Hightstown Diner is Both an Old Landmark and New Destination
Serving up comfort food to generations of locals.
Strawberry banana waffles, homemade corned beef hash and giant, fluffy omelets — it’s home-cooked dishes like these that brought the Food Network’s Guy Fieri to the Hightstown Diner several years ago to feature the restaurant on the popular show, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.
There’s no doubt the exposure brought a giant bump in business to a place that’s been around since 1927.
“We still get people who come in and say we saw you on the show and we’re looking for the corned beef hash and everything else,” said Terry Parliaros, whose family has run the business for the last 50 years.
It started with his Uncle Bill who took over the business in the early 1960s, then passed to his father, Nick and then to his sister Kathy in the late 1990s. Her husband, George Antonellos, is Parliaros’ partner. He runs the kitchen and still whips up a mean corned beef hash, and lots of other customer favorites.
Parliaros has worked practically every job at the diner and his earliest childhood memories have to do with his father and helping out in the family business.
“I was probably five years old and I remember my father gave me a piece of dough at his work station to keep me busy,” he remembered. “I was rolling that dough and in my mind I was making a hot dog.”
His two sisters and another brother also worked in the restaurant as well as his mother, Aglaia.
Parliaros left the diner for several years to work in radio promotions, advertising and marketing at WPST, interned for Howard Stern and even did some on-air work. But in November 2009, he decided to come back to the family fold and jump back into the diner that’s been a Hightstown landmark for almost a century.
“I was tired of wearing a suit and of having a boss; I wanted to be my own boss,” Parliaros said. “I figured I would get further in life if I put my future in my own hands, and the opportunity was here and waiting for me. Just from growing up here I knew what I was getting myself into. You kind of remember everything so it was easy to slide back in.”
Having lived out-of-state while pursuing his radio career, Pagliaros says he is seeing the business with new eyes and that helps him balance the tradition and good food people have come to expect, with style and fresh new ideas.
He is very proud of the garden he’s planted out in back of the restaurant that will feature just-picked herbs and vegetables that will go straight from garden to table. He started the garden as a labor of love last summer after his father’s death, in part, to do something to help him cope with the pain of the loss. He thinks his dad would be pleased with the fresh offerings that will be on the menu for customers — he’s planted tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, onion, mint, oregano, parsley and dill.
Parliaros is also proud to offer customers great value in challenging times. His early bird specials, a Hightstown Diner tradition, change weekly but include items such as chicken parmigiana, a roast turkey dinner and a pork chop special, all for $8.25 from 2 to 5 p.m. The $4 lunch special comes with a wide variety of sandwich choices and an option of soup or salad.
Parliaros participated in the chef’s training program at Johnson and Wales College of Culinary Arts. His specialty is homemade cheesecakes in a variety of flavors.
“I have 20 some-odd flavors of cheesecake, including pumpkin, chocolate peanut butter, upside down pineapple and amaretto,’ he said. “You can get them by the slice and I also make whole cheesecakes by special order for the holidays or special events. One of my personal favorites is a walnut spice cheesecake with a walnut crust.”
Parliaros said Fieri’s Food Network show still brings in new people who come off the New Jersey Turnpike and find the Hightstown Diner by GPS, thanks to the power of the Internet. But he said that the bread-and-butter business still comes from the locals, including students from nearby high schools, such as Peddie School, and those from nearby Hamilton, where he grew up.
Parliaros is a firm believer in community and all year he and his family support fundraisers that help the town. On March 30, the Hightstown Diner is hosting a wine and cheesecake tasting to support the effort to rebuild a pedestrian bridge at Peddie Lake. It’s a joint effort with the Hightstown Pedestrian Bridge Committee and will feature homemade cheesecake bites provided by the diner, with wine and beer provided by local vintners and brewers
“You support your community and neighbors,” Parliaros said. “It’s the way we were raised. You learn a lot from a place like this. You don’t realize the social impact it has on you, how it’s easy to just talk to people. I love knowing people by name and knowing their history and they know me and my family’s history as well.”
The Hightstown Diner is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week 364 days a year and is closed only on Christmas. Tickets for the wine and cheesecake tasting can be purchased at Hightstown Diner or Tavern on the Lake.