the Post offers up a mini travelogue of New Jersey diners… well, those up Route 130, anyway. it’s amusing for me, as i have passed a zillion tour busses at Mastoris a gazillion times and i have eaten with my parents, kids, nieces, nephews, etc., at the Americana. (nice to know that the place i’ve taken my kids is the place with the good diner food. like there’s any difference?) i feel it’s part of my cultural legacy to take my kids to real diners when i’m up in the Garden State (home of my birth); otherwise, all they know of diners is the Silver Diner, a place for which i had high hopes but which i currently loathe.
when i’m doing the garden state parkway boogie in my mind, i think about my favorite diners. i remember olga’s diner in marlton, halfway between nowhere and somewhere. as i’ve mentioned in older posts, we drove to my grandparents’ in florida a few times a year, a 26+ hour drive back then. we’d start before dawn, and if we were really, really lucky, we’d stop at Olga’s for breakfast. yummy, yummy baked goods. all at 5 a.m. or whatever ungodly hour we showed up.
i think of the tick tock diner in clifton. i bet jimmy hoffa is gone because he ate here. i imagine that martha stewart has eaten here, considering she grew up not too far away. i know i’ve been here with friends; i think i stopped here with my cousin after we went on our ill-fated trip to studio 54. (i know. me + disco. what a combo.) i’m not entirely sure. it’s kind of a landmark of sorts of jersey diners.
all those diners on route 18 and route 9. you all looked alike. you all had similar menus. then, in the 1980s, you all renovated to look more like restaurants. all you did was end up becoming these mauve, stainless steel behemoths. i never understood why. perhaps it was your response to the reaganization of the nation.
in any event, i’ve eaten in them all.
but probably my favorite diner, bar none, is the somerset diner. every single rutgers student — and there are probably 50,000+ each year — has eaten here. come here at 3 a.m. and you’ll likely find it packed with drunk, formerly drunk, or the designated drivers of said drunk students, chowing down. having been among them, i am wildly proud to announce that i once ordered the happy waitress special one night at some insane hour of the morning. (it’s an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich with bacon, tomatoes, and fries, but memory fails. yes, i ate bacon once upon a time.) at the time, i was deep in my existential phase of english major life. (i was also probably deep into several fuzzy navels.) i remember looking the waitress in the eye and asking her: why is it called the happy waitress special? does it make you especially happy to serve it? is it lighter to carry? or is there some other deep reason behind the nomenclature?
see, there’s this thing about diner waitresses (or waitrons?). they don’t exactly have a sense of humor. they don’t exactly suffer idiot college students gladly. (nor should they.) that woman glared at me, holding the plate near my head. and glared. and glared.
i am very lucky that the happy waitress special didn’t turn into the drunk college student hair accessory.