Greasy spoon is a colloquial term for a small, cheap restaurant or diner that most typically specializes in fried foods. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term originated in the United States, and is now used in various English-speaking countries.
The name "greasy spoon" is used to imply a less-than-rigorous approach to hygiene and dishwashing, and appears in use in the early 20th century. The term has been used to refer to a "small cheap restaurant" since 1925.
Many typical American greasy spoons focus on fried or grilled food, such as fried eggs, bacon, burgers, hash browns, waffles, pancakes, omelettes, deep fried chicken, and sausages. These are often accompanied by baked beans, french fries, coleslaw, or toast. Soups and chili con carne are generally available.
In Europe, especially in the UK, greasy spoons typically offer a wider range of foods. These dishes often take advantage of inexpensive seasonal ingredients.
Since the 1970s, many Greek immigrants have entered the business; as a result, gyro and souvlaki meats are now a common part of the repertoire, often served as a side dish with breakfast and as a replacement for bacon or sausage.
A full meal may be available for a special price, sometimes called a blue-plate special. Regional fare is often served. Coffee, iced tea, and soft drinks are the typical beverages, and pie and ice cream are popular desserts.
In the United Kingdom, greasy spoons are also commonly referred to as cafés or occasionally as "working men's cafés", which in London is often colloquially referred to as a "caff" // Not all cafés are greasy spoons, however. A greasy spoon in the UK is commonly an independently owned business and rarely, if ever, part of a chain or group. Increasingly, they are gradually being forced out of business by large coffee house chains and fast food franchises.
The typical working men's cafe serves mainly fried or grilled food, such as fried eggs, bacon, black pudding, bubble and squeak, burgers, sausages, mushrooms and chips. These are often accompanied by baked beans, cooked tomatoes, and fried bread. These are served in a variety of combinations and are generally referred to as "breakfast" even if they are available all day. Traditionally American items like hash browns may also be available.
Hot and cold sandwiches are also often available, with the bacon butty and sausage sandwich being particularly popular. The main drink in a British working men's cafe is usually tea, especially "builder's tea" (a nickname for a mug of strong black tea, such as English breakfast tea, usually served with milk and sugar and is typically robust and flavourful with a brisk character and a dark red colour). Often the only coffee available will be instant, though this has slowly changed with the increased proliferation of coffee drinking. British working men's cafes will sometimes also offer bread and butter pudding, apple crumble, and rhubarb crumble. Working men's cafes are not noted for healthy food options though baked potatoes with a limited range of fillings and filled baguettes may be available.
The greasy spoon was also the mainstay of British lorry drivers who travelled the major trunk roads such as the A1 and the A6 prior to the opening of the motorways. These cafes were not only stops where the driver could eat, but also made convenient meeting places where the trade unions could talk to their members. In 2001, a story broke in the UK press about how the European Union were making an attempt to ban the greasy spoon cafes. This turned out to be a hoax based on an EU report about eating habits of long distance drivers and their health.
In the United Kingdom, the traditional greasy spoon has been in decline due to the rise of fast-food chains; they nevertheless remain numerous all over the UK, especially in certain parts of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Derby, and many seaside towns. The demand for their style of cuisine has resulted in the establishment of greasy spoons all over the world and particularly in European coastal resorts located within an hour's coach ride from charter airlines' destinations. At such locations, full breakfasts may be consumed on an all-day basis (to accommodate late-rising clients).
- dictionary.com Greasy spoon
- "greasy spoon" entry, OED
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