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Finding Authentic Diner Greatness at Zip's Diner in Dayville, Conn.

Zip's Diner in Dayville, Connecticut.

Zip's Diner, Dayville, Connecticut.

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I have been to more than 70 diners in my lifetime with Zip's Diner in Dayville, Conn., recently and consistently on my mind as the go-to place for a great diner in New England.

Most diners share similarities: counter, booths, neon, chrome, down-to-earth quick service and a large menu of comfort foods. What separates Zip's from most diners, however, comes from consistency in its food and service and an authenticity that just seems more real. Some diners constantly tell you that they are good through advertising and social media, and others have gone "Hollywood" with elements that have no place in traditional diners -- like expensive, upscale food and decor that looks more in line with typical chain restaurants. Some of the diners I have been to recently seem to be resting on their laurels thinking that they can get by solely on prior reputation. Zip's Diner, on the other hand, humbly does its job every day, retains its high quality food and service, and, physically and spiritually, looks like a diner that your grandma or grandpa once frequented in the neighborhood. That's because Zip's opened in 1946 and then moved to its "new" location in 1954. And here we are in the 21st century and the third generation of family ownership keeps Zip's Diner -- in its beautiful O'Mahoney-style dining car residency -- as vital as it was back in the day.
Although a restaurant relic by today's standards, Zip's remains spotlessly clean and holds the classic diner tenets of bringing in all walks of life to enjoy some coffee, good food and, if you are so inclined in a less personal society, the chance to converse with locals.

By the way, the name "Zip," according to Zip’s web site history page, “was the nickname of retired Connecticut state trooper, Henry "Zip" Zehrer, who started in the diner business in 1946 in Danielson, CT.” 

Approaching Zip's by car reveals a thing of beauty: The towering sign that states, "EAT" majestically rises, in a working class way, above the stainless steel exterior of the welcoming dining car. At night, the neon illuminates "Zip's," and "EAT," thus making the diner even more welcoming for those driving this busy road. Funny, so many businesses today have these sterile, angular newfangled signs ironically designed to bring in business, but the old-time sign at Zip's has this timeless appeal that is part of the fabric that brings people in to Zip's. The diner always seems busy with, at times, a packed parking lot.

In true diner form, Zip's serves breakfast all day and offers many tremendous lunch and dinner items. If you like three-egg omelets, bacon, pancakes, waffles, French toast, corned beef hash, biscuits and gravy, club sandwiches, Yankee pot roast, roast turkey with stuffing, chicken fried steak, baked meatloaf, homemade soups (and chowders on the weekend), salad platters, pies, strawberry shortcake, and baked puddings, then Zip's Diner is definitely is your place. Astonishingly, what I just mentioned is just a fraction of the menu. No need to worry, though, about a large menu watering down the quality of the food (the small menu translating to better quality food theory is a myth, to me, anyway) -- just take a look around the diner with waitresses bringing out food that looks like something you'd see in a food magazine. Further validation: hearing customers say how much they love the food. It happens all the time.

The last time I visited Zip's Diner, the “Zip’s Special” – an open-faced sandwich featuring a seared, tender eight-ounce rib-eye accompanied by a side of perfectly-formed fries -- instantly had a place in my diner hall of fame memories and taste buds...

Yum, rib eye sandwich from Zip's Diner in Dayville, Connecticut!

While it is easy to let the nostalgic feel of Zip's dominate the overall dining experience, that emotional response is easily balanced with an analytical perspective -- that is, that the diner also makes sure the food quality shares an equal spotlight with the ambiance. Add great value for the money (many dishes are still under $10), and it is no surprise that local business people, families, singles, senior citizens, blue collar workers, and local campers (temporarily escaping their nirvana for a great meal) help keep Zip's Diner thriving to this very day.

It is not only every day people that frequent Zips Diner, but also some celebrities: Bill Griffith, a popular cartoonist known for his comic strip Zippy, and the phrase “Are we having fun yet?” has eaten at the diner and featured Zip’s in his comic strip! Celebrities that have eaten at Zip’s include Liberace, Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger, Brian Dennehy and Renee Zellweger. Athletes experiencing Zip’s: Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Carl Yastrzemski, according to the CMTQ web site (’s-diner). Zip’s Diner was also featured in Steven King’s novel 11/22/63, and on the cover of a novel, Ring in the Dead, written by J.A. Jance.

Unpretentious, friendly, old-fashioned and often with mouthwatering comfort foods, Zip's, to me, seems like everything you'd expect in a great diner. No wonder it has been at the forefront in my mind of go-to diners in New England!

Open seven days a week for breakfast (served all day), lunch and dinner, Zip’s is conveniently located off Route 395 in this quiet northeastern Connecticut town, equidistant to Hartford, Connecticut, Worcester, Massachusetts., and Providence, Rhode island. Zip’s is located at Routes 101 and 12, Dayville. Tel. (860) 774-6335. Web site:
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Classic diner sign at Zip's Diner in Dayville, CT

Editor's note: VisitingNewEngland business partnerships started on Jan. 30, 2017, and differ than feature articles previously posted on VisitingNewEngland. Businesses pay a small, one-time fee to have pages like this appear, and first must be accepted by editor and publisher, Eric Hurwitz, as a business he approves as part of "real New England travel" to keep the integrity and authenticity of the site intact. Businesses that sign up for business partnerships receive priority by receiving more social media exposure and link placement on Contact me if interested in forming a business partnership.

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How to find the best diners in New England

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