We don't have diners in the south. What we do have where I grew up in eastern Tennessee are cafeterias and lunch counters. These days when you hear the word cafeteria you have images of boxes of frozen chicken nuggets sliding into vats of oil and sad limp lettuce leaves and revolutionary reforms being encouraged by celebrity chefs.
When I was a kid, cafeterias were places run by warm hearted women who cooked and served real food. Food like fried chicken, southern style green beans, macaroni and cheese and peach cobbler. My mother's favorite place to go was the S & W on Gay street in downtown Knoxville. In high school the Long's Drug Store lunch counter was a favorite after school stop. Today when I am visiting Tennessee, we always take a drive to Hoskins Drug Store in Clinton for a grilled cheese sandwich and a chocolate milkshake (made from Mayfield Dairy ice cream of course)
I only just kind of realized that here in Rome we have something similar to that old fashioned cafeteria I loved so much. It is the Tavola Calde. Behind glass cases, metal trays are filled with cold roast beef, lasagna, eggplant parmigian, and all kinds of green vegetables. There are usually pasta selections, salads, bread or pizza bianca. You can mix and match and create the lunch plate of your dreams.
These are two of my favorite Tavola Calde in Rome.
Via Alessandro Volta, 8 Monday-Saturday 10:30-15:30/17:30-21:30
Located just around the corner from the famous Volpetti gourmet shop in Testaccio what I love about this place is the early opening hours.
Via Michelangelo Buonarroti, 46/48
Pietro is the brother in charge of this Roscioli near Piazza Vittorio. You have probably been to the more well known bakery near Campo di Fiori. I prefer this one. It is always like a party going on in here, with offers of samples of whatever is fresh out of the oven and lots of laughing. I think the pasta carbonara here is one of the best in town.