What It Means To Order A Mystery In The Alley At A Diner

Every profession, it seems, has its own lingo that separates its insiders from those not in the know. Law enforcement officers have their 10 codes, medical professionals have their own special terminology, and lawyers and bureaucrats are well-versed in the use of impenetrable obfuscation. Restaurant staff, too, have their own special words and phrases, with a "one star" being a patron who's looking to find fault (and probably can't wait to go online to post a bad review) and "campers" being people who don't get up and leave after they've paid their tab. (They may be happy campers, but the restaurant workers sure aren't.)

Once upon a time, however, there was a language used only by hash-slingers and soup jockeys; an esoteric dialect known as diner lingo. We can't say for sure whether it developed as a way of helping servers keep track of things or was just diner workers having a little fun, but we like to imagine everyone running around the kitchen shouting out orders for "blowout patches" (pancakes) and "sleigh ride specials" (vanilla pudding) and giving the directive to "walk a cow through the garden" (add lettuce, onion, and tomato to a burger). Would you be taking your life in your hands, though, if you were to order a "mystery in the alley?" While the phrase may conjure up images of dark deeds done in dangerous places, the dish it describes is actually nothing out of the ordinary.

It's just one of many nicknames for plain old hash

These days, diner lingo is pretty much a thing of the past as its heyday seems to have ended in the '70s. If you go into a diner and ask for "Adam & Eve on a raft and wreck 'em," you're more likely to get a side of stink-eye than scrambled eggs on toast, plus you may receive a curt reminder that you're not at Starbucks so don't try any of your made-up Tik-Tok recipes here. In case you ever go for a ride in a flying DeLorean and get transported back to the '50s, however, we'll de-mystify that mystery in the alley so you can order it with confidence.

Anything "in the alley" is (or was) served on the side, while "mystery" is just one of many nicknames for hash. Hash goes by various other euphemisms as well, all of them alluding to its ever-changing nature – it could be called "clean up the kitchen," "customer will take a chance," "sweep the floor," "we've got a gambler in the house," or "yesterday, today, and forever." Hmm, come to think of it, all of those monikers do make diner hash seem like a somewhat risky undertaking, at least back in the days before pre-cooked frozen food and standardized menus. The wise time traveler might do better to stick with cops and robbers (coffee and donuts) in order to ensure that they'll make it back to the future without indigestion.