A puff of toaster smoke, a mug of strong joe, a glass of carrot juice, doughnut holes encrusted with crushed bacon — even given the gentrification of downtown, the Nickel is an apparition of a diner, a few steps from what used to be considered the gamiest intersection in town, on a block where artists in natty hats share the sidewalk with homeless guys, sleek businesses pop up among ancient SRO hotels, and European tourists wander dazed. The Nickel occupies the site of a long-forgotten diner — there are hand-painted wall menus with prices last current in the late 1940s — but although it definitely reflects the flavor of the neighborhood, it is more ambitious than that, a place where the BLTs come with arugula; the hash is made with spicy pulled pork instead of canned corned beef; and all the toast, including the cinnamon-dusted Nickel Bag, is made with bread baked in-house. There are fancy dishes of baked eggs over polenta, as well as the usual fried (and vegan scrambles), brioche, as well as pancakes, and alongside the freshly squeezed orange juice is a cucumber-intensive house-made version of V8. The Nickel, which serves only breakfast and lunch for the moment, is a new kind of downtown diner, a Ships for a generation for whom full-sleeve tattoos are the new black, and it’s about time. 524 S. Main St., dwntwn, (213) 623-8301 or www.5cdiner.com.
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