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Norm's: Diner fare for the long-term fan

By Rick Koster

Publication: The Day

Published May 16. 2013 4:00AM   Updated May 16. 2013 5:07PM

In 1983 I was sitting in a diner in Odessa, Texas. It was about 3 a.m. or so, and I was buying Carlos Cavazo breakfast. Even though he was the guitarist for Quiet Riot, who were on their first national tour behind the "Mental as Anything" album, Cavazo was a bit short of cash; their per diem apparently wasn't as luxurious as the one I got playing in a Holiday Inn lounge band.

As we were finishing, Warren Entner, Quiet Riot's manager, hurried into the diner and excitedly broke the news. He'd just gotten advance word that the upcoming issue of Billboard would list the band's album at #1 on the charts.

And that's how a loser in a lounge band ended up buying breakfast for the biggest-selling rock guitarist in the world.

Why do I share this? Because anecdotes such as this do not happen in Michael Jordan's Steakhouse or Octagon.

No! Stuff like this only happens in diners!

In that spirit, I'm delighted that Norm's Diner in Groton, once a staple in the region, is open again under new management. With its classic, shoebox-shaped ambience and a stunning underbelly-panorama of the arching spans of the Gold Star Bridge rising over the Thames, Norm's is a dramatically evocative place to sit and eat a leisurely breakfast or, well, any meal. Norm's is open daily, around the clock - and, yes, breakfast is served continually.

Now, implied in all of this is the fact that diner food is not complicated. Keep it simple and filling.

In diners, we do not want artisinal bread or care about free-range pheasants. We do not want the meatloaf made with elk and served with a tomatillo gazpacho reduction, and we do not demand organic vegetables that have been watered exclusively with the teardrops of angels.

• Creamed chipped beef on biscuits ($6.95, $7.95 with two eggs) - The great chef Auguste Escoffier is rumored to have died of a broken heart when it occurred to him he didn't invent creamed chipped beef on biscuits. The Norm version is classic and bountiful - a huge bowl full of shredded dried beef in a thick, just-salty-enough gravy the color of library paste.

True, if the Norm People had split the biscuits and slathered them with butter before ladling the gravy, it would have been ideal. Too, the biscuits were pretty dense and not particularly fluffy. But by God it was all good!

• Norm's Double Cheeseburger ($7.95 with fries) - You can get burgers here in a variety of five-ounce single configurations, but the true diner enthusiast, like Billy Idol, cries, "More, more, more!" The twin patties are thick and bursting with juice. Two squares of American cheese, plopped on the meat during the final moments on the griddle, are curling on the corners and transforming into molten glory. Add some lettuce, slices of fresh tomato and a plain, no-nonsense bun, and howl with glee.

• Pot Roast Dinner with steamed carrots and potatoes ($8.95) - I've saved one of the coolest aspects of the new Norm's for last. For while, yes, we anticipate solid breakfasts and luncheon fare with a diner, Norm's also boasts a variety of revolving dinner specials. Each day, posted on white boards in the restaurant and on the restaurant's Facebook page, four or five made-from-scratch-that-day dinners are available.

Again, nothing exotic, just filling, tasty food. For example, the pot roast was exceptional. A huge platter with a nice ratio of not-too-mushy potatoes and carrot slices - both nicely seasoned in the broth from the cooking process - and the roast itself. There are chunks of remarkably tender and flavorful pot roast that shred at the mere whisper of your fork. Really, really good.

Other typical specials include fried chicken, American chop suey, meatloaf, and fish and chips.

You'll be happy at Norm's. The cooks and wait-staff have that friendly but weary air that makes you want them to tell stories about how they ended up with Norm. The place is clean and welcoming, and even the overly familiar sounds of classic rock, issuing at low volume from the cook's tiny, grease-speckled jam box, have a comforting quality. Hell, you might even hear a song by my old pal, Carlos Cavazo of Quiet Riot. All these years later, he'd appreciate that, I think.

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Norm's Diner

171 Bridge St., Groton
(860) 405-8383

Cuisine: Classic and solidly done diner food with rotating dinner specials

Atmosphere: Well-kept diner with the redolent scents and cacaphony

Prices: Cheap! Nothing's over $10.95.

Service: Efficient and maternally friendly - but be aware that it can get really busy.

Hours: 24 hours a day, seven days a week

Credit cards: Accepted

Handicap access: Steps up to the main door; very narrow central aisle

Reservations: No

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