My home state of New Jersey has more diners than any place on Earth and before I escaped for the weekend to Paradelle, I visited one of them. My companion and I (both movie fans) fell into talking about diner movies.
Of course, the #1 film is the aptly named Diner. Too bad it’s set in Baltimore instead of NJ. (That’s because of director Barry Levinson’s own life, not because of Maryland’s diner history.) It has early roles for Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, Ellen Barkin, Steve Guttenberg, Timothy Daly, Paul Reiser, and Kevin Bacon.
It is set in 1959 when diner really ruled. It’s a good story of a group of high-school guys who reunite in their twenties for the wedding of one of their group.
Their late night hangout had been the Fells Point Diner. (I couldn’t find a real Fells Point Diner.)
I created an NJ Diner Tour page on Facebook to see if people would post about their favorite NJ diners and those special menu items that make Jersey diners unique, and maybe post a picture of your favorite place.
I copped the name from the NJ Diner Tour episode from the Food Network’s show hosted by Guy Fieri where he gets paid to visit diners and interview the owners and sample the menus. (He likes everything.) In 2008, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives did an episode called “The New Jersey Diner Tour.
He has cookbooks too (the latest one is More Diners, Drive-ins and Dives: A Drop-Top Culinary Cruise Through America’s Finest and Funkiest Joints) and even though some of these dishes would probably taste great at home, isn’t there something about having them in a diner that makes them better?
Other people have tried to catalog Jersey Diners, so I wouldn’t attempt it. But there are a few items on the tour that I will mention.
In the northwestern part of NJ you can find the Blairstown Diner (186 State Route 94, Blairstown, NJ). This is the diner in the film Friday the 13th that Steve spends the night in while his counselors get slashed. The diner is still open and gets fans of the film series.
Down the shore, in July – in honor of Manufactured Diner Month, the Doo Wop Preservation League in Wildwood has held a Retro Roadmap Vintage Diners of Southern New Jersey photo exhibit. The iconic diner of the mid-20th century America is all wrapped around the dominance of our car culture and highways that linked all parts of the U.S., facilities catering to “car culture” became big business. Unfortunately, many of those diners are disappearing.
I wrote about a few last month on the evenings version of this blog.
And I’m pretty serious about it when I say that the Jersey diner is a part of our culture, lifestyle and history. There are about 400 diners in the state that were were also manufactured here. Diner aficionados know them by the manufacturers names like O’Mahony, Paramount, Kullman, Fodero, the Paterson Vehicle Company, Mountain View, Manno, Musi, and Swingle.
The two that I wrote about earlier are the Little Falls Diner and the Mack Diner.
The Little Falls Diner is still at 9 Paterson Ave. in Little Falls (Passaic County). It is a 1946 Kullman diner from the late-1940s. It was open when I first came across it, but has been closed and abandoned for about 20 years. You wonder how it survives the wrecking ball. It actually has a good location right on the sidewalk with lots of parking behind it and within walking distance of the tiny “downtown” of Little Falls.
The Mack Diner (150 French St. New Brunswick) is a wartime 1941 Fodero diner that resembles the still active Summit Diner. I remember from my Rutgers undergraduate days. It became a record store after that, but was closed around 2005. I’m not sure what its current status might be. Are you in that area? Post a comment.
Yes, I know other states have diners. I’m sure they have great ones. There’s a whole book of Diners of Pennsylvania. But this is Jersey Pride which takes a hit pretty regularly from the media, so…