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Angel’s Diner in Palatka: Radiant Relay

| March 4, 2014

The view from inside Angel's Diner in Palatka this morning, with the bridge over the St. Johns River in the distance. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

The view from inside Angel’s Diner in Palatka this morning, with the bridge over the St. Johns River in the distance. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Who says cancer doesn’t have its perks?

We were making the drive to Gainesville this morning for what was to be the fourth time in seven days–not for treatment, not yet, but for what passes for treatment foreplay, that endlessly touchy-scanny period that preps you for the actual nuking—when, almost past Palatka, we got a call from Shands that sounded more like a call from a central Soviet republic 50 years ago: the cat-scan machine was broken. UPS wasn’t delivering the part until later today, if then. My scan had to be rescheduled to Thursday.

pierre tristam flaglerlive editor's blogFast over: I could now eat. Cheryl had scanned a diner somewhere in Palatka’s lost time on our previous travels through Putnam County’s cubic zirconium of a town. I Googled diner and Palatka, and in minutes we had our elbows on faded-pink formica at Angel’s Diner. The awninged rail car with curbside service calls itself Florida’s oldest diner, there allegedly since 1932, which would have had it open in the depth of Hoover’s Great Depression, with furniture that hasn’t changed and prices that haven’t increased much since: where else can you get two eggs, two pancakes, two strips of bacon, two cups of coffee, home fries and an armed cop at the next table, all for about $5.

The tasty contrasts were everywhere. Stained glass in an otherwise aluminum rail car. Newspaper boxes lining the old structure outside, to give the décor a touch of pre-historicity. Dust as old as Hoover’s ghost but eggs fresher than the cackle of free-roaming hens (or so we were happy to assume). The diner serves frog legs, an oddly French touch for such a cracker burg. We passed on the legs. The diner also serves something called pusalow, a jig of chocolate milk and vanilla syrup that must be the local variation on milk shakes. My son had noticed the legs, but not the pusalow, so we could pass on that, too.

The Larimer Arts Center, architect Henry Klutho's little masterpiece, with its two famous engravings, as you would see them from Angel's Diner. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

The Larimer Arts Center, architect Henry Klutho’s little masterpiece, with its two famous engravings, as you would see them from Angel’s Diner. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Across the street we could see the stately building of the Larimer Arts Center, the diner’s senior by two years and the work of architect Henry Klutho. Two engraved quotes on either side of the stonework marquee have, in their juxtaposition, made the building more famous than its vaguely art deco style: Francis Bacon’s “Knowledge Is Power” to the right, and just in case you thought you were in a Cartesian time-warp, the more reactionary and entirely Putnam-like “Ignorance Breeds Crime” to the left. That explained the cop at the next table.

Bacon (the philosopher, not his eponymous yumminess now on our plates) must not have the upper hand in Palatka, seat to a county where the population is smaller than Flagler’s, except in its jail: the 231-bed facility exceeds Flagler’s jail by 70, but manages to remain full, because Newton’s fourth law is immutable: have the beds and they’ll fill up, thus filling up the local sheriff’s coffers with extra dough. Naturally, Putnam just last week approved spending $15.6 million to build an additional 448-bed expansion. They should edit that engraving on the Larimer for accuracy’s sake: Ignorance breeds beds. Too bad Flagler County is following Putnam’s lead with its own entirely unnecessary, if slightly less promiscuous, jail orgy. Criminals’ conspiracies always pale compared to those of politicians, cops and judges leering the public trough.

The diner was nearly empty when we walked in. It was full by the time we left, like our stomachs, and the stares we drew were relatively few. They must be used to strangers in what amounts to one of the town’s chief attractions, along with its 164-year-old Episcopal church, the obligatory confederate monument in front of the courthouse, and the St. Johns River’s mile-wide languor, which elbows Palatka a toast’s throw from Angel’s. We’d found ourselves the perfect post-radiation relay, assuming Shands’ nuclear gadgets don’t keep going Chernobyl on our tumors.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him on Twitter.

Under Putnam County's version of a Tuscan sun. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Under Putnam County’s version of a Tuscan sun. Click on the image for larger view.
(© FlaglerLive)

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14 Responses for “Angel’s Diner in Palatka: Radiant Relay”

  1. Florida Native. says:

    In the late 60s I went to college at St. Johns. Angels for a hamburger and fries and then on to Crescent and Flagler Beaches for some surfing.

  2. Charles Ericksen Jr says:

    Looks like you found the RITZ Diner in Palatka..

  3. Florida Native. says:

    Mr. Ericksen Plam Coast only wishes it had Angels Diner.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      I see the old Perkins is somehow available.

    • Old Pete says:

      The Palm Coast city council would not welcome an establishment like Angels Diner. It does not fit into their master plan of bland.

      • Genie says:

        @ Old Pete: No kidding. Here we specialize in empty shopping centers, gas stations, nail salons, fast food, mattress stores, banks, real estate and mortgage offices, consignment and dollar stores. It is likely we lead the nation in buying gas to drive elsewhere to do our shopping.

        That said, I enjoyed reading this story. It’s a reminder that even treating cancer can lead to additional adventures and new discoveries along the way.

        God speed, Flagler Live. Thanks for sharing.

  4. orphan says:

    Pierre-you lucky devil.
    While I wasn’t born in Florida, I did attend Palatka Senior High School through grades nine/twelve.
    Angels has always been “Palatka”!
    In my years after fleeing Putnam County in 1963 I slowly developed a desire to come back to this area of the state to live. I am so happy that I did!
    Flagler County has spent so much money and effort to acquire sensitive lands! This county has created so many parks/boat ramps/and various recreational areas since I came back that I’m proud to tell people that I live in rural Flagler County! What a great place to live!
    Anyhow, Pierre, I’m holding your health in my heart! Stay with us, please,

  5. Bob Cuff says:

    Hard to go wrong with Angels. Some might see the CT breakdown as divine intervention.

  6. Steve Wolfe says:

    Passed through Palatka on Saturday to Gainesville to see my first drag races. The entire trip was a study in early Americana. A sharp contrast, the races were an assault on the senses.

    Pierre, I like the way you threaded the trough comment into your narrative of your day. I, too, see cynical reminders of the cancer that lurks in our communities. The Palm Coast City Council Meeting this evening had a façade of comedic errors barely hiding the foibles of the actors. The trough is open for business in Palm Coast.

    I hope you have better results with your treatments than we do with our politicians. May all of us live long, make pleasant unexpected stops along the way, and enjoy bacon for breakfast.

  7. confidential says:

    There are always times in our lives that we ate at some smiling to all, Pop’s and Mom’s dinners full of local patrons, some with paper table covers where we had the best food, more often back in those years when our youth didn’t worry us about the calorie intake. We still enjoyed some of those right here in Flagler County like Martins in the beach, our first stop 24 years ago for a delicious seafood dinner with big portions to satisfy all appetites, Chicken Pantry best fried chicken and sides and the Bantam Chef take out only best fish or oyster sandwich around…don’t believe me? ask the old timers .Be reassured that no Ritz can beat those flavors and prices.

  8. I pass this often when traveling to Gainesville to visit our daughter. But now…now when I cross the bridge and spot the diner I will think of you and how the river is (and all of us are) just “a toast’s throw away from Angel’s.” Thanks for sharing.

    • Christy says:

      Try the Magnolia! Wonderful Eggs Benedict on Sunday. Go into the Larimer, a grand Prairie style building that supports all kinds of art.

      I’m sorry you are ill.

      Good to point up the craziness, the cognitive weird-ups. You missed the church stories. But most of all you missed the progressive team now administrating for the City. I’ll wager better than anywhere you’ve lived in Florida. Yes.

  9. Diana L says:

    Pierre, loved the piece. Thank you. To others, please don’t turn everything in a bash Palm Coast opportunity. I would have just liked reading the story and others comments ON ANGELS.

  10. wsh302@msn.com says:

    you can also be intelligent and greedy and that will breed crime

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