if bourdain came back to boston, i’d take him to casey’s diner

Posted by susan on November 14th, 2011. Filed under: epicurious travel.

What I love most about Anthony Bourdain is his honesty – and I don’t just mean his candid portrayal of  food and places. He builds his episodes around a theme and makes his intentions clear. It would be impossible to capture all that every city has to offer in an episode, so, Tony makes sure he sets us up for a very specific, but genuine experience.

When Bourdain came to Boston in an episode that now seems like ages ago, he did just that. The theme encompassed the working-class neighborhoods of Boston, as inspired by an old crime novel that he loves, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” Based on conversations from fellow fans and reactions on his Facebook page, he seemed to get a lot of flak from locals, mostly for focusing too much on Southie. While I also wish that he expanded his scope, I can’t say that Tony didn’t deliver what he promised.

But if Bourdain did come back to Boston I’d have a few places in mind, which I’ll share in a number of upcoming posts. If I had to pick a theme, I’d choose places that stay true to themselves. Places that have managed to maintain a certain integrity no matter what goes on around them.

I’d start by taking him outside of Boston, to my hometown of Natick, MA. After all, this is my itinerary…

Casey’s Diner was established in 1922 as a horse-drawn cart operation. At the time, Natick was a hub for manufacturing. Back then people from Boston would commute to Natick for work everyday. Historically speaking, this place has a very unique tie to Boston because it not only fed a wave of working class citizens who fled to this suburb from the city for work, it’s also seen the suburbanization of this New England community, members of which now head back into the city to make a living.

Back in the 20’s, horses would pull the cart into the center of town and serve what I imagine were the exact same perfectly steamed hot dogs that they continue to serve today. When my brother and sister and I were in grade school my dad would pick us up on half days and take us to Casey’s for lunch. We’d order a hot dog a burger and for dessert, a classic Boston Cream Pie.

Casey's Diner

 [Photo credit: Bob L F]

The smell of a deliciously crafted ball of meat slapped onto a grill wafts out of a take out window and draws you to a trolly door that slams shut right after you’ve squeezed yourself through.

When Mike and I go to Casey’s we order a cheeseburger and a hot dog each, which are steamed in an old copper container (pictured below). Mike gets his dogs “all around” which includes mustard, relish and onions. I like mine with just mustard and relish.

Inside Casey's Diner in Natick, MA

I can’t deny that nostalgia drives much of my appreciation for Casey’s. Every time I go I am taken back to the days when my dad would bring my siblings and I after school. But what I also love is that it refuses to evolve into something it was never meant to be. The biggest change that Casey’s has faced over the years is becoming immobile. There’s so many places in the Boston area that try to recreate the wheel with certain classics – like turning a typical grilled cheese sandwich “gourmet.” But at Casey’s, you’re getting a steamed hot dog that’s perfectly cooked and snaps with every bite.

casey's diner hot dog

Casey’s also makes a delicious burger. Like their hot dogs, it’s simple with no frills but they’ll make it however you like. Mike and I like mustard, ketchup, onions and pickles.

cheeseburger at casey's diner

When you’re lucky enough to grab a seat at one of the ten tiny bar stools, you’ll find yourself rubbing elbows – literally – with whomever you’re sitting next to. But it’s worth it. The walls of Casey’s is dotted with photos from it’s old days and pieces that reflect the history and culture of Natick.

Diner in Natick, MA

If Tony came to your city, where would you take him?

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