Published June 12. 2014 4:00AM
Perhaps it's destiny that a diner that serves breakfast all day would come to be located in a place called the Bacon Building.
Regardless, when a three-alarm fire in August severely damaged the historic edifice in downtown New London, some wondered whether one of its tenants, Monica's State Street Diner, would ever open again.
It turns out, they needn't have worried.
Since early April, owner Monica Rossi, her staff and their loyal regulars have been right back at it, cooking, serving and enjoying such American classics as western omelets, meatloaf dinners, and foot-long hot dogs with chili and cheddar.
If you'd been to Monica's before the fire and returned since the reopening, you'd still recognize the place. New booths flank the right side of the long, narrow dining room, with the counter and stools on the left and tables in between and in the front windows.
The dining room sports a fresh coat of creamy pinky-yellow paint with black and white trim, and a row of shiny, new pendant lamps hangs over the counter. Sure, the place is a bit more polished, but its character - and characters - remain the same.
And thankfully, so does the menu.
Although Monica's pancakes are widely praised, on my recent breakfast visit - which actually happened at mid-afternoon - I chose the egg sandwich, with provolone and breakfast sausage on a hard roll ($4.50).
Served steamy hot, this generously sized sandwich truly would be delicious any time of day. The fried egg, sausage patties - there were two of them - and provolone cheese were tucked into a grilled hard roll that retained its crunch even as the heat from its stuffing steamed it through and through. It was perfectly seasoned and very satisfying.
Another time, two colleagues and I walked over to the diner from The Day headquarters, just about a block away. The specials were all about the ham Monica's had baked that morning - among them a ham dinner and a ham, lettuce and tomato sandwich on a grilled hard roll with chips and coleslaw.
We ordered the sandwich, $5.95; and from the regular menu, the ham club sandwich, French fries, coleslaw and a pickle, $8.95; and the fried Buffalo chicken wrap with lettuce, tomato, provolone and blue cheese, $7.95, with fries for an extra $2.
The service was a bit slow on this day, with what seemed to be just one waitress serving the dining room and counter for most of the time we were there. And when our food arrived, we were given the ham dinner instead of the special ham sandwich. We sent it back and shared the club, which was plenty for two, especially with the fries.
The ham was thick cut and clearly freshly baked. The three layers of toasted white bread were separated by a generous amount of ham, crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato and just the right amount of mayonnaise. The coleslaw was sweet and tart, with not too much mayo, and the pickle - a traditional dill - was delightfully sour. The fries were piping hot, thick and blonde - not very brown at all. Usually, I prefer a dark fry, but we left none of these behind.
The fried Buffalo chicken wrap was tangy, with mild to medium heat, just right for my taste. The chicken was crisp, as was the lettuce, with the blue cheese tying the whole sandwich together. All in all, it was a delicious gathering of flavors and textures in a fresh, soft wrap.
But for my money, there's nothing on the menu to compare with Monica's Patti Melt, $5.95. It's a struggle for me not to order it every time. Two slices of thick, perfectly grilled rye bread provide a brown, buttery bed for a perfectly cooked-to-order burger, enrobed in melted cheddar cheese and a generous blanket of sweet, grilled onions.
If I thought I could have gotten away with sampling only Patti Melts for this review, that's exactly what I would have done.
It wasn't easy for Rossi and her staff to bring the diner back from the soggy, smoky mess left in the fire's wake. On the day she reopened, she credited two of her loyal customers and her staff with making it happen.
"We all love each other, or maybe I just can't get rid of them," she laughed.