I visit my father in Philadelphia once a year. He lives in the same house where I grew up, and I get to sleep in my old bedroom, in the same bed.
This is the same house where my family watched Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs on TV in 1973. As I write this blog post, I’m sitting on the couch in the living room in the same spot watching the TV, which is in the same spot.
Whenever I visit, we go out to dinner at New England Pizza, on Bustleton Avenue. New England is one of my father’s favorite restaurants. We’ve been going to this particular New England since we moved into the Bustleton house in the early 70s. Before that, when we lived in Rhawnhurst, we went to a different New England, in the older Oxford Circle neighborhood, also on Bustleton Ave.
During my visit, which usually lasts about a week, we go to New England a few times. We might have pizza, a Philly cheese steak, or a delicious chicken parm grinder. (A grinder is a sandwich on a long roll, similar to a sub or a hoagie.)
We headed over to the Bustleton New England on Sunday night. The bad news is that they were closed, apparently for good. There was a sign on the window, posted in April, from the city saying it had to shut down the restaurant because it violated building codes. I felt sad. I felt like you can only go home for a limited time. Everything changes. Everything comes to an end.
The good news, that more than makes up for it, is that we went to the Red Lion Diner tonight. We used to go to the old Red Lion Diner, on Bustleton Ave and Red Lion Road, until they closed in the early 80s. I recently learned that there is a “new” Red Lion Diner on County Line Road and Easton Road in Horsham. Horsham is ten miles away, but it’s a 35 minute drive, because of traffic, red lights, and the fact that County Line Road is one lane in each direction for most of the way. We took a chance and went there, hoping it would have some relation to the old Red Lion Diner, and hoping that the food would be good.
When we went to the old Red Lion Diner, I would often get the veal parm and spaghetti platter. I had a fantasy that I would have the same dish tonight, and it would be the same as the one I had in 1980 at the old Red Lion Diner. (My apologies to the PETA people. I don’t eat veal often. This is the first time I’ve had it in almost forty years.)
We arrived and got the menus, and my favorite dish of the 1970s was on the menu. Yes, veal parm and spaghetti. But now I could substitute another pasta, and I got the pencil points. (Pencil points are what is known elsewhere as penne.)
The food was excellent, and this was the best diner I’d been to in years. After we ate, I talked with the owner, and he said that they “used to have one on Bustleton Avenue about thirty-five years ago”. He said the old one was run by his brother, and he worked there for four years. So yes, it was the same diner with the same owners, in a new location.
They say you can never go home again. But tonight, I was home. And back in 1980.