New Jersey and the institution of the diner just go together so well. Is it any wonder? A diner merges the convenience of fast food with the feel of sit-down dining. You can have either a large meal or just a cup of coffee, with a party of many or a party of one.
So for this week’s Day Tripper, we’re looking at two different diners with a couple things in common. Both are in Monmouth County, but we may get an appetite for checking out diners in other parts of the state in later installments as well.
The in Wall has been an area institution since the 1940s, at the intersection of Rtes. 33 and 34 on the Collingwood Circle, and was used as a location for the cover of the Bon Jovi album "Crossroad." It’s also the location for the video to Bruce Springsteen’s song, "Girls In Their Summer Clothes." Can't get more Jersey than that.
in the heart of downtown Freehold figured prominently in Springsteen's youth, and portions of the documentary Wings For Wheels: The Making Of Born To Run were shot at the location. Tony’s Freehold Grill, built in 1947, was originally owned by Mike De Caesare and was purchased by the Iliadis family in 1963.
Both diner locations were built in that famed chrome train car style, and both exemplify the main benefits of the diner—affordability, generosity and a bit of history.
Trina Clickner, writer and proprietor of FoodHistorian.com said the key to the appeal of diners is the food itself, and the fact that for a relatively low price you can have a substantial meal.
“It's surprising how many people—young and old—are living on toaster streudels, Hot Pockets and other convenience, microwave foods that are considered 'healthy choices.' For these folks, diner dining is as close to home cooking as it ever gets,” she said.
"The local diner was—and still is—the place for hearty, 24/7 breakfasts, quick but wholesome, down-home lunches, after-school snacks and family dining with a hearty and healthy choice for family members of all ages. Home-cooked comfort food, friendly, personal service, the soda fountain, over-the-top, sky-high desserts and the round-the-clock kitchen continue to delight diner lovers as they gather even today," she added.
Diners are a major part of the New Jersey landscape and here we have two that specifically fill that hungry spot. That's why we've picked the duo of Tony's Freehold Grill and the Roadside Diner for this installment of Day Tripper, a weekly look at destinations that are out of town, but in reach, and worth the trip.
DAY TRIPPER DIGEST
Estimated Travel Time: About 1 hour to either diner.
Why it’s Worth the Trip: While diners have become synonymous with New Jersey, we recognize that there are plenty of other diners closer to home, so it's really about the overall area. So jump two points down and learn more ...
You’ll Probably Get Hungry: So it’s a good thing that you’re heading to one of two classic diners, right?
While You’re In the Area: If you go to the Roadside Diner in Wall, you might want to catch up on what’s coming up at , get psyched for the upcoming car racing season at or take a drive down Route 34 to see the year-long attractions you can find at by the Boardwalk in Point Pleasant. Baseball season is coming soon as well and you might be interested in hitting up a game, and once the warm weather finally sticks around, you just might want to cruise the river on a .
If you’re aiming the car toward Freehold and Tony’s Freehold Grill, don’t forget to play awhile at , pick up some fresh-baked goods from , shop to your heart’s content at the Freehold Raceway Mall, catch the ponies at Freehold Raceway or get a chunk of artisan chocolate from Old Monmouth Candies.
“What started in Rhode Island in the late 1800s as a simple, horse-drawn lunch wagon catering to late and night-shift factory workers evolved quickly into the fixed structures we have come to know as diners,” Clickner said. “Diners became an American tradition by the 1950s, and while some were indeed old railroad dining cars made of polished steel, most diners were newly manufactured in the railroad dining car style and simply delivered. High-end manufactured diners came complete with juke box, toothpick dispensers and the ceiling mirrors that let the waitress, known as a 'soup jockey' in diner-speak, keep a watchful eye over your coffee cup.”
Anthony Ewing of EthnicNJ.com said, "When I launched a website to help people find New Jersey's best ethnic food, I knew Jersey food would be it's own category. And how can you talk about quintessential New Jersey food without featuring the Jersey diner? New Jersey is blessed with a rich history of diners and diner culture. Our diners are old, like the Summit Diner ; classic and chrome-plated, like the Tick Tock; huge and theme park-esque, like Mastori's; and even foodie in a diner setting, like Edison's Skylark. What all the best Jersey diners have in common is quality food at reasonable prices, and a real sense of place. Each is unique. The best ones are open 24-hours, serve breakfast all day, and have coffee on the table before you sit down. Like New Jersey itself, you'll find all kinds of people at a diner—blue-collar and white collar, old and young—and all kinds of food on the menu, from Greek to Mexican, Lobster to Disco Fries. Diner culture is Jersey culture."
Clickner said, of diner culture, there was a sense of democracy in their offerings that holds true today.
“Still today, diners are welcoming places where busy execs, boisterous families, cost conscious retirees, office workers, nerds, artists, hard hats, authors and tourists passing on through sit as equals, side by side, to relax and chat while they enjoy comforting essentials like buckwheat cakes, malted milkshakes, meat loaf, corned beef hash, turkey pot pie, tuna melts and banana cream pie,” Clickner said.
“Diners have historically brought Americans from all walks of life together to enjoy traditional, simple, made-from-scratch, fluff-free, all-American meals that 'stick to your ribs,' all for a reasonable price,” she added.