Pick a Saturday morning to eat breakfast at the Owl Diner on Appleton Street. The scene is a town meeting of locals and yokels and foodie tourists from across the river or down the highway. This morning was no different. Between the narrow booth-and-counter front section and the expansive dining room to the right, I talked to eight people whom I know well enough to say more than “hi.” They were colleagues from the office, stray neighbors, long-lost collaborators, and city characters.
The place was jammed when I arrived at 8.30 a.m., hoping to find a booth for a party of two. My guest was on time. She grew up in Lowell, living in the Highlands, the Acre, and Pawtucketville, but had never walked into the Owl. I felt that the meeting was already a success. This is a door that she would open again. She asked the super-helpful server to recommend the best omelette. Wow. A tough question in the House of Street Omelettes. When the word bacon was mentioned, the choice zeroed in on the Lawrence Street. I ordered the Special-Board option: roasted red peppers and sausage. We both asked for beans and wheat toast.
Year-in, year-out the Owl holds its own in the city eatery competition. The formula is proven: good food, fair price, friendly service, familiar company, and distinctive setting. The Owl is a highly charged space with the intangible attractive quality that a special place offers. If a community had chakras, then the Owl would be a candidate for such a “force center” in the city. I don’t know if that vibe is sourced in the billions of words spoken within its walls over decades or in the embedded social magnet that keeps pulling people into its sphere. All I know is that you can sense it when you enter. Or maybe it’s just the mixed aroma of coffee and homefries?