occasion, I asked the server for a whiskey soda (it was a late lunch), to which she replied, "What do you mean?" "Oh, just whiskey with seltzer or club soda or something like that," I explained. "Let me see if we can. One second," she said, as she turned around at the table and began to yell to a coworker, "Hey, can you do a whiskey soda?" A disembodied "yep" came in response. After much debate in whether it should go in a pint glass or a shorter plastic cup, my drink arrived: a whiskey Coke. You might, at this point, be thinking that that actually sounds like bad service, but the whole experience was so endearingly and undoubtedly one of a diner that I sipped my whiskey Coke without complaint—and I never drink Coke.
The serving staff, which is almost exclusively female from what I've seen, is a bunch of authentically nice people just trying to make sure your coffee cup is full, you get the food you want and you smile a couple times throughout the experience. It might sound corny, but there's something unmistakably alluring when three or four servers start riffing and joking with you from different spots around the restaurant. You can't fake that.
Another time, when asked what the soup of the day was, a server responded first with the sort of honest hesitance that begs further prompting. "I can tell you, but I don't think you'll want it," she started. "It's called dump soup," she said, emphasizing the word "dump." "It's just a little bit of everything. I don't think you'll want it, and I just wanted to be honest." And, when a menu spans breakfast, lunch and dinner with everything from Southern American classics to Greek gyros to pizza to interpretations of chiles rellenos, a little guidance certainly goes a long way.
When it comes to the food at Pappy's, you're going to get exactly what you expect to get, and, ultimately, there's nothing in the world more comforting than that. All the diner basics are there and then some. $5 burgers, served with a side, that are hand-formed and charred with the flavor of a well-seasoned grill top; thin, but juicy steaks side by side with eggs for just $7.99 if you come in before 11 a.m.; eggy and sweet slices of French toast with small, circular sausage patties ($5.99)—there's nothing fancy about eating at Pappy's, but there's also nothing more I'd ask for out of a diner.
I could sit here and say, "The fried chicken was moist and tender on the inside, but the breading wasn't crispy or substantial enough to hold up to the meat," but really, there's no point. Obviously there are things a place like Pappy's could improve on—the menu has over 100 dishes. If you stick with the basics here, you won't be disappointed. Just make sure to finish up the meal with a slice of hot cherry, apple, pecan or pumpkin pie ($2.99) a la mode (plus $2), and tip those hardworking servers well.