Entering the S & S Diner is like coming home from college. Mom is already in the kitchen preparing your favorite meal, so you can just lean against the countertop and breathe.
The S & S is 12 feet of Art Deco sandwiched between two buildings. Miami has been enjoying its rich history since 1938 and writing about it on Yelp since 2010. While the building itself is a landmark, the people inside are what make it distinct. Cue Elfi Robinson. She's a manager and waitress at S & S, and when first asked her name, she responds with, "Doesn't matter." Not rudely, of course. But she's not going to mince words – like if you happen to challenge her on the fact that the S & S is on the National Register of Historic Places, she's going to download the PDF and show you. Or she's going to tease you about the way you referred to the S & S as a "greasy spoon" over the phone. She's also going to make sure your glass of water is ice-cold; that your food is delivered promptly and still-hot from the kitchen; that you're having a good time. Elfi Robinson is going to make your first time at the S & S memorable, and you're going to want to return soon. Here's what Elfi had to say:
— Nicole Alvarez
How long have you been working at the S & S Diner?
Too long. (She's laughing) 14 years.
Have you noticed anything change since then in the diner scene here?
Nothing at all. The S & S Diner is a time capsule. We're still in the 50's. In fact, nothing has been taken off the menu since I've been working. It's only been added to, if anything. We were closed for two days a couple weeks ago because the roof was being renovated. That was the first time we've closed in 14 years. We never change, and the fact that we never change is why people like us.
In your opinion, is that what makes the diner experience special?
Oh yes, definitely. What makes us special is that we're consistent. This is very different from the tourist industry in South Beach where you see new people every day. I've worked in the beach, I know. Here, we know most people by name. We know what they want when they sit. We're like family. You may think the place looks like a dump, but it has so much history. And a really good breakfast.
Tell me about that breakfast. What makes it stand out?
It's basic food. Not fussy. We're the neighborhood breakfast spot, and everything is made from scratch. No cans or nothing, and people know that. Regulars come in through the back door, and they see the girls peeling the potatoes. It's what separates us from everybody else.
So what would you recommend off the menu? What gets ordered most often?
The Workers Specials are very popular. They bring eggs, bacon, potatoes, coffee. The 2-2-2-2 is also, which comes with 2 eggs, 2 strips of bacon, 2 sausage patties, and 2 pancakes. A lot of people say the pancakes are the best in town, and I agree. We're also told that our grits are amazing. I couldn't care less about grits though. I'm just not a grits person.
Grits are not really my thing either. So just a breakfast place?
Every Tuesday we have a real turkey dinner. We have all the trimmings and 3-foot turkeys. That's the busiest because every Tuesday is Thanksgiving here.
Have you ever had any strange orders or requests to accommodate?
We've had some weird orders. One person insisted on being served oatmeal with ketchup. But a lot of our customers are regulars. They eat the same thing every day. I try to convince them to try new stuff, but they don't want to.
And how are the regulars?
We're family, like I said. We know their problems. We're a part of their lives. It's a cliché, but it's true. People have been coming for 40-50 years, and now their sons, daughters, and even grandchildren come. Our regulars are all types of people, hookers, nightclub managers, famous lawyers. We are attracting a younger crowd now too. Like yuppies in the area – they love the pancakes and waffles.
Any stories about them?
Well the people from the Port of Miami are some of the best. They come in every day at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast. They're something else, those longshoremen. It gets loud in here very early in the morning. Full of life. And one of the regulars is a lawyer. Every morning I have the Miami Herald waiting for him at his spot. It has to be open to the local section too. He will get upset if not.
You've also gotten a lot of media attention, including some time on Anthony Bourdain's show.
Yes, that was my day off. If you look at the pictures on the wall, you'll see some of our famous customers. Two weeks ago, the Heat player Lebron James' mother came in. I have a photo with her on my phone. But things like that happen here all the time! A while ago, there was this tour guide, a lady, and she showed me a magazine from China advertising this diner. But we don't need famous people to tell us that we're good. The place speaks for itself.
What are the best and worst aspects of your job?
The best part of my job is that it's not a job. It's contact. Human contact. Since I started working here, it's always felt like family. The worst part is when someone walks in 3 minutes after closing time. We're still going to serve them, but it's annoying. We're working 12-hour shifts. It's a long day. I deal with a lot of people, and 98% of them are beautiful. But there are all kinds out there –just look at the neighborhood. All it takes is one person to ruin your day. Thankfully that doesn't happen often. It's never a dull moment at the S & S.
What do you think about while you're on the job?
I daydream about everything except the food and the industry.
And what makes a good waiter?