What’s All the Hype About?
Spencer’s Grill isn’t just another greasy spoon resting on its tradition for churning out hot cakes, burgers, and java for nearly 70 years. Those who frequent the little hole-in-the-wall in Kirkwood are not just hungry customers. There’s something more going on here: there’s a relationship.
From the tone of their on line comments, old-timers and even new customers have a “love affair” with Spencer’s Grill. The place “won my heart,” swooned one writer. Others used words like “mystical,” “timeless,” “an adorable part of Kirkwood.” A place that “understands my heart,” wrote another. A spot that’s “full of love and warmth,” with a “comforting, small town glow,” that’s “kept Kirkwood on the map.”
Wow! This is not the way people normally describe a restaurant, much less one that’s done little to keep up with the times. I had to see for myself. . . to experience firsthand this phenomenon known as Spencer’s Grill.
Okay, But What About the Food?
Before going to Spencer’s for lunch, I learned from adoring fans that the crispy-edged pancakes and hash browns were heavenly. I made note. I also noted that the diner opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 2 p.m. each day and that you sometimes have to wait for a seat, especially on weekends. Yes, the diner is small. It has about a half-dozen booths and 12 counter stools and another 8 seats in a small back room. The counter seats are considered more desirable, because you’re part of the ongoing conversation and “cook show” behind the counter.
When my friends and I arrived it was nearly 1 p.m. and the diner closes at two. But, at least, it wasn’t crowded. We were there on Thursday afternoon—a 70-degree February day that had already fooled song birds and flowering bushes into thinking it was spring.
As I stepped through the opened door, one of two young ladies behind the counter yelled a hearty hello. I looked over my shoulder to see if she was addressing someone behind me. As it turned out, the friendly greeting was meant for us. With a smile she met us at the door and led us to one of the cozy booths neatly fitted with gray, vinyl-covered seats.
I eyed the menu. There was no quinoa salad, no bison burger or mocha latte to be found. I shook my head. As Dorothy might say, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in
Kansas Clayton anymore.” The offering in the quaint little diner was vintage 50’s fare: burgers, hot dogs, slingers, scrapple, blueberry cakes, hash browns, biscuits and gravy. This was definitely retro dining—a reminder of the People’s Drug Store counter of my youth in southeast Washington. I felt at home.
One of my friends got the waffle and the other went with the crispy pancakes. I ordered the burger and hash browns and watched them sizzle together on the nearby grill. The iced tea set before me was so tall I lost my long, iced teaspoon in the glass. My friend’s coffee cup with the Spencer logo got steady refills. For $9 you could take the mug home with you or for a bit more indulge your nostalgia with a tee shirt featuring the historic signage and wording: “Park in Rear.”
Nearly 70 Years!
The Signs Over the Door and Counter
I learned that once upon a time there was a guy named Spencer who ran the place. Bill Spencer and his wife re-opened the little diner in 1947 after he came back from war. They kept the place open 24-hours a day to take advantage of the increased highway traffic during the postwar era. A memento of a remodeling a year later still hangs above the entrance. The diner’s sign with the embedded clock is said to be the oldest working neon clock west of the Mississippi.
And speaking of clocks. There must be nearly a dozen scattered about the walls, only a few of which seem to be set the same. But what the heck. It just proves the place is timeless.
Back to the Future
Spencer’s Grill, 223 S. Kirkwood. Open for breakfast and lunch: Daily, 6a-2p. Park in rear.