Diner Review: Wimpy & Dee’s: The Ultimate 50s Diner Experience
In 2011, after a 1500 mile journey from Galveston, Texas to Honey Brook, PA, “Wimpy & Dee’s”, a genuine 50’s style, chrome, red, white and black diner fired up its kitchen, turned on the “oldies” and opened its doors.
It’s owners, Honey Brook natives Lyn and Bev Kemper, wanted to bring back the 50’s & 60’s to remind us of a much simpler and uncomplicated life; where kids hung out on the corner, went to local dances with live bands and took their girlfriends to the local diner for a burger & milkshake.
Named after Bev Kemper’s parents, Dave “Wimpy” and Dorothy “Dee” Glauner, life-long residents of Honey Brook, it is the culmination of Lyn and Bev’s vision. “To be taken back to “HAPPY DAYS” where you don’t just get a meal, YOU STEP BACK IN TIME.”
Now I ask for your indulgence and patience. You see, I am an actor and I have this need to set the stage, whet your appetite and engage in foreplay (did I just go too far?), before I draw back the curtain.
While I haven’t lived in South Philly for over 60 years, I still consider myself a blue collar, South Philly guy. I will never go to restaurant where the wait staff is dressed better than me. I don’t “dine”. I eat. I will not pay $50 for a steak, no matter if it’s Kobe or LeBron. When food is served to me, if I can see the plate, I feel cheated. Not only do I like to eat my food, I am not the least bit upset if I also wear it. Most of all, I try to obey all the commandments because, my fourth-grade nun at St. Rita of Cascia, Sister Mary D’Artagnan – who had her lethal, 36” pointer hidden in her sleeve – came to me in a nightmare and warned “All the food in the “lower place” is vegan and gluten-free. “
Before you conclude, rightfully so, that diners are my preferred eating venue, let’s establish what a diner is. A diner (chrome is optional) has counter service, an open kitchen where you can watch your meal being prepared, an on-site owner with an understanding and appreciation of the neighborhood it serves, good food that starts with great ingredients and a staff that “engages” you. The last three are sine qua non. (Impressed? I went to St. Joe’s Prep where we had four years of Latin.)
I will not “wax poetic” about the fare at Wimpy & Dee’s. It’s not “cuisine”: in fact, the only things French that pass my lips are French Fries and French Toast. I’ve had just about everything on their extensive menu, never been disappointed, never left hungry and never with my wallet in distress.
My favs are the hot wings, fried pickles, baked oatmeal, oatmeal pancakes (one is usually enough for the average person, two if you’re REALLY hungry and three if you are wearing suspenders sans belt), the chili, the 7 oz. mushroom & swiss burger, the Racheal, the Philly cheesesteak – with real cheese and no Wiz – the pot roast and, bow your head, the meat loaf with mashed taters n’ gravy, the apple dumpling with vanilla ice cream and the coffee, coffee, coffee. (Did I say coffee?) But, like those Latins say “De gustibus non disputandum est.”
Folks, it’s really good diner food. If you are lucky, it’s like food your Mama made. I wasn’t. Sorry Mom.
One thing Wimpy & Dee’s doesn’t have is ambiance. If it did, the prices would be double. No, it has atmosphere: one unlike any I have ever seen. On weekends, on the front lawn, will be parked a 50’s era police car, or a 40’s coup with flames, or a genuine top fuel dragster accompanied by its female driver. At various intervals, there might also be a 20 foot cow, compliments of Turkey Hill, a 4 man rock band or a back lot hosting a classic car “cruise”.
The chrome, of course, is a “given” but when you enter the lobby, on your right between the glass blocks and the restored gasoline pump, are about a half dozen hula hoops for the “kids of all ages” to use. A hoot! The lobby also hosts two display cases chock full of 50’s memorabilia.
Inside, there is a car hop on roller skates, a Hopalong Cassidy board game, a punch card, 45 rpm records, a guitar and sax, a pogo stick, sling shot, model cars, “Little big books” and on and on.
The 50’ and 60’s background music is just loud enough to sing along with, and many do, but not so loud as to intrude.
Old Glory hangs above the hostess station and, at 10AM every Saturday, patrons are invited to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to honor the USA and the men and women who served her.
So far, we have a really good diner with plenty of sights and sounds to bring you back to those Bandstand, Joe Niagra, Hy Lit, Georgie Woods and 950 Club days. But the real magic of the place is the ease with which you can engage in conversation with anyone, whether a “regular” or a first timer. Wanna start a conversation with someone you don’t know? Try complimenting them on something: their clothes, their “Hog”, their kids.
Last week, as I was checking out, I noticed a young man at the counter with a tat of Albert Einstein on his arm. All I said to him was “If I ever decide to get a tat, that’s the one I want. It’s great!” Conversation with a stranger began.
The week before, a couple, first timers at Wimpy & Dee’s, came to our booth and asked if I was from South Philly, not because they knew me but because they thought I looked as though I did. I beamed. Another conversation began. We talked about my neighborhood, their neighborhood, which in Philly is, “what parish are you from?”
Their parting words were, “This place just feels like home.”
Charley is a 25 year member of SAG/AFTRA with principal roles in TV series including The Wire, The Sopranos, Law and Order, Law and Order SVU, Homicide Life on the Street and Cold Case, and films including Liberty Heights and Two Bits. His professional theater credits include Guys and Dolls (Nicely Johnson), Fiddler on the Roof (Lazar Wolf), The Wizard of Oz (Cowardly Lion), Gangstertown (Mayor Big Bill Thompson) and Niagara Falls (Mr. Poletti). Charley has also appeared in Chicago (Billy Flynn), Annie (Daddy Warbucks), Damn Yankees (Van Buren) and Annie Get Your Gun (Charlie Davenport).