The Dining Car is Back!

ABOARD THE CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR. We’re heading east out of Salt Lake City, and I have just finished the best breakfast I’ve ever had on Amtrak. I was not surprised, however, because last night I had the best dinner I’ve ever had on Amtrak.

This didn’t happen overnight.  Actually, it took a year for the meals in Amtrak dining cars to decline in quality . . . in variety . . . and in presentation. And then it took another few months for the powers-that-be at Amtrak to realize they’d pushed us several notches farther than we were prepared to go.

I won’t go into a lengthy review of the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. Let me just say that I found the menus and the individual dishes superior to the dining car servings from 20 years ago.

I will note here for the record that traditional railroad French Toast is back on the breakfast menu and it comes garnished with more than a token number of fresh raspberries and blueberries plus a dollop or two of whipped cream. And it’s about damn time!

Now here’s a story that I really believe could only happen at Amtrak:

The Lead Service Attendant in the Zephyr’s dining car was Michael, a nice-looking young man of about 25. He was friendly, efficient and very good at his job in every way.

I noticed when I first sat down for lunch this past Wednesday that there was no form for me to sign indicating my car and room number. (Veteran Amtrak riders will instantly know what I’m talking about.) I asked Michael about that and he said those forms serve no useful purpose and he simply stopped using them more than a month ago.

Obviously, this is not the usual Amtrak employee.

Michael was recruited to Amtrak by Rita Odal, one of the servers in the dining car crew on our train. As the LSA, Michael is now Rita’s superior. . . her boss. I was tickled to learn from my car attendant that Michael is also Rita’s son. And I can assure you that Rita is a very proud Mom.