Who says that history can't be tasty? If you find yourself wandering north of Salem's historic Hawthorne Hotel towards Newburyport on Route 1, think about giving yourself the time - and the appetite - to stop in at the Agawam Diner in Rowley and sample a bite of true Americana and you'll see that it can be!
The current Agawam Diner at the intersections of Route 1 and Route 133 in Rowley is a 1954 Modern Stainless-style diner built by the Fodero Dining Car Company of Newark and later Bloomfield, New Jersey. Though most folks today know it as "the" Agawam Diner, the 50+ year old stainless steel diner is known as Agawam #4 by the Galanis Family who have been in the diner business ever since brothers Peter, William "Smiley", Louis "Jr.", and Andy Galanis opened the first Agawam Diner on Market Street in Ipswich's Depot Square on July 3, 1940.
The Galanis Brothers' first dining car in 1940 was a pearl-white barrel-roofed diner built by the Worcester Lunch Car Company of Massachusetts which produced 651 diners, some with as few as ten and others with as many as seventy seats, between 1906 and 1961 when manufacturing ceased. Putting down a $750 deposit to buy the small diner and then expanding the structure with an addition to allow for more customers, the Galanis Family began their lifelong career in the hospitality business eventually running three diners, a hotel, and a bowling alley.
Wanting something bigger, the Galanis Brothers replaced Agawam #1 with a larger blue Streamliner-style diner which was again built by the Worcester Lunch Car Company (No. 797); the new diner was delivered to Depot Square on Lincoln's birthday in 1947. More of the family came into the business as sisters Ethel and Jane joined their brothers in the business as they worked the counter and sister Emily took her place with the boys in the back kitchen of what became known as Agawam #2.
The family wasn't done expanding though and in 1954 they ordered two new dining cars from the Fodero Company as did many of the Worcester Lunch Car Company's old customers who opted to switch to the sleeker, more modern designs that were coming out of New Jersey. As Louis Galanis stated in 1955, the Worcester Company "... simply didn't offer a deluxe diner with all of the maintenance-free stainless steel, so we went with Fodero." When the larger of the two diners arrived in March, it opened in Peabody on U.S. Route 1 near the Peabody/Lynnfield line and was named the Lynnfield Diner though it was more popularly known as Agawam #3.
Meanwhile, back in Ipswich, Agawam #2 - the 1947 Worcester Lunch Car Company diner that replaced Agawam #1 - was sold in November of 1954 and moved to Salem, Massachusetts where it opened as the Front Street Diner and later operated as the North Shore Diner. After Agawam #2 was sold and moved to Salem, it was replaced by Agawam #4, the second diner that the Galinas Family had ordered from the Fodero Dining Car Company.
In September of 1960, Agawam #3 (aka the Lynnfield Diner) was forced to move via imminent domain from its site on U.S. Route 1 due to a proposed road change so it was sold and moved further south down Route 1 to Saugus where it was renamed the Thunderbird Diner. Chances are good it would have still been there except that it was destroyed in a fire in 1967. In 1963, Agawam #4 was moved from Ipswich to a site in West Peabody on U.S. Route 1 southbound until 1970. At that time, Agawam #1 was sold and moved to Salisbury where it was reincarnated as the Fish Tale Diner until it closed its doors in March of 2012. Who knows? It may show up again somewhere else before too long!
With the sale of Agawam #1, Agawam #4 was moved for the last time from West Peabody to the site in Rowley where the Galinas Family's original 1940 diner had stood for 20 years. Agawam #4 - the last diner that the Galinas Family bought and still runs - has remained at that spot since then and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.
Phew! After all that, I bet you could use a slice of pie, huh? Well you're in luck because the Agawam Diner serves up a mighty fine slice of pie but we'll get to that in a minute. First, how about look around inside?
Walking into the diner is a bit like taking a step back into the 1950s with its lunch counter, booths, and overall ambiance but not to worry, you aren't eating off the same table or counter-top as those long-ago customers as the Galanis Family periodically updates any worn or broken decor. Even though it looks vintage, it's modern vintage!
Depending on when you stop in at the Agawam Diner, you could either be standing outside in a line waiting for a booth or stool to open up - especially on weekend mornings when folks flock there for breakfast - or you could luck out and get there during a lull when seats are plentiful and you don't have to wait at all. I went twice during my "research" for this post and managed to score a booth both times without having to wait anytime at all. My secret? I got there around 3:00 pm each time and even though it was a weekend, there was a break in the action just long enough for me to get pictures while the place wasn't packed. Don't let those empty stools pictured above fool you, though - they don't stay empty for long!
Once you pick out a place to sit - or get there when it's busy and have to take what you can get - it's time to peruse the menu which has the Agawam Diner's history on the back - several of the pretty-bad photos above without image credit were taken from the picture I shot of the back of the menu just to give credit where credit is due.
The menu offers up standard diner fare from burgers to meatloaf, chicken potpie to pasta, cold sandwiches, hot sandwiches, seafood like native fried clams and scallops, soup, salads, and fried chicken just to touch the tip of the iceberg. If breakfast is your thing, it's served all day long offering up a wide assortment of omelets, several varieties of pancakes and French toast, oatmeal, breakfast sandwiches, Don's Homemade Hash, and eggs any way you want 'em. Then there are the specials on the boards above the counter - don't forget to check those out! If you can't find something at the Agawam Diner that appeals to you then you're obviously in the not hungry.
After you've placed your order with one of the friendly waitstaff who are probably going to call you either "hon", "dear", or "sweetie" then you can sit back and take a flip through your tabletop jukebox to see if there are any tunes you might like to accompany your dinner with or just sit back and contemplate what kind of pie you'd like for dessert. The Agawam is quite well known for its pies which are made on-site in their own basement bakery.
Got a craving for a slice of apple, cherry, blueberry, coconut cream, banana cream, chocolate cream, Boston Cream, or Lemon Meringue? They've got those and maybe even more depending on what they decided to bake up that day. Pie not your thing? How about some Grapenut pudding, bread pudding, a brownie, a turnover, a cookie, or an apple square? Surely you'll find something that appeals to your sweet tooth even if it's Jell-o!
So, how's the food at the Agawam you ask? Fair question and I'll give you a fair answer - it's good. It's not fancy, it's not haute cuisine, it's not fusion anything, it's just plain good. And they give you plenty of it. The first time Nathaniel and I stopped in with my oldest daughter in tow I wasn't incredibly hungry so I ordered a BLT for $3.50 - just that - no fries, no onion rings, no anything else - just a BLT. It was a good BLT, too.
Amanda, my daughter, decided to try the Agawam's Crab Cakes ($8.99) which came with a big side of cole slaw and large serving of french fries. Even though she said they aren't as good as those you can get in Baltimore, she declared them to be quite tasty.
For dessert I decided to try out a slice of coconut cream pie as I love me some coconut cream pie (part of the reason I only ordered a BLT!) while Amanda ordered a slice of chocolate cream. Cream pies and lemon meringue are $3.99 a slice or you can get a whole pie to go for $17 while two-crust pies are $2.99 a slice, $15 for the whole she-bang.
I can't vouch for the chocolate cream but I can tell you that the coconut cream is the stuff that pie dreams are made of! Lots of coconut, lots of cream on top, and lots of flavor. Bonus points for a delicious crust beneath all that! Amanda declared her pie to be "very good!" and it must have been as there was barely a smidgen left on her plate when she put down her fork with a satisfied thunk.
My next trip to Agawam (hey, Nathaniel and I were in the area and the parking lot was pretty empty so why not, huh?), I decided to try out one of the specials listed above the counter and ordered the franks and potato salad for $7.99. Before my meal came out, my server brought out two dinner rolls with butter and shortly afterward, the meal itself showed up - a plate piled high with cole slaw, potato salad, and two of the best grilled beef franks that I have had in a long time - no condiments required even though they were provided. Both the potato salad and cole slaw were very good with just the right touch of dressing and seasonings. Heck, even the slices of tomato with a dab of mayonnaise were quite good!
As I hadn't eaten since early, early that morning and it was closer to dinner time than lunch time I have to admit that I scarfed down the whole delicious thing leaving barely a leaf of lettuce! Even though I was pretty close to full, I figured I would be doing this post a disservice if I didn't try a different type of pie from the first time I was in so when my server asked if I was interested in pie I asked her what was available. Foregoing my favorite coconut cream, I opted for the lemon meringue figuring I'd really put the Agawam Diner's crust to the test this time as, I don't know about anyone else, but I can't make a lemon meringue pie that doesn't have a mushy bottom crust for love or money.
A generous-sized slice of pie soon arrived all lemony yellow and browned meringue looking pretty tasty and smelling quite good, too. The test is in the taste though and after just one bite I can say without hesitation that not only was it full of delicious lemon flavor and a meringue that had a rather interesting little sugar crunch to it but it had a crust that was pure perfection. Not a teeny tiny bit of sogginess to it whatsoever. It tasted wonderful - every bite of it!
All in all, when you add on the friendliness of the waitstaff and the hospitality of the Galanis Family who have had lots of practice in the feeding of thousands of North Shore residents and visitors over the years, stopping in at the historic Agawam Diner for a good, home-cooked meal and perhaps a piece of pie is a great part of exploring the area and refueling your energy while taking a day-trip from the Hawthorne Hotel.
The Agawam Diner, located at 166 Newburyport Turnpike in Rowley, is open seven days a week (with the exception of Christmas Day) serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner - 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on weekdays and 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. on weekends. You can get it to go but you can't get it unless you pay cash as checks and credit cards are not accepted.
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