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Diners are a big thing in NJ.  Or maybe they were?  There are still a lot of diners in this state, but not as many as I can remember from when I was a "kid" (eons ago I know.)

Taking you back to the days of yore...when I was in school there was a diner (the Pilgrim for those of you in my neck of the woods) not too far from my home.  Actually within walking distance, although I didn't recognize that at the time.  (I should have; I walked to the strip mall and movie theater that was across the 4 lane road/highway from it.) I believe it was open 24 hours and I don't so much remember eating there as hanging there as a teen.  As a high school student actively involved in the theater program/club (as it was), this was THE place to go after a show. We could get a table that would hold the group of us.  My memories are not of the food, but of the plastic plants around the place, the cigarette machine in the entranceway and the payphone (yes, PAY phone) we would use to get rides home.

As an adult (after college), it was a cheap place to eat.  My husband and I would go there for dinner relatively frequently.  They had lamb on the menu (which nobody seems to have any more) and I could get a salad (small and not great) along with lamb, potato and veggie for a very reasonable price.  This was a "safe" meal for me with my food allergies...lamb would be roasted separately from anything else as cross contamination is a major issue for me.  (The reason I don't just get a burger...as much as I would like to...what grill is used just for burgers and NOT turkey burgers, poultry or eggs...all this is death to me.)  The place was starting to get dilapidated.  (Don't look up at the ceiling tiles.)  The food was still pretty good and hubby and I had our favorite waitress, Madeline.  She was quite a character, which is why I remember her.  She also once spilled our food all over either my husband or my friend's husband (Jim)...May have been the 90s, but those things you don't forget.

When I was working for Blue Cross Blue Shield (again in the 1990s), I ran informational meetings (yes, it was sales) for those on Medicare (or eligible for it.)  These public meetings were held in a variety of spaces, but diners were very popular.  Of course I used "my" diner.  It was convenient, was inexpensive (we provided coffee and danish) and had plenty of parking( (including handicapped spaces).  I can remember a co-worker giving me a wedding present in between meetings. (I was supposed to have an office wedding shower, but the director of the division died right before I was going out...that's a story unto itself).  It was a great place, until one day it closed.  I think the story was they had a "fire" and there was a sign on the door for a while, but time went on and it didn't open...and didn't open...

It didn't reopen for a LONG time. My memory isn't really great on this, but perhaps someone reaing this will remember.   It was definitely more than a few months.  It could have been a year or more.  It DID eventually reopen.

 I remember after my son was born (2005) that my husband went there for lunch with his family (as I tried to get him out of the house...he stayed home and I worked, so...).  Once reopened it was in much better shape (although the cigarette machine stayed as far as I can recall).  We didn't go there that often (lamb was off the menu), but we did go.  My parents often took my son there for a burger when they babysat.  He loved to go with them and he always ordered jello for desert.  (It was part of the kids meal)  I'm pretty sure we took my son for a late lunch after his last day of elementary school (which would have been in June of 2015).  

Even though it had reopened in better shape, upkeep didn't last and the diner closed again in June (?) 2019. For a while it looked like it might open again...then it didn't...and then there was Covid.  But it was during the pandemic that work started on the diner again.  There was work on the exterior.  The parking lot was repaved.  Rumors were flying...

The rumor that I heard was that it would reopen in July...then that moved to August...finally the word was it would open on Monday, Aug 30th.  When I did my early morning walk, there was not a soul around, but when I drove by later in the day (just before noon), there were definitely people eating inside.  But there was no sign outside saying that they were open.  The help wanted sign was still there, but had moved.  I HAD to check this out.

My family and I arrived around 5:30.  The place was busy, but not overly so.  (That would change.)  There were fewer tables and more booths.  There was lots of management in suits.  Definitely out to make a good impression and the inside renovations looked really good (hope they stay that way).  We were seated quickly and given menus that were your traditional diner size (at least 6 pages.)  It was also very clearly noted on the cover of the menu, as well as on all the pages, that prices are for cash payments and that there is an additional 3% charge for credit cards. A definite incentive for cash!  (Which I had none of in my wallet, but hubby DID.)  Our waiter asked if we wanted water or drinks (no liquor) and we all went for water.

It took us a while to figure out what we wanted.  It was particularly difficult for me as all the salads they offered either had egg or some other protein in it.  (Yes, I could have asked for without, but it being the first day I wasn't sure how well versed they were with cross contamination issues when it comes to food allergies.  You can't just remove the allergens from the salad; the salad has to be specially made.)  I eventually decided to try broiled tilapia, with baked potato and green beans (only veggie choice that day; understandable since the place has just opened.)  With my meal I had my choice of soup or salad; neither of which would have worked with my allergies, so I let me son pick the soup and let him have it.  Son settled on a Rueben (open faced) and hubby had chicken Marsala (death to me!) along with the matzo ball soup.

The soups came quickly and the waiter remembered that my soup was going to my son.  There were also rolls which the guys said were delicious.  Then we waited for our entrees.  And waited.  And waited.  I want to reiterate that this was the first day and we knew there would be kinks in the system.  Our waiter came by a couple of times saying that our meals would be out in 2 minutes.  (He said this at least 3 times.)  Meanwhile, a dad and daughter arrived while we were waiting, sat at a booth manned by another waiter, ordered their food (sandwiches), ate their food (including dessert for the daughter) and left before we ever got our entrees.  One of "the suits" came by to apologize for our waiter not providing us with soup or salad, but we said we HAD soup, but were waiting for our entree.  Don't think the manager was too happy about that.  We also asked for more water, which a busboy (actually bus girl/woman?) got for us.  (She wasn't very busy, but when someone did leave, she cleared the space very quickly...maybe she should move up to wait staff?)

When we did finally get our food (it was nearly 7), it was quite good.  (Ok, the green beans were pretty icky looking...but rarely have I found that green beans in dinner are any good at all.)  The portions were large (as is the case with most diners).  Once we had our food, the waiter came back to check on how things were and after we finished asked us twice if we would like coffee or dessert.  (We declined both times...it was after 7.)  

When we left there were people waiting to get in.  As I pulled out of the lot, I had to wait for an older couple to get across.  The woman yelled out that she was sorry for taking so much time and I told her that it was no problem.  They both asked how it was inside and I let them know that there was a wait and that they probably didn't want to sit in our waiter's section.  They laughed, but I have a feeling they took me seriously!

Although our meal took a long time (and I really don't think our waiter is going to make the grade...he just didn't seem to be able to focus and there were other wait staff who were clearly hustling and doing a great job), I was glad we went.  You can't expect perfection the first day (or even the first weeks) and it is clear that the diner is going to be "THE" place to go again.  I'm really happy that they are open and doing so well...but most of all I'm thrilled that my son and his friends will have a local place to go, particularly after a performance. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the theater group will be able to perform in the high school auditorium this year.)  Owners may change, menus may change, but the diner tradition (thankfully) lives on.


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