Keener minds than mine spent much of the latest election cycle confronting and debunking the myth of the Good Old Days. You know the ones: You could buy a brand-new hot rod on one month's pay, a dude in a windowless van delivered milk to your door (weird, right?), and our entire barrel-chested nation seemed to live on cheeseburgers alone.
Well, the white-haired widows in the booth behind me at Yaw's Top Notch are, from the sound of it, pretty sure the Good Old Days were real. Between the weekly gossip and a factually inaccurate Obama joke, they inform a bubbly young waitress they used to practically live at Yaw's Hollywood district location, which closed its doors 30 years ago after remaining in operation for over a half-century.
Despite a menu that seems crafted almost exclusively for teenagers with iron stomachs (the Captain's Cheesiest Burger is served with two patties and four cheeses), the clientele at the neon-lined '50s-style diner on Northeast 113th Avenue and Halsey Street is largely of retirement age. A boxy room called the "Knee Knocker Lounge," which Yaw's insists will be the smallest in the state and require an AARP card to enter, is still a month or two away. The only fresh faces on display are chaperoned by their misty-eyed elders.
Sentimentality, though, has been good to the new Yaw's. My first visit was on a Friday thoroughly rockin' enough to force a 40-minute wait for a table. My waiter seemed horrified by this, overcompensating by delivering a third pint of coolant-colored Green River soda ($2.45, tastes like Jell-O) before I'd even put a straw in the second. Later he'd replace the side of limp french fries that accompanied my medium-cooked, gut-bomb Big Cheese Bacon Burger ($9.95) with a pyramid of vastly superior crispy golden ones and send me packing with a complimentary piece of pumpkin pie.
But now it's a Monday, and the bored, young, goateed soda jerk, who tips his little white hat stylishly to the side, finds some relief in building a loaded banana split. The old ladies shuffle out and Buddy Holly plays faintly overhead. Yaw's is genuinely charming, but you have to know how to order: The manageable Original Cheeseburger ($7.95), swimming in grease and chopped iceberg lettuce, is superior to its tricked-out "steaksize" cousins. It also beats the Sandwich-Sandwich ($8.25), which—despite billing as "a Yaw's classic"—is just a painfully dry collection of meat and toast. Dowse everything you order in the housemade brown gravy (75 cents). That stuff is truly classic, and memorable enough to convince you that the Good Old Days are back and gooder than ever—even if beer guts are the new barrel chests and the president is a foreign-born socialist.
- Order this: The hot roast beef sandwich ($8.25) is tender and smothered, as everything should be, with Yawâs housemade gravy.
- Best deal: An excellent and loaded banana split ($6.95), built on a foundation of Neapolitan ice cream.
- Iâll pass: Homemade chess pie ($4.95), but only because Yawâs doesnât have it yet. Could be a game-changer.
EAT: Yaw's Top Notch, 11340 NE Halsey St., 408-9297, yawstopnotch.com. 11 am-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $.