Tuesday, July 18, 2006

New Jersey Treasure #6

There are so many good things about living here in the center of NJ, I could go on and on about them. And I've decided to do just that. Periodically I'm going to pick something that has recently made itself a pleasure in my life and tell you why it's a NJ Treasure, in hopes that you'll enjoy it too and have more pleasures in your life.

Today's installment features the Jersey Diner. Now, if you're reading this and not from Our Fair State, let me explain- you ain't never seen a diner like we have 'em here. They're huge. The capacity is huge, and it's packed full- even at quarter to eleven on a midsummer weekday, or quarter to one on a weekend morning. The menu is huge- often eight or more pages, usually covered in plastic- and the choice is unbelievable. The portions are huge, enough to feed a family of four on each plate. The coffee is usually bad, but the cup is bottomless (huge!) so it kind of makes up for it.

Because of all this hugeness, the sheer volume of food that passes through a Jersey Diner in a day is probably an embarrassment. A tasty embarrassment, though.

It isn't the hugeness that makes it a Jersey Diner; it's the atmosphere, the hours (open very late or all night), the combined cheapness and lavishness, the counter and the chrome, the neon sign, the rotating pie case, and the industrial-grade but never-ending coffee. It's the truck drivers, the kids, the after-the-bars-close crowd, the wait staff that's been there for years and years and at least ten hours so far today. It's the local carnival flyers taped to the window, the peeling Formica on the tables, the bowl of mints by the cash register that your friend won't eat from because everyone in town has put their hands in there.

Don't even suggest a Denny's, a Friendly's or some other chain-restaurant approximation; nothing but a Jersey Diner is a Jersey Diner.

Today I took the kids for brunch; something to do on a lazy hot summer day. We got there and were seated rather quickly. We got our orange juice (squeezed fresh at this particular diner) and my bottomless cup of mediocre coffee, then ordered a vast amount of food. Pancakes, French toast, sausage, eggs benedict, hash browns. There must have been a pint of blueberries in the pancakes. The potatoes probably had been on the grill since about 6AM and were all crisp and starch. The Canadian bacon was very juicy and moist, because it was really ham. They forgot the English muffin- yes, on an eggs benedict someone forgot the English muffin part- but they brought it right away.

Man, it was good. We ate until our stomachs hurt, then wrapped up the extras to take home. Like I said, huge portions. For the next three days we'll have to eat very small portions of low-fat, low-salt vegan food just to make up for it, but it was worth it.

Next time you need a cool diversion and an oversized grease-based meal, head on out to a Jersey Diner and experience one of New Jersey's Treasures.

NJ Treasure #5
NJ Treasure #4
NJ Treasure #3
NJ Treasure #2
NJ Treasure #1


Bob said...

My experienced opinion is that most Jersey diners, espesially on larger roads, are over-priced, generically ugly & too brightly lit, not especially friendly, & uncomfortable. There are,of course, many exceptions. I think when people praise Jersey diners, they are praising these exceptions. Of the dozen or so diners in my area, there's only two, one in Linden & one in Cranford, that I really like. Not counting the incomparable White Rose System in Roselle.

Chris A. said...

Mmmm... rotating pie.

Sharon GR said...

Over-priced? Can't agree on that one, but too brightly lit, ugly and somewhat uncomfortable all fit. It's part of the "charm."

I think the love afair with diners here partially springs from the familiarity of it. Many of us grew up going to diners, and in suburbia it was the only place open all night when we were teenagers and wouldn't hang out at the movie theater. The food isn't especially memorable- except breakfast in most cases- but we still go, in droves.

I have three local diners where I live. One I love, one I think is ok, and one I avoid. It is definitely exceptional diners which keep the love afair alive.

WjcW said...

You left out the 'diner rules'. My wife is an immagrant, so I had to straighten her out more than a couple times.
1) You can order anything they have for breakfast, pretty much all diners can make breakfast equally well.
2) Never order the following -
Seafood (except clam chowder, some diners can make clam chowder)
Italian food, not sure what your experience has been, but generally, Chef Boyardee can out perform most diners.
3) Feel free to order any of the following
-Grilled Cheese
-Cheeseburger Deluxe
-Club Sandwiches
-Chef Salad
(ceasar salad is diner dependent)

I always find my wife trying to pick the shrimp scampi off the diner menu. I have to explain to her, although it may appear on the menu (everything does), shrimp scampi is really out of a diner's realm, you would be far better off with the cheeseburger. She is just now starting to understand...