Part of diner history comes from the unique regional specials that are now often hard to find.
Since their humble beginnings, diners have been known for affordable, home-style food. It started with the early lunch wagons serving sandwiches and pie to night-shift workers and grew to hamburgers, milkshakes and breakfast served to adults, teens and children alike. While the heart of a diner is American style comfort food and there are many menu standards, part of the personality of each diner comes from their local or regional specials.
One such regional special is snapper soup, once popular in the Philadelphia area. Just like when you go out for diner food in Denver and can expect to find green chile on all the menus, snapper soup was the dish that everyone made and claimed that theirs was the best. You may be thinking that snapper soup is made from fish, but it is actually snapping turtle. Philadelphia-style snapper soup features a rich, flavorful broth that is thickened with a dark roux, seasoned with clove, and filled with chunks of turtle meat that has been made tender by long, slow cooking. It is served with a side of dry sherry that can be stirred into the soup to taste. Restaurants used to spend a great deal of time making this soup, starting by cooking a flavorful broth based on beef and turtle, which was delivered fresh and whole and required skillful handling. Nowadays the soup usually comes from a can.
Snapper soup was popularized by the Philadelphia restaurant Old Original Bookbinder’s. While the restaurant is no longer open, snapper soup is still produced and sold in cans under the Bookbinder’s name. Snapper soup may not be as popular as it once was, and good versions can be hard to come by, but it remains an important regional special in diner history.